Dear Santa (United States | 2013, 23 min)
Directed by: Maura Smith
Cast: Christian Mello, Kelley Curran, Samantha Eddy, Danielle Kellermann, Kerry Railey, Lila Stanton, Sharon Evans
Ann Dunham an energetic and free-spirited girl who loves hockey, dance class, and video games. When Ann asks Santa Claus to turn her into a boy for Christmas, her request throws her conservative mother into a tailspin. Dear Santa is a lighthearted look at the complicated, funny, and sometimes dysfunctional ties that bind a family together.
Interview:Maura Smith directed Dear Santa, which will screen at the 7th Annual New York City Independent Film Festival. She received her B.A. in Theatrical Directing from Fordham University and M.F.A. in Film Production at Boston University. She is passionate filmmaker, writer, actress, and casting associate. I've worked in the Casting Department on the CBS show Criminal Minds and the feature films Spotlight, Black Mass, and the upcoming Live by Night.
NYCIFF: I think we speak for everyone who has seen the film when we say that we wanted to see more. It was such a compelling story that has you laughing and crying. Why did you choose to make it a short film instead of feature length film?
MS: The film was made as my Master's Thesis Film at Boston University, and the requirement was that the thesis film had to have a running time under 40 minutes. This requirement is what dictated that Dear Santa be a short. During the writing and production process I fell in love with the story and the characters, and I really wanted to explore more about this family. Since completing the short, I have been working on a feature length version of Dear Santa. I've just finished my second re-write, and I hope to film the feature version in the very near future.
NYCIFF: The lead actress is such a young girl, she is superb and completely dazzles on the screen. Were there any difficulties filming with a young person?
MS: Samantha Eddy, who plays Ann Dunham, was a joy to work with. She brought so much to the role of Ann, and I was very lucky to have found her. I did find that the more crew we had on the set the more Samantha wanted to perform and make the room laugh. To keep her performance grounded and natural I worked to find ways to keep the crew as small as possible on the days that we filmed with her.
NYCIFF: Where was the film shot? Were there multiple locations?
MS: The film was shot in the suburbs of Boston in July. We used 5 different locations. Shooting a Christmas story in July posed a lot of complications, including making the lead actors wear winter clothing and coats in 80 degree heat.
NYCIFF: There is great chemistry on screen between the actors in the family (mom, dad, daughter). How did you get them so comfortable around each other?
MS: It was very important to me that the actors playing the Dunham family have chemistry and be comfortable with each other. I rehearsed with the actors extensively prior to the start of principle photography, and I also scheduled different activities for them - like going to get ice cream together. These rehearsals and cast outings allowed the actors to get to know each other and to become comfortable as a group before we started shooting.
NYCIFF: Was filming the big dance number difficult? Who choreographed it?
MS: The dance sequence was a very difficult scene to shoot, and it had a lot of moving parts. The first step I took to prep for this scene was to hire a composer. It was very important to me that the film's composer be the one to write the song for the recital. This way the recital song would fit into the musical world of the rest of the film. Once I had the song written, I found Amy Kellicker, who owned a local dance studio (and is the dance studio used in the film), to choreograph the dance. Over several weeks Amy choreographed the recital routine and taught it to all the dancers. We shot the recital scene over two days. We spent the first day on the stage shooting the girls' dance routine, and the second day we brought in the audience to shoot their reactions and to get the recital dance from the their perspective.
NYCIFF: What is the most important theme or motif that you want the audience to take-away from your film?
MS: I hope that viewer's who watch the film walk away thinking about how important it is for kids to be allowed to be their own unique, quirky, and honest selves.
You can also check out the website for my Production Company The Great Northern Film Company: http://greatnorthernfilm.com
I'm thrilled to be a part of this year's NYC Indie Film Festival!