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The article in YOUNG ADULT Magazine about our film
with the interviews with Richard and Deborah Foster
and Bryan Massey and Danielle Vega

YA magazine HeaderThe holidays are a time for heartfelt and sometimes magical fare, with the tradition going as far back as It’s a Wonderful Life (did you hear about that potential remake?!) and beyond. True to form, So This is Christmas is a holiday film with a subtle magical twist that also takes on some pretty heavy YA issues: teen pregnancy, delinquency, and family dysfunction. YA Mag caught up with two stars of the film, Danielle Vega (East Los High) and Bryan Massey (W., Dragon Ball Z Kai) along with director Richard Foster to discuss what it was like working on a holiday favorite in the making.

SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS Interview with Danielle Vega

Danielle Vega YOUNG ADULT: Tell me a bit about the film and your role?

Danielle Vega: So This Is Christmas is a film dealing with regret, consequence, and, ultimately, forgiveness. My role in the film is Jason's (played by Titus Makin Jr) girlfriend Angelina. She finds out that she's pregnant and tries to tell Jason, who doesn't want to hear it, and ends up in a bad situation.

YA: What was your favorite scene when working on the film?
DV: I have so many favorite scenes - it's hard to choose just one! There is an intense scene with drug dealers that was actually a lot of fun. We had guns and smoke effects, lots of characters were involved, and some stunt work. We had a stunt coordinator there to help us with gun reactions - which way to fall after being shot in certain areas. Another favorite would have to be my scene with Eric Roberts. He's such a funny guy! He was always hiding the slate between takes. While we were shooting that scene I remember he told me that I was a great actress, very natural. I was beaming the rest of the day.

YA: Did you have to do any research?

DV: I spoke with Richard and Deborah Foster before I started filming to really get a true understanding of their vision for Angelina. After reading through the script several times I took notes and watched videos that reflected her struggle. The Fosters didn't want Angelina to appear weak. She was a strong Christian woman who happened to be in a bad situation, but she never lost her faith - and that is what makes her strong.

YA: What do you think happens to your character after the film ends?

DV: I want to say she miraculously makes a full recovery and she and Jason get back on the right track. They graduate from high school and go to college. She's able to take care of her mom and truly becomes a success story.

YA: There are so many lessons in this film. What was one lesson you took away?

DV: One lesson I love and took away from this film is that you should never get so caught up with present issues that you forget things that truly matter - family, good friends and your faith. Drugs and alcohol only suppress real problems. Whether it’s an unexpected pregnancy, pressure to do well, or depression that results in acting out, we have to talk about our issues and deal with them head on. Faith and believing in something greater than ourselves allow us to do that.

YA: Were there any key points from Richard that helped make your character your own and not the typical ‘pregnant teen’?

DV: Richard really wanted there to be more depth to Angelina than just being a victim of her current circumstance. She lived in a single parent household and her mom worked a lot to keep the bills paid and food on the table. So Angelina had a strong, independent female as an example. She also had her spiritual background that really provided a positive outlook on life, and allowed her to take responsibility for her actions. Creating that kind of history and depth in her faith really made Angelina come alive and stand apart from other pregnant teen roles.

YA: Where would you like to see your career go?

DV: It's every actor's dream to be recognized for their work with an Oscar, I'm sure. I just want to do meaningful work that touches people and makes them think. Entertainment in films and tv shows was always meant to do just that - entertain. But it's so much more than that for those involved. It's a voice for the people, for progress, for history. It's such a great feeling to know that you touched and affected someone with your work. I never want that to stop.

YA: Who would you like to work with in the future?

DV: Are you ready for this? My list is kind of long. I'd love to work with Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, JJ Abrams, Ron Howard, Denzel Washington, Gerard Butler, Salma Hayek, Emma Stone, Kathy Bates, Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey  - just to name a few. These people are so incredibly talented it would be an honor to work with them and learn from them.

YA: If you were to pick any film throughout time to be in, which would it be and whom would you play?

DV: That is a great question! Okay, I love scary movies and musicals. I'd love to be in either Sister Act 2 in Lauryn Hill's role or the more recent Pitch Perfect as Anna Kendrick's character. But for a scary movie I'd love to be in a remake of Psycho as the female Norman Bates. The original is a classic, but I loved Vince Vaughn's performance. He's amazing.

SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS Interview with Bryan Massey

Bryan MasseyYOUNG ADULT: Who is your character Mac and where does he fit into the film?

Bryan Massey: Mac is an angel disguised as a handyman. He befriends a troubled Ashley after her dad hires him to do some repairs around the house. What we discover from there is that Mac's work is more than just fixing the house. He's there to fix them. Gee, I sound like a movie trailer.

YA: What was your favorite part about Mac? And how did you go about playing him?

BM: Mac doesn't have a mean bone in his body. He's the ultimate humanitarian. It was a real treat as a performer to play such a nice guy for a change, and interesting to play someone devoid of most human flaws. And did I mention that he wears a trademark fedora? Anyone that knows me knows what a huge Indiana Jones fan I am. I loved that hat so much I outbid it from wardrobe after we wrapped.

YA: What was one message you took away from this piece? And with whom would you want to share this film?

BM: The message is pretty clear to me. People are worth investing in. Just because somebody makes mistakes doesn't mean that you can't fix them. Oh and it's also a feel good Christmas movie that tackles some pretty tough terrain. I have a daughter I plan on sharing this with. Of course she's only two right now so I might wait a bit.

YA: What was your favorite scene to shoot and why?

BM: Honestly I enjoyed working with the entire cast, including the scene-stealing dog Willy. Everyday on set was a bonus. The cast and crew really bonded on this, truly. However if I have to pick one, my favorite moment would have to be my first scene with the amazingly gifted Eric Roberts. I've always been blown away by his talents and feel extremely privileged to have worked with him.

YA: Any funny things to happen off camera?

BM: There were lots of pranks being pulled off camera, trust me, but I must confess that I wasn't as skilled with a motorcycle as I had presented to the Fosters during my audition. The first time we see Mac in the movie he is sitting on his motorcycle, not moving. That's because yours truly was extremely nervous riding that rather expensive classic Harley-Davidson, and the owner was right there watching us. I almost hit Lexi and a reporter coming in with the bike, so we had to change the scene around a bit. Phew. There, I feel better… Don't you?

YA: What else do you have coming up?

BM: My favorite question, and I don't know! Have a few things in the proverbial fire but still waiting. I am currently co-producing a cartoon show entitled V.O. the Show. It follows the journey of a voice actor named Ryan Braugh as he tries to make it in Hollywood with the "help" of his seedy agent Cyrus Blackburn. Guess you could say I know a little bit about being a starving artist. It's still a work in progress but we are very excited about it. We are about to start implementing musicals and spoofs. Check us out at www.VOtheShow.com.

Thank you!

SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS Interview with Richard Foster

Richard FosterYOUNG ADULT: Where did you come up with the concept for So This Is Christmas?

Richard Foster: I’m going to let Debbie answer this one as she came up with the concept and wrote the first draft of the script. I did not come on board as a writer until we began re-writes together.

Deborah Foster: My intention on the 1st draft was to write about the good Christmases I remembered in my own family, the wonderful, laughable, endearing plays of the Christmas story, people working together, despite hardships to overcome. Then Richard & I began to work together and he gave me a male perspective.

When doing research on what's happening today, I was deeply impacted by the fact that, for the most part, a lot of teens don't even know what it's like to pull together, communicate, care or understand each other. I believe wrongs can still be righted, miracles can still happen and people can change. We need to listen to each other more, appreciate each other more and believe that God cares about all of us more than we could possible imagine.

YA: Back to Richard, what was it like working with this group of actors?

RF: We cast for these parts in several parts of the country. We knew we wanted strong, experienced actors for the parts of Sharon and Bill, but we wanted fresh faces for the other parts – actors with experience but not known for specific roles so we could have these characters totally embodied by them.

We were very pleased to be able to get Eric Roberts and Vivica A. Fox, not because they have great box office draw, but because they are amazing actors. They came in the last ten days of the shoot so the rest of the cast already knew one another and were well into their roles. Their first day on set together was them doing the duet of “Mary Did You Know?” and they had only received the music the night before. So our first experience with stars on set was their most difficult scene. And they nailed it.

There was a little bit of skepticism on their part initially, as this was our first film and we were shooting it in Tulsa, but once they discovered we ran a tight set and all our crew knew what they were doing, tensions relaxed and the shoot returned to free flowing jocularity. Eric ended up barely using his RV and eating with the crew and smoking with them between setups.

All our other main actors had a lot of experience with the exception of Cassidee who was our ingénue. The spirit of cooperation was wonderful with Eric or Vivica sharing hints with the younger actors between takes.

I made it clear to everyone that film is a collaborative process and I welcome feedback and ideas from everyone on set. No one abused this and I got many good ideas from cast and crew alike. But it was especially exciting to get character refinements from actors of this stature, and to have them willing to ad lib and add so many little things, some of which became great moments of comic relief in the film’s pacing.

YA: What lesson are you hoping people take away from this film?

RF: The film is really about choices. Even though we live in a time when it seems popular to blame what is outside you for life’s problems, like our parents, our economic conditions, our friends and enemies, our skin color, the side of the tracks we came from, or our genetics, the truth is that we have a choice every minute of every day. And the choices we make can become habits, both good and bad. And the habits we form determine our life’s course.

In the film we show real problems that real people face everyday, things like alcohol and drug abuse, parental abuse, teen pregnancy, shoplifting and burglary, marital strife, and economic pressures. And in the film we show that no matter how low you fall you can turn your life around, with help from good advice, and from faith in God. We also show there are some tough situations you have to stick out, and some you have to leave because it is unsafe to stay.

YA: What was your favorite scene to shoot and why?

RF: Picking a favorite scene is not easy but the scene in the kitchen the day after Ashley comes in drunk and Jason sneaks in stands out. I decided to construct the scene as a true ensemble piece and shoot it as a continuous five minute take.

We rehearsed the scene a couple of times and discussed some small dialog changes, including giving the actors freedom to ad lib some actions and lines. Everyone did their parts wonderfully and hit all their marks. Eric Roberts’ performance at the end of that scene where he comes in sleepily and makes coffee and starts cleaning up the kitchen is almost totally ad libbed. It was extremely difficult to stifle our laughter at his improvised antics, and some of the outtakes were outrageous but too long to make the cut.

YA: What’s the distribution process like and where will people be able to watch this film?

RF: We had good success at festivals, winning the following:

as well as:

However this did not produce any theatrical distribution offers. We had a by-invitation screening at Raleigh Studios Screening Room in LA and that resulted in a foreign distribution offer and we began negotiating the terms with them and at the same time began submitting the DVD of the film to large and small distributors in the hopes of obtaining a theatrical/digital North American deal. We had excellent feedback on the film but no package offer that included a large theatrical opening. Distributors told us it was a difficult film to market as it was serious for a typical Christmas film, and that even though we had good stars, they were not box office opening stars. Well our limited budget on our first film did not allow for that, which we already knew, but we did make a lot of good contacts for future projects.

Distribution is probably the hardest part of filmmaking and we have learned a lot, much more than I can go into here, from our experiences. In all it took us over a year from final mix to securing good distribution. And there were a lot of hours on the phone and a lot of emails in that year. But if you love telling strong stories through the medium of film you learn and conquer that part of the process also.