Back in October we posted the exclusive trailer for the horror/comedy Mercy Christmas directed by Ryan Nelson. In case you don’t remember, the film follows Michael Briskett as his office crush invites him home for her family’s holiday celebration, only to learn they want to eat HIM for dinner. With Christmas just a few weeks away and Mercy Christmas now available on VOD, we decided to learn more about the making of this outrageous holiday tale by speaking with a few of the creatives behind the film. Below is an interview with Tarquin Alexander who served as the film’s producer and Beth Levy Nelson who co-wrote and produced the film. You can watch the film here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/mercy-christmas/id1292460816
Beth, you co-wrote Mercy Christmas with your husband Ryan Nelson who also directed the film. We read that the idea stemmed from your own personal experiences. Can you expand on that?
Beth: Ryan comes from a family that does a HUGE Christmas and my family does a HUGE Passover. After a living through both occasions together, Ryan and I couldn’t help but notice how the stresses and pressure on tradition are the same no matter what. We thought it would be fun to just take that family/ holiday dynamic to the next level.
Tarquin, you are a producer on Mercy Christmas. How did you become involved with the project?
Tarquin: Beth and I worked together in casting and often talked about producing something together. When I read Beth & Ryan’s script, the mixture of whacked out horror, comedy, and heart drew me in right away. They had such a fun vision and drive to make the movie, so, when it was clear we could make it on a small budget, I was in.
Tarquin & Beth, this was your first time producing a full length feature. What would you say the most challenging part was for you all?
Tarquin: Finding locations was particularly challenging. Few houses in LA have actual basements that you can turn into a set and then fit a crew inside. We knew that both the house and the basement were absolutely crucial to pull the movie off, but our budget limited what was available to us. After weeks of traveling all over LA and Santa Clarita, we found a house that was perfect for the story and the production, as well as a truly creepy basement a few blocks away. Once we had those locations, there was no turning back.
Beth: I would also say that with indie film a producers job in not exclusive to the general parameters of what a producer does. You do EVERYTHING. Tarquin and I wore a million hats.
Beth, how long did it take you and Ryan to write the script? Was there a scene that you weren’t sure would work but ended up making it in the film?
Beth: It took us about a year to write the script. We both work in film and television during the day so we wrote at night, on the weekends, on locations for other projects, basically anywhere and anytime we could. There is a great monologue performed to perfection by Whitney Nielsen, who plays Katherine, when she and Steven Hubbell, who plays Michael Briskett, are in the basement talking about the meaning of Christmas. I always loved it, but I wasn’t sure if the audience would want to take the time to enjoy it. Thanks to the masterful way Ryan moves between tones in the movie, the audience always eats it up, so that makes me happy.
Tarquin, you have also worked in casting for shows like The Middle and Arrested Development. Did you come onto this project with actors already in mind or did you start with a fresh slate?
Tarquin: Yes, I definitely had actors in mind for particular roles, both people I knew and long shots, but that list gets smaller and smaller as you consider how and where you want to spend money. Our budget wasn’t going to attract names. Knowing how many good, dedicated, unknown actors there are in LA, Beth and I were confident that we, along with Christine Scowley and Karen Ryan, would find great people. And we certainly did, we could rave about our cast all day long. They all nailed it and they were all great to work with.
Tarquin & Beth, what is each of your favorite scenes in the film? And why?
Tarquin: My favorite is the end fight scene. It’s such a great payoff. So funny and fucked up, but also so satisfying. Ryan & Matt Evans (editor) put it all together with such energy and drive, the pace and the music work perfectly. Plus all the main characters clash and shine and the entire sequence was so much fun to shoot.
Beth: Me too. The end fight is epic. I could watch it a million times.
Tarquin & Beth, Gravitas Ventures is distributing the film. How did you decide to partner with them?
Beth: As we were moving through the festival circuit we realized we didn’t have the luxury of slowly finding a distribution company. We wanted to get this movie out by Christmas 2017, so we had to make a choice BEFORE we started hitting our stride festival wise. We had been approached by 4 companies who were interested in the film, but Josh Spector & Zach Hamby at Gravitas Ventures really understood the film the best and had a great plan for release. We are also working with Devil Works as our international sales agent, so Mercy Christmas will be all over the globe next year!
The film has received a lot of good reviews along with a Shriekfest nomination for “Best Horror Film”. How rewarding is it to receive these and does it reinforce any choices you made along the way?
Beth: Yes! It’s hard making a movie and being in your own bubble for so long. Once it’s out in the world, it’s just out there, fingers crossed – so it’s nice to be recognized. We have been nominated for Best Film at Shriekfest, Portland Underground and Sin City Film Festivals, so that feels good.
Many thanks to Tarquin Alexander and Beth Levy Nelson for taking the time for this interview.