Published: Thursday, 23 November 2023 18:40 | Written by Jamie Ruby
In the film EXmas, workaholic Graham (Robbie Amell) reluctantly decides to come home for Christmas to surprise his family, only to arrive and find out that his ex-fiancé, Ali (Leighton Meester), is already celebrating the holiday with them.
Recently, director Jonah Feingold spoke with SciFi Vision about working on the film, including the quick turnaround, using fake snow, working with goats, his favorite Christmas rom coms, and more.
Watch the interview or read the full transcript below, and check out EXmas, now streaming on Freevee.
SCIFI VISION: So, to start, can you talk about how did you become involved in it?
JONAH FEINGOLD: …It had sort of been a busy couple of years. I had made a movie called Dating in New York. It was an independent rom com. We played Tribeca and then went and sold to IFC. It was an independent romantic comedy about a millennial couple that’s stuck in the paradox of choice. And I was lucky enough to have that film seen by an actor named Diego Boneta, who had a movie called At Midnight that he was going to look for a director for. I made that and then became this rom com, you know, person, and Buzzfeed and Amazon were putting together this movie called EXmas that was a classic rom com setup of two exes under one roof. I got a script from my agents, and they said, “Hey, this is a go movie. They have the start date. They need someone who can come in and and move quick.” And I'm single; I'm not married. I'm able to pick up and go make a movie at that pace. I also really like to. I like to work, and I like to make stuff. So, I was not intimidated by that process. And we got to go make EXmas over the spring and summer in Kelowna, Canada.
How long did it take to film, since you said it was so quick?
Twenty-two days, maybe something like that? But we had two cameras. So, typically, my first movie was fourteen days.
Then I guess that wasn't quick for you, was it? [laughs]
It wasn’t quick for me. I mean, I grew up making movies since I was four with a camera in my hand, and I worked at BuzzFeed in 2015 as a video fellow, and it's sort of kind of a full circle thing, but I have never been intimidated by what it takes to get something done. At Midnight, we had thirty-three days, because we were multiple countries…all these different things, stunts, but twenty-two days in a couple locations in Kelowna with two cameras was fine. I'd never felt like we didn't have enough time, which was great.
It must have been weird, because you said you filmed it in summer and spring, filming a Christmas movie. That's gonna be a bit weird.
It's totally weird, but most Christmas movies are filmed during the spring and summer. And we had a couple of meetings where it was just “Hey, educate me on fake snow. I know nothing about snow. All of you know all about snow,” because it's Canada and they all make the Christmas movies there. And I was like, “Don't assume I know anything. Talk to me like I'm a second grader. What is fake snow? How do we make it look good? How can I make it snow and have gusts of wind? Can you step on it, and is it VFX?”…Because in a movie like It's a Wonderful Life, you read about how it was mashed potatoes or something like that. I was like, “Are we still doing that potatoes? What's the technique here?” And it was great, because, ultimately, I think our snow actually looks pretty good. And for all things considered - and there's that Gilmore Girls clip, that’s going viral, where he steps on fake snow, and it looks horrible. We don't have any of that. So, I think we’re gonna hopefully pass the test.
Well, I didn't even think about when it was filmed.
Thank you. That's great. That's awesome.
So, other than the fakes know, what other challenges did you run into?
The biggest challenge I always talk about is just having eight actors in a scene. No one really tells you on day one. “Hey, your biggest thing here is going to be you have eight different personalities, eight different people who need to get lines off, and that's a minimum of eight closeups.” So, immediately, you're on eight setups, and then forget it. That's if you do one take, and you have to do multiple takes to do multiple angles. So, I think having these big sequences - which is why it's great to have two cameras - it wasn't like it was a challenge. It was just I didn't anticipate it. So, the first day goes by, and I have to rewire my brain in terms of how to be efficient. Every time you direct a movie, you learn so much. One of the great gifts of the profession is every single day you learn an exponential amount of information about how to become a better filmmaker, and it's incredibly overwhelming and intimidating, but it's really cool. I mean, I'm envious of filmmakers that have made twenty movies, because they just know truly more than anyone else in the world. Like, I think if you can make a movie, you can do a lot of things in your life. It's a very difficult thing to do. So, people that have been on those sets and some of the crew I got to work with were so experienced. I was just asking them questions. “How does it work? What was it like on that set? How many setups was that? What can go wrong?” So, that was the biggest challenge and how we dealt with it.
You also though had a goat. I would think that would be somewhat of a challenge.
Well, originally there were supposed to be multiple goats, and I said Amazon “I love you. Yes, I'm a Prime member, but we can't do multiple goats.” No, ultimately what happened was one of the goats…got sick. He was not feeling well. This was early early on before we even started the movie. [It was] one goat, and his name was Buster, and he was a great goat. Goats are friendly. Goats don't really - you can't really train them. They don't retain information like a dog or a cat. So, it was a lot of food in Leighton's hand. It was a lot of chilling with the goat, just having a good vibe on set. We had his handlers there, you know, very safe environment for the goat. I think the goat had a great time, and working with animals is something I love doing, and working with animals in a safe way is really important to me. So, we had goats, we had snow, we had ice hockey. You know, ice hockey was the hardest day, for sure. I mean, that was impossible.
They say they say kids and animals are the hardest thing. So, at least you’ve got half of that done with.
So, what was your favorite scene?
They are a lot fun scenes. I think my favorite sequence is when they come home late at night, and Robbie's tired, and he falls asleep onto Leighton, and they start the pillow fight. “You're stupid.” “No, you're stupid, I hate your bangs.” They start making out, and we wake up, and they're cuddling. She's snoring in his ear –
She’s on top of his head. [laughs]
[She’s] on top of his head. I love that sequence. I also love their little flashback sequence where they're remembering their relationship. That to me is the tone and what I bring to a movie. You know, it's a little bit of magical realism; it's a little bit of nostalgia. Those are the scenes where I really am like, “That's what I couldn't bring to this movie,” because this movie is a lot of different people, a lot of different voices. It's the actors. It's BuzzFeed. It’s Amazon. People look to a director, but at a movie, like a studio film, what people don't realize is that Jonah Feingold doesn't have final cut. So, you try to maintain your voice, and you try to make things enjoyable for an audience. And I say that as a positive thing, because maybe all my ideas aren't that great, but there's a little bit of my DNA in there still.
Do you have a favorite Christmas movie or rom com or something? Just curious [if there was one] you thought about as you did this?
Well, it'd be a movie like Christmas in Connecticut where she's faking - the faking of the engagement, which I wanted to do a little homage, that's the very end. Leighton holds up her finger and says, “I'm engaged. Don't kiss me.” It’s at the very end of the movie, which is kind of a literal rip from that film. But I think my favorite movie ever for the holiday rom com genre is the Nancy Meyers classic, The Holiday, which I love dearly. I love a movie called LA Story. I love When Harry Met Sally, obviously, that's kind of a given. White Christmas…is a really great one. So, yeah, I really do like all them as my favorite films.
I know you said you learn each time about like directing; you've learned more and more, but did you learn anything about yourself or anything that kind of changed coming out of this project that you can think of?
Yeah, I learned that - You know, I have a smaller family. I have my parents and my sister, and my parents are divorced, but they're good friends. And I’ve always fantasized this idea of a big holiday. I'm Jewish, but like, you know, a big Christmas energy. And I learned that I don't need [that]. I can do that with friends and that I don't know if it's actually that great to have a big family and have like Christmas chaos. I lived it with these actors. I'm like, “You know, that's my fulfillment. I don't need to have twenty cousins and everything and this big family run around in this chaos.” I kind of like it with the peaceful Chinese food dinner that we have. I learned that about myself. Truly, it was a big self revelation, because I've always dreamt about that. But now I don't really.