John Whitesell (Director - 'Deck The Halls')
'Covering All Angles!'
There glows the neighborhood! The holiday spirit gets competitive in 'Deck the Halls,' the hilarious contemporary family tale pitting two suburban families against each other for the grudge match of the season, now out on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment.
Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito are hilarious as two neighbors trying to put the “win” in “winter” in one of the years most outrageously funny comedies! Determined to unseat Steve Finch’s (Broderick) reign as the town’s holiday season king, Buddy Hall (DeVito) plasters his house with so many decorative lights that it’ll be visible from space! When their wives (Kristin Davis and Kristin Chenoweth) bond and their kids follow suit, the two men only escalate their rivalry – and their decorating.
It’s anybody’s guess whether the holidays will wind up jolly or
jostled in this wild and woolly laugh-fest that the whole family will love!
Chatting recently to the film's director John Whitesell, and knowing that this film was actually filmed in Vancouver, BC. on a back lot in high summer, I first wondered what had been the main thing he had had to watch out for with the actors? John Whitesell - "Sweat," he laughs. "Matthew would sweat. The Girls would sweat. Sometimes is was 100 degrees out there and they were all in coats. So we were running them in and out and holding umbrellas over them. But the biggest thing we had to watch for was sweat. Because the makeup would run and that's hard. Because even though it's 100 degrees you're supposed to be acting cold. And yet you’re sweating. I don't care how good an actor you are, that's a tough one."
Danny DeVito had some special keeping cool tricks that he told us about on the DVD, but did he share them with the other actors at the time? "I think part of it was that he made me put a special air conditioning hose close to him. And we also cut out all the lining in his coats. So, the coat was just a shell."
The house you built that then contained the massive JumboTron light display was incredible. But could it really have looked like that even if the average Joe had attempted it? "There's one special effects shot in the movie involving the house and that is at the very end when the beam of light goes up, it's a model shot. That's a special effects shot creating the beam. Everything else you see on lights on that house are all on camera. There's not one frame of enhancement. We did go through it with DI, so that we could saturate it a little bit better. You can clarify it like you do any film. We did not CGI, we put no extra lights in, we did nothing in the post part of the movie."
It was truly a magnificent display and something that I don't think has been seen before on film? "Yeah, I was very proud that we did all of it in camera and all of it. And if you had enough money and the willpower you could do on your home anywhere in the United States."
So, if we went to Home Depot tomorrow, how much would it cost us?! "We said about $400,000. When I did research on this there are people that have millions of dollars invested into their lights shows, across the country in different places. And part of what we felt like in the movie was if we're really going to do this we had to blow what you would see on the street away. So that's why we turned the house into a JumboTron Scoreboard so that it seemed to be the thing that you didn't see every day."
And you also not only built those two family houses on the cul-de-sac, but the cul-de-sac also! "Yes, we did. I think it took us six and a half weeks to build the houses. It's kinda like a Home Makeover," he laughs.
And what happened to those houses and that set when the shoot was done? "Yeah, we were very sad. We worked very hard to try and find a way to move them to some other place and let someone else finish them off. To try and do something good for some less fortunate families. Unfortunately, the insurance prospect of that for the studio was so overwhelming that it became not cost effective to try and do it. So we ended up having to knock them down which was a shame."
In a lot of the reviews it got panned way too much for its own good re: narrative, story line, and standard of production. So, and probably having been made aware of this before today, how does that sit with you as the director of said piece? "Look, I think that we all as filmmaker's think that we can make a better movie still. That we admit there are things we could have done better. I've never made a movie, or anything that I didn't think after the fact that I couldn't have improved on it. However, I do think that the reviews for the movie were overly harsh. My feeling is we tried to make a family movie about aspects of Christmas that we thought would resonate with people. We tried to make it funny and entertaining and with a little bit of heart at the end of it. So that you walked away with something. And I think we accomplished that."
"I actually thought the production values of the movie were quite good. So I'm a little dismayed when people said that. If you look at the people that worked on the movie like Bill Brzeski, he is one of the top production designers in the business. And I think Mark Irwin did a good job as a DP. I mean, obviously you're running against hurdles shooting in the middle of summer, in trying to create a winter film, but I certainly don't agree with those reviews."
‘Deck The Halls’ has some very funny scenes, and a lot of prat falls … but did any result in any real mishaps on set? "I don't think so ... but Danny never put the skates on! He has weak ankles and so when he came he told us he couldn't skate. So, he never put skates on in that entire sequence. We put him on a harness and pulled him around which I think worked very well. Matthew however did train. He actually trained for four weeks with an Olympic speed skating coach. And he did about 90% of the skating himself and did a really great job. So it was kind of an interesting dichotomy," he laughs.
Finally, there is also, and from a personal point of view as a father, an uncomfortable scene where Buddy and Steve stare at three female teenagers on stage only to find out that they are their daughters! Was anything ever said about that scene behind-the-scenes before it came to filming? "You know, I think that you shiver at it just for a second. And I think that the key to it was not letting it go on too long. And I think what buys you that it's OK is the reaction that the guys have. Like 'Oh my God. I did that with my daughter. I'm going to Hell!'"
"Because they're not pedophiles because those are their daughters. And what I loved was that Danny was egging Matthew on! It was more about 'Show me you're a guy,' as opposed to 'Boy, I really like that chick up there!' We tried to stay on that line of it, but when my dad read the script he said, 'That's terrible!' And then when he saw the daily of it, he laughed hysterically. I think that sometimes on paper it did hit some people wrongly. But I guess always for me was the fact that Don Rhymer has two teenage daughters this age. So for him, who wrote that beat, I think he truly understood exactly those kind of horrors that you feel in that situation. That's why I trusted it instinctively and always thought that it was really funny."
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
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