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Behind the Scenes: Happy Christmas

  • August 18, 2014

In Happy Christmas, writer/actor/director Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) explores both sibling relationships and the choices women face in young families. Swanberg pulled from his own personal experience with his brother, a short-stay houseguest, unexpectedly become a three-month roommate to him and his wife.

Swanberg teamed up with DP Ben Richardson (Beasts of the Southern Wild) to bring the story to the screen. The director is known for using a unique, improvisational method of filming to create a dramatic, relatable peek into his characters’ lives. Instead of writing a traditional script, he creates an outline with the scenarios he envisions for his film. Richardson’s understanding of Swanberg’s editing and storytelling style enabled him to insert himself into scenes with a special sensitivity.

“He has a kind of inherent story sense and ability to, within one take, put himself into the places that create edit points,” says Swanberg about his collaboration with Richardson. “Instead of trying to shoot two cameras, and thus adding more people into the scenario, Ben’s able to just roam with his camera and cover a scene within a take.”

The filmmakers chose to shoot Happy Christmas on Kodak Super 16mm. “Because of the house and the 1960s/1970s vibe of the movie, 16mm really provides the right feel,” says Swanberg. “It embodies that spirit of independent filmmaking.”

Happy Christmas is in theaters now and available on demand.