Q&A: Clay Kaytis on telling Christmas stories, Kurt Russell as Santa Claus

MANILA, Philippines – It's easy to think of Netflix's The Christmas Chronicles as just another feel-good Christmas movie that plays around with an all-too-familiar trope: kids meeting Santa and somehow ruining Christmas, but finding a way to fix it. 

What's curious about the newly-released Netflix Original, however, is how current it feels – it's self-aware that it may easily fall into the trap of being your usual Christmas movie and makes sure to acknowledge the real-life consquences of Santa, Kate, and Teddy's adventures. 

Rappler caught up with director Clay Kaytis on making a new Christmas movie, casting Kurt Russell as Saint Nick, and why it's important to always remember the good. 

The story of Santa Claus or saving Christmas has been the subject of movies so many times in the past. Why tell it again?

Matt Lieberman's script was such a unique take on the traditional Christmas movie, so full of surprises and logic, actually, that it made me say: "Of course, that's how it works! Why didn't anyone ever think of that before?" From top to bottom, there was an originality that I just couldn't resist. Audiences have reacted in the same way, so I know we've succeeded in making something very special with The Christmas Chronicles.

Santa isn't really someone you would associate with Kurt Russell. What was the idea behind casting him for the role? What was it like working with him in a role that's very different from the roles most people might associate him with?

There was a line in the original script that described Santa as "a husky lumberjack of a man. Handsome, tough, strong." If that doesn't shout Kurt Russell, I don't know what does. Also, if you're a fan of Kurt, you know he can be a very funny actor and that's something we definitely wanted to tap into for Santa.

We treat Santa as a real person, not a bland homogenized symbol of Christmas. Kurt completely jumped into this role. He came into this with incredible ideas about his hair, beard, costume, Santa's backstory. He was such a fabulous and generous collaborator.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

You've mostly shone in animated features. Why a live action feature this time?

For over 20 years, I had only worked in animation. I wanted to stretch my wings creatively and see what live action is all about. To see what else I can do. I haven't lost any of my passion for animation, but live action sure is incredibly fun and exciting too. It's very exciting to prove that I can do both.

Is working on an animated feature any different from live action ones? Why or why not?

I get this question a lot and I suppose there are only a handful of us who have directed in both mediums. In the end, the principles of storytelling are the same no matter how you make a film. What is the point of a scene? What is the best shot to tell this part of the story? What can you say to the actors or animators to get the performance you need? It's the time it takes that is the big difference.

An animated film can take up to 4 years to make, and sometimes more. We made The Christmas Chronicles in just under a year. After doing my first live action film, I can say they are both very intense and rewarding processes in their own ways.

How difficult or easy it is to communicate with a mostly young (or young at heart) audience?

I have always felt very young at heart and I've never lost my love for family films. In all my years animating at Disney, I was trained to reach the entire audience, never talking down to kids.

Young audiences are very smart, very perceptive, and they can tell when you're trying too hard. So coming at stories from an honest place has always been my approach. Audiences will always react to relationships and emotion, and that's the core of what this movie is about.

What do you want viewers to take away from the movie after they've streamed The Christmas Chronicles?

We set out to rekindle and reinforce that spark of magic and wonder that happens at Christmastime for people of all ages. In the film, Santa says "People need Christmas to remind themselves of how good they can be."

If people can come away with the feeling that Christmas is really about sharing our love with the people closest to us, then I've done my job.

Photo courtesy of Netflix

– Rappler.com 


The Christmas Chronicles is now streaming on Netflix