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Interview with Paul Tanter director and co-writer of The Nights Before Christmas
By James Whittington, Sunday 25th October 2020
The Nights Before Christmas-poster

Prolific creative Paul Tanter has delivered a real treat for FrightFest pass holders today, the blood-splattered shocker, The Nights Before Christmas. Here he chats about this cracker of a movie.

HC: Have you always been a fan of the horror genre?

PT: Absolutely. One of my first cinema memories is my dad taking me to see Fright Night in 1985 and there being a promotional pack of vampire teeth on every seat. I was five at the time so I'm not sure how he snuck me in there, considering it's rated 18. I grew up watching The Omen films, in parts enthralled and terrified by them. I still can't pass that church in Fulham without keeping an eye on the spire, be near people carrying a pane of glass, or go skating on iced-over lakes.

HC: Where did the idea for The Nights Before Christmas come from?

PT: Largely as a follow on from another Christmas horror we did called Once Upon a Time at Christmas. This continues the story of some of the same characters but it's not strictly a sequel as you can watch it without needing to have seen the first one at all. We hinted at the origins of Mr and Mrs Claus in Once Upon a Time at Christmas, how they met and took on these personas. The Nights Before Christmas grew out of that - it's a exploration of their past while continuing the story in a bigger and more exciting way with more blood, more kills, more elaborate deaths. They are such fun characters to create and write that I'd happily to an entire series of films with them.

HC: Did you and co-writer Simon Phillips have a set routine when writing, for example, did you work together in the same room or on separate scenes in your own homes etc?

PT: We forensically detailed the story on index cards on a wall for every single scene. Once we nailed that then we divided the scenes between us and wrote separately at home, then passed them over for the other to feedback/edit. It goes back and forth several times with edits being discussed, argued for/against and eventually the shooting script it ready. I've been writing for over ten years with Simon as my producer so we have a good system for notes. I think this is the first time we've properly co-written one together though.

HC: How did you go about casting the movie?

PT: Well the casting of Santa and Mrs Claus was a no brainer after their antics in Once Upon a Time at Christmas. Sayle De Goede is six foot tall in bare feet and combines a wonderful manic energy with a sweet innocence. Simon Phillips as Santa is an absolute hoot - a classic movie psychopath of viciously sadistic killer with a keen mind. Many of the other roles we cast with talented actors we had worked with before and a couple of the smaller ones went out to casting websites and we looked at audition videos.

HC: This isn't just a slasher movie as it's a very tense thriller and revenge drama, did you find it hard to balance each theme?

PT: Thank you, yes as we're essentially merging the slasher genre with a police/FBI procedural then you have to delicately balance the two. One of my favourite films is Silence of The Lambs which continually has you tense on the edge of your seat and that was an influence on the thriller side of things. Hopefully these serious elements balance out with the more outlandish aspects of the story.

HC: Do you have a favourite "kill" in the movie?

PT: I'm very partial to Mrs Claus being inventive with a stiletto in a particularly bloody and vicious kill. There's also one where Santa goes at a lawyer in a bathroom with a pruning shears that men will be squirming at. But my favourite is probably when Santa decapitates a slimy corporate boss. I love those 80's movie douchebag type characters - Walter Peck in Ghostbusters, Carter Burke in Aliens, Harry Ellis in Die Hard. When we were casting this I told Simon that people need to really hate this guy, he needs to be believable as an utter sh*t. He said to me; "Paul, I know exactly who should play this role." I think we cast that character perfectly and I love seeing his head taken off.

HC: You seemed to have shot the movie under difficult conditions, was it a tough shoot?

PT: The outdoor stuff was, for sure. Our first day was the ambulance convoy scene which was a logistical nightmare with six vehicles driving on snowy roads, aerial photography, several scenes with a lot of elaborate kills and Santa bring a tree down on one of the cars. We'd been praying for snow all week as it was yet to land but we were booked in to shoot in anticipation of a big flurry. Thankfully we woke to two feet of pristine snow, but driving and filming in it was challenging. Also standing in snow up to your knees tends to make your shoes and trousers very wet, so that added to the fun. But ultimately your discomfort is temporary and what you shoot is permanent so you crack on and get it. Operating a drone in sub zero temperatures is certainly challenging.

HC: Will you be nervous when the movie is shown at FrightFest?

PT: Nervous and excited! I've been a fan of FrightFest for years now and I know there's a reason it's the UK's number one horror festival. It's an honour to be selected and we appreciate people choosing to watch our film when there's so many fantastic ones to choose from.

HC: There's a whole sub-genre of seasonal chillers, which is the best one?

PT: Hmm, if we're talking winter/snow bound then The Thing, Misery and The Shining would all be up there but if it's specifically Christmas then I'd definitely recommend people watch Rare Exports from Finland. It has a great spin on Santa.

HC: You're a prolific worker, has the pandemic allowed you to sit back and relax for once?

PT: It curtailed filming but not post-production, so I've stayed busy. We were shooting the second series of our vampire TV show Age of The Living Dead up to when the lockdown kicked in and just managed to wrap in time. Since then we spent the lockdown period finishing post on that and also on Stealing Chaplin, a Vegas-set black comedy inspired by a true story about two con men who dig up and ransom the corpse of Charlie Chaplin. Stealing Chaplin just got a UK theatrical release and Age of The Living Dead series 2 should be out early next year. The pandemic meant that all postproduction was being done remotely so actors were having to improvise makeshift recording studios for ADR in their closets. I also fitted in as much writing as possible - some scripts but also some writing for various film magazines. I'm looking forward to getting back to shooting things as soon as possible though.

HC: So, what are you up to at the moment?

PT: I can't say too much yet but there's talk of Santa and Mrs Claus returning to paint the town blood-red in a third Christmas instalment. Right now we're busy on a project called The United States of Horror where we are curating an anthology of short horror stories from each and every State in the USA. Each State's tale is linked to the State or intrinsically references it in some way. It's a celebration of horror filmmaking and we'll be launching a similar United Kingdom of Horror anthology very soon.

HC: Paul Tanter, thank you very much.

PT: Thank you too!


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