Celebrating Christmas every day may seem like a cheerful idea at first, but if you had to hear “Jingle Bell Rock” all year round, you’d probably relate more to the Grinch.
The newest Disney Channel Original Movie Christmas Again (premiering December 3) tells the story of Rowena (Scarlett Estevez), who finds herself dissatisfied with this year’s holiday and ends up making a deal with Santa (Gary Anthony Williams) to have a Christmas “do-over”— but over and over again.
Director and executive producer Andy Fickman (She’s the Man, Parental Guidance) tells us more about the first Disney Channel Original Christmas film in 10 years since Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas.
Have you ever directed a holiday film before Christmas Again?
Andy Fickman: I have to quickly think to be like “Have I done a holiday film?” I haven’t. I have wanted to do a Christmas movie forever. I was born on Christmas Day, so I have definitely looked. We made a movie with Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei called Parental Guidance. That was not a holiday movie, but it was released on Christmas Day.
What drew you to this particular story?
Groundhog Day is one of my favorites, so I love the concept. My ex-wife and I got a divorce when my son was around five, and I always connected with the notion of how difficult it is for children of divorce or someone who has lost a parent when new people are introduced into their lives, especially on the holidays. Dad and the new girlfriend. Mom has a new husband. My ex-wife and I are very close, but I think we were on the lucky side. I know just how hard it is. And I thought, what a great theme to explore during the holidays for families and kids of all ages.
This is the first Christmas Disney Channel original movie in 10 years.
It’s been 10 years, which is crazy because we were working on it. Then we started going in production, and then everyone was like, “wow, it’s been 10 years” I think even all of our partners at Disney, sometimes they forgot they’re like, “what?” So, we are happy to break this spell. Hopefully, it’ll be the beginning of many more.
Is there any pressure that comes with that?
Mickey comes to your house, knocks on your door, and says, “don’t screw it up.” Now, you don’t want a six-foot-tall rodent knocking on your door late at night, threatening you, so we were pretty sure we had to get it right.
What makes the story the right one to tell for the first Disney Christmas movie in 10 years?
It felt very fresh and very modern. Our lead, Scarlett Estevez, made some really wonderful, strong, bold, comedic, and emotional acting choices. Gary Anthony Williams as our Santa. Shooting in Chicago. We just tried to avoid as many things that people would say, “I’ve seen that before.” If we were going to do it, we wanted it to feel fresh and relevant and modern.
Your main character relives the same day repeatedly, and that’s a frequent pattern with other movies. What makes this time loop so valuable? And how does this film use it differently from others?
Groundhog Day did such a great job doing it. Palm Springs on Hulu did a really great job with it. With time loops, the challenge is, what’s the learning curve of the character, and when does that learning curve [begin] again? While all of those movies are vastly different, and certainly those two play more for adult entertainment than Christmas Again — which is more for the family — does, the challenge is we have like 52 time loops that just from a storytelling standpoint, you have to ask, “alright, the 38th time loop, what does she learn? And is she ready to learn anything, or is she just having a great time redoing all the crazy things one could do on Christmas if there was no stoppage of time?” We wanted to be in the world of those movies, but wanted to be our own movie. Sticking to our own logic is what really helped us.
How did you approach directing certain scenes that are repeated?
A lot of it, again, was the strength of Scarlett as an actress. What we were asking that most people do around her was to repeat what they had previously done. They needed to maintain the performance because they’re not in a time loop shield. Usually she and I would work through the scene and talk about, “OK in this particular scene, this is where your headspace is and now, you’re frustrated and now you’re upset” and you really need a partner to do that. Scarlett was just, on and off-screen, such a delightful partner to have. Sometimes she would ask me, “Do you think I’d be more upset because now I know more?” It really helped us hone in on the specifics of the character in the journey.
Scarlett seems brilliant in this! You talked about it a little bit, but what was it like working with her on set?
She just had the right attitude. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of kids, sometimes early in their careers. You’re just looking for someone whose natural instinct is that. You just can’t teach the comedy, and she’s just really fun when the cameras aren’t rolling. She’s just got a lot of energy, and you realize that’s who she is. She’s great. She comes from a great family. They’ve done a spectacular job. Her head is on straight, but she is so specific, knows her work. We’ll look at the clock and say, “alright, we got 20 minutes to get this,” And every single time she’d nail it.
You were in production last winter in Chicago, so you probably have to deal with extreme weather conditions and pandemic restrictions. Were there any changes you had to make as a result?
I think everything. We wrapped December 23. We were in the heart of Chicago, and you’re filming during a pandemic where there’s no vaccine yet. So every day, as numbers were spiking, Disney’s job was to keep us safe, and they did a really great job. But it meant some days you would go, “you know what, we’re not going to film today, we’re going to wait three days until we get all the best results back.” It was very much moving an army around. Making any movie can be a challenge, but when you add the pandemic to it and winter in Chicago, you’re definitely every day going to be challenged,
What are your favorite memories from working on this project?
There was a moment where the wonderful Priscilla Lopez and Alexis Carra were singing “Silent Night” in Spanish to the whole family, gathered around the fireplace and the Christmas tree. I just cherished that moment because the whole cast was there and everybody was singing and it just was special.
What do you hope viewers to take from this film, especially young kids?
I want, hopefully, to have a shared viewing experience that is memorable and they laugh and some tears of joy. I’d love that for any child watching it who might be challenged by changes within their family unit and maybe sadness of the holiday not being what they wanted it to be, that they wish their whole family was together, but now it’s sort of fractured, they see this movie and find that there’s still so much love out there for them and for their family. Sometimes opening yourselves up for new adventures is sort of what you need to do, and when you let people in that maybe you are afraid of how they’re going to change it, maybe you might be pleasantly surprised by how much they enhance your experience.
What can you tell us about any future projects? I know you’re set to direct the adaptation of One True Loves.
Forty-eight hours ago, I was in Wilmington, North Carolina, and I yelled rap on that movie that stars Simu Liu, the star of Shang Chi, and Phillipa Soo from Hamilton, Luke Bracey from Holidate. I got on a plane and I came straight to London. I have a musical adaptation of the movie Heathers that we’ve been doing, and we [opened] again in London West End on November 25.
Christmas Again, Movie Premiere, Friday, December 3, Disney Channel