Friday, December 4, 2015

Mitch Davis: The Man Behind the Movie, 'Christmas Eve'

INTERVIEW
This December, Christmas Eve, a new faith-based holiday filmed will be released in select theaters and is directed by Mitch Davis. Davis began his career in film in the late 80’s working for Disney as a creative executive. It is there that he worked on Dead Poet’s Society, White Fang, The Rocketeer and Newsies. In 1995, he wrote and co-directed Windrunner, a Disney Channel original movie. He followed that up with The Other Side of Heaven which starred Anne Hathaway and Christopher Gorham. The film told the true story of Mormon missionary, John Groberg who served his role in the Tongan islands in the 1950’s.
 

 Fast forward to 2015 where he wrote and directed Christmas Eve, a story about six sets of people who get trapped in six different elevators during a huge power outage on … Christmas Eve. I got a chance to chat with Davis this week to talk about this new endeavor. I began by asking Davis how The Other Side of Heaven and Christmas Eve compared if all.
 

“The two movies are similar in that ordinary people are put into extraordinary circumstances that require them to rely upon their faith in God and the kindness of their fellow men in order to get through,” says Davis. “In the case of The Other Side of Heaven you have a farm kid from Idaho who gets thrown into the South Pacific. In Christmas Eve you've got New Yorkers stuck inside elevators overnight.  In both movies you have people in peril who need faith, hope, and charity to get them through.”
 

While the shooting schedule for Christmas Eve was fairly short, just 25 days, the project itself took about five years to finish. “The original screenplay for this movie was written by a very talented first-timer named Tyler McKellar,” says Davis. “It was called "Stuck" and was not originally set on Christmas Eve. One of the things that really attracted me to the script was its forthright, positive depiction of Christian faith.  So often people of faith are depicted in Hollywood as fanatical and hysterical characters, whereas this script depicted reasoned, rational people of faith.” Davis bought the script and then promptly rewrote it, raised the production funds, found the actors to play the parts, film it and then take care of all of the post production work. So why base the story around Christmas? “I decided to set the movie during Christmas because I wanted to push the theme of Christian faith a little further than I could otherwise,” says Davis. “The one time of the year Hollywood will stand aside for a positive depiction of faith seems to be Christmas.”

Christmas Eve features a large cast of actors including Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) and Cheryl Hines (Suburatory). I asked Davis which actor surprised him and why. “Patrick Stewart pleasantly surprised me by being such an extraordinary gentleman. It would have been easy for an actor of his pedigree to have wielded excessive power on our set, but he was generous and deferential at every turn.  And it turns out he is an aficionado of Christian art, particularly the works of Caravaggio.  We have that in common.

“The other actor who really surprised me was Shawn King. She plays the nurse who proclaims her Christian faith to the atheist cardiologist she is stuck with overnight. Shawn is a very glamorous woman and I needed this nurse to be a kind of down to earth character named Nurse Wilda. But she nailed it. I mean, you'll see, when Shawn starts talking about her Christian faith, her eyes just light up and her heart fills with the spirit of the Lord. It's a beautiful thing to behold and I'm very proud of her performance. She has this one line that I think all Christians who have ever been ridiculed for their faith will really appreciate. She's coming back at the atheist surgeon who has just derided her, and she really puts him in his place. Then she says, with total calm and confidence, ‘I don't know everything, but that doesn't mean I don't know anything.’ It’s my favorite line of the movie.”

Often when we hear that a film is “faith-based,” we often associate it to have been created by mainline Christians, however with this film, Davis is a Mormon. I wondered how this might affect the film and asked Davis if he would consider Christmas Eve as a “Mormon-based” movie.


“To the contrary, Christmas Eve is one of the few Christian-themed films produced during the last decade featuring major, mainstream actors and studio-level production values.  There is no Mormonism in it. That’s just not what it's about. I happen to be a Mormon, along with ten or so others of the 300 people who worked on the film. But Cecil B. Demise’s classic film, The Ten Commandments, was based almost entirely on storyboards drawn by a Mormon artist named Arnold Friberg and I don't think any of us view that as a ‘Mormon’ film.” Good point.


Finally, I asked Davis what he hoped audiences would take away from the film. He said that they would realize “that we are all God's children, that He watches over us, in good times and bad, and that we are all in it together.”

Originally published on Examiner.com.

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