Clare Bowen and Brant Daugherty pose as the “ideal couple” in “#Xmas,” a new, original ‘feel good comedy’ directed by Heather Hawthorn Doyle, which premieres Friday, November 25 (6 p.m. ET/PT), on Hallmark Channel. We at Survived The Shows had the pleasure of chatting with director Heather Hawthorn Doyle by email about her experience in the making of this movie and what fans can expect. Check out the full interview in the article below!
What’s the main element in Jen’s and Max’s characters and the movie in general that fascinates you the most and drew you to join #Xmas?
I loved the overall message that Jen delivers – especially poignant through the lens of social media – that although things may look perfect, they sure aren’t perfect on the way to getting there. Even in our opening we show a wreath poorly tied then beautiful, throughout Jen is clear that life isn’t perfect, but it can be really good. I also loved the idea that Jen had many relationships that she was navigating in this movie, with her best friend (Max) and her sister, and then a troubled relationship with her mom. And that it was a comedy that allowed us to have some fun!
As we know quite well so far, Hallmark movies and shows always feature well-shaped and relatable characters – Where are you and the characters of this movie most similar and where most different as human beings?
Great question. My husband was my best friend for a year before we even started dating and he’s still my best friend now and forever so what Jen and Max have I understand. Plus, I get that family relationships can be tough. That we look for something more from our family members and sometimes they can’t get there, but they’re trying. I also think I’m a combination of Jen and her sister honestly – and that was fun to explore!
What’s been the biggest challenge for you in directing this movie?
Honestly this was one of the most fun movies I’ve ever gotten to direct! The cast was so open to trying new things – and so was I – and the script was super fun! We just had a blast every day. Probably working with the baby was the biggest challenge – he’s fantastic – but on the first day we weren’t in tune with his nap schedule and he was a bit cranky (cause he was tired!) but after that first day we made sure his naps took priority – and he was honestly a phenomenal baby!
To all the fans looking forward to watching the movie, how would you describe #Xmas?
Xmas is a feel good comedy that pokes fun at social media and family while also reminding us of the importance of relationships.
What can you tease about Jen’s and Max’s journey throughout the movie?
Watching Jen become more aware of who Max can be is fascinating. Clare Bowen (an amazing actress who you might remember from the TV series “Nashville”) who plays Jen has such an expressive face. You can see her dawning realization of what maybe could be even while she continues to tell Max why they can’t be more than friends. Max is brilliantly played by Brant Daughtery who brings a strength and honestly to his role that is refreshing.
Talking about the environment on set, how would you describe your experience while filming #Xmas and do you have any fun anecdotes to share?
So. Much. Fun! Honestly this cast, every single one of them, just came to play and have fun and we hope that will resonate with viewers. It was a blast watching Clare (Jen) and Anna Van Hooft (who plays Jen’s sister Ali) hang out together and really become as close as sisters. I think viewers will love their relationship. There’s also a scene in the movie where Max puts a very special ornament on the top of the tree – in the script it was supposed to be Jen putting the ornament up. But the tree is super tall and Jen isn’t. So that even with a step ladder (and we weren’t allowed to use anything taller) she couldn’t reach the top. We had Max place it, and I think it made for an even sweeter scene.
If you could choose a character from #Xmas that you would have loved to play, which one would it be and why?
Oh that’s so hard because I love so many of these characters. But I’m going to say Jen’s mom Liz (expertly played by Karen Kruper) because she got the chance to be over the top (her character was in the theatre she says dramatically at one point. While Jen reminds her that was once, in high school!) but at the heart of it she’s a mom who screwed up and is finally at a stage in her life where she sees that and she’s trying to make it better. And it’s really wonderful to watch that happen.
Did you take anything from set, any prop or piece of costume, to remember your experience?
I would have loved to have taken some of the clothes! Martin Spencer our Costume Designer gave all the women such great looks from gorgeous sweaters to capes and more! But I do like to walk away with a tiny something to remember each movie I do and in this case there was a little llama that was a set piece in the main house before Jen (who is an interior designer) redecorates. I asked Victor Razi who with his team did such a beautiful job making every set look great if I could have it and he said yes! I also went back to Jen’s store, in the movie it’s called “Jen.uine Décor” but is an actual store – after we wrapped and I bought some of the beautiful pieces they had for gifts to some of the cast and crew.
Throwing back to the origins of your career, how did the passion for directing come about in your life?
I have loved storytelling my whole life. Starting in elementary school I would put on plays with my friends and we’d go from class to class doing 5 minute skits to make people laugh. I thought I would be an actress but in high school I had the chance to direct and I never looked back. It’s like you’re coaching the best sports team ever, your job is to help the cast and crew do their best work.
And to find ways through storytelling, could be with a specific prop or location, or could be in how you’re blocking (moving) the actors that enhances the story or plays up the comedy. I truly love that so much. In “Xmas” there’s a scene (they’re using it for a promo online right now) where Jen and her sister are talking in the kitchen. Then Jen starts to walk away and from around the corner in comes Max carrying the baby – and it’s just such a fun moment. Crafting that fills me with joy.
Among all the movies you’ve had the chance to join throughout your career, is there any particular one you’re most fond of?
The experience filming “Xmas” has to be up there and I did a mystery last year “The Secrets of Bella Vista” for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries that I’m really proud of too. Plus I did a whale watching movie before that called “A Splash of Love” and filming out on the water was such a memorable experience. I’m so fortunate to have worked on some great movies with terrific teams!
If you had to give some advice to people who want to pursue a directing career, which kind of advice would you give them?
Don’t let anyone tell you no. You’re the only one who can stop yourself from getting to where you want to go. If you’re passionate about your craft and you always want to keep learning (I learned some key things directing “Xmas”!) then you’ll be able to have a career in directing. And directors direct, so if no one is hiring you to direct yet, make your own projects or make something with your friends. And people remember how they’ve been treated so make sure your sets are collaborative and fun and you’ll do great work. Also remember though that we’re in a business that is very subjective. Not everyone will love what you do. But if you do it with honesty and integrity and a desire to make a great show then hopefully it’ll resonate.
#XMAS, directed by Heather Hawthorn Doyle, is premiering Friday November 25 on Hallmark Channel. Check out a preview and sneak peek here below!