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[Interview] – The Filmmakers of Mercy Christmas Discuss Conquering the Indie World, One Holiday at a Time

 

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Posted October 30, 2017 by

 
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As indie filmmakers know, getting your passion project funded and shot can be a huge, almost impossible battle in itself. Then comes the obstacle of how moviegoers are going to see the final product.  Filmmaking couple, Ryan Nelson (writer & director) and Beth Levy Nelson (writer), faced all of these challenges during the production of their first feature film Mercy Christmas, but were able to overcome many of these hurdles by extensive planning and pre-production. Planning and pre-production that began with forming their own production company (No Mercy Productions) and surrounding themselves with a great network of creative people. One being Ryan’s uncle, whom is the Oscar nominated and Emmy winning make-up artist Greg Nelson. (He was Oscar nominated for the 1989 feature Dad and won Emmys for Star Trek Voyager & The Tracey Ullman Show). He was able to lend his expertise to some of the more challenging scenes, make-up wise, in the film.

With one of the last steps of the filmmaking process already complete, acquiring U.S. distribution by Gravitas Ventures, Ryan and Beth are now sitting back and watching the reviews come in, all of which have been positive so far.  David Gemini of Dread Central dubbed it, “One of the finest Christmas-based horror films out there” and Michael Klung of Horror Freak News called it “A new holiday horror classic”.  We decided to speak with Ryan and Beth a little more in depth about Mercy Christmas, read the full interview below and make sure to catch the film when it comes out November 28th.

Trailer:

Interview With Filmmakers:

First off, how did you all come up with the concept for Mercy Christmas?

BETH: When Ryan and I started dating, we couldn’t believe how intense, chaotic and oddly similar my Passover and his Christmas was. The stresses and pressures of the family traditions made us manic.

RYAN: We had just finished our first screenplay writing together and we were looking for our next idea. We couldn’t help, but to start writing about our first time experiencing each other’s family traditions. We put the holidays into a blender with our twisted sensibilities and out came “MERCY CHRISTMAS”.

You all wrote the script together, how long did it take to complete the script? What was your writing process like?

RYAN: One of us comes to the table with the kernel of an idea. We talk it over for a few weeks. Then I begin the physical writing process of putting it on the page. That writing helps me prepare for directing the project because I’m thinking about every detail as I type. As I finish pages, Beth sits down and does her pass. Then we discuss again at length. This goes back and forth until we’re both happy.

BETH: Like most independent filmmakers, we had to work day jobs AND write. So, it took about a year. We wrote late at night, on lunch breaks, on location for other films, I mean everywhere.

Did anything change greatly from the 1st script to the final one? If so, what was it?

BETH: The biggest changes came when we finalized our budget and realized certain limitations we faced.  We swapped the setting from snowy Big Bear California to sunny Los Angeles. To our surprise, we found that the forced change made the story so much better! It took the Robillard family out of the shadows and put them right out in the open. It made them scarier and more unique. It’s amazing how being pressed into a corner can make you come up with even better ideas.

Ryan, which was more challenging for you? Writing or directing?

RYAN: I love every aspect of the directing process, but it was definitely more challenging directing “MERCY CHRISTMAS” than writing it. Directing “MERCY CHRISTMAS” from pre-production through post-production was a two year process. Maintaining the stamina to fight for the best in every element of the movie was the hardest part. The director is the last line of defense for the quality of the movie. It took a lot of energy over the course of those two years to never settle for “good enough”.

-Beth, I read that while not writing/producing films you work in casting. Was the transition from casting to writing/producing easy? Since casting is your other profession did you already have other actors in mind before you all started on this film?

BETH: I went to The New School in NYC for screenwriting, so that has always been my first passion.  There wasn’t really a transition, they just seem to all exist at once.  As a writer, I think about actors I love as I create. It fuels the characters in my head. One of my favorite parts about making a low-budget feature was hunting down this fantastic cast. My casting partner Christine Scowley and I love discovering new talent and matching them to projects.  We had weeks of sessions looking for the actors in “MERCY CHRISTMAS” and by the time we finished she and I already knew we had a kick ass cast.

Was there any sort of major obstacles you all had to overcome during production?

BETH: Obviously budget. We squeezed every penny, but because we had really great industry professionals around us, the end result looks much more expensive than it actually was.  Also, our director of photography, Neil Moore, had emergency surgery in the middle of production, so Ryan ending up shooting almost two-thirds of the film.

RYAN: Neil is one of my oldest friends and a great collaborator. After surgery, he watched dailies while laid up in extreme pain. Toward the end of the shoot, he fought the pain, came back to set and finished the movie. In film school, Neil and I spent many nights dreaming about making a feature-film together. Not exactly the way we drew it up, but I’m so proud of his work and toughness.

You all also produced this film through your production company, No Mercy Pictures. Can you tell us a little about this company and when you formed it?

BETH: We formed this company in anticipation of making feature films and television.  We started with shorts, including the short for “MERCY CHRISTMAS” and now we are on roll.  Our next film “MARGOT LIVES” will be shooting in Ohio 2018 and we can’t wait.

RYAN: Beth and I really invest ourselves in every story we create. No Mercy Pictures is an outlet for that energy. With No Mercy Pictures, we not only create our stories, we produce them. It’s a way for us to protect our ideas and see them ultimately come to a screen. No Mercy Pictures is also quickly becoming a brand for the two of us. A production company that creates top-quality stories with a unique freshness we’re not seeing from major studios.

What sort of projects are you looking to work on under No Mercy Pictures?

BETH: Anything with a great story that can take the audience on a ride.  We aren’t trying to change the world. We are trying to entertain it.

RYAN: Exactly. We believe in stories that run the gamut of emotions. We love movies and TV where the audience experiences laughter, sadness, action and drama all in one story concept. As Beth mentioned, we’re currently working on our next feature “MARGO LIVES”. It’s an action/dark comedy set in the opioid crisis in Ohio where I grew up. Margo fights to maintain balance between working mother and midnight avenger as she smashes the heads of the local drug dealers in her town.

BETH: We’re also developing the sequel to Mercy Christmas. Mercy Christmas 2: The Leftovers. We loved the characters so much that we want to continue their story.

Ryan, what advice would you give first time directors out there?

RYAN: Be prepared and do your homework each night after shooting. As director, everyone is looking to you for answers so you better have some. The most important thing you can do is know the story inside and out. When you’re in the heat of the moment and stress is at an all time high, knowing the material will be your bridge to salvation.

BETH:  And have an awesome wife.

RYAN:  That too.

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Chris Miller
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