INTERVIEW: Director Ryan Nelson Discusses His Upcoming Film Mercy Christmas
This holiday season Christmas is coming early in form of Ryan Nelson’s horror comedy Mercy Christmas. The film follows Michael Briskett (Steven Hubbell) as he meets the perfect woman (Casey O’ Keefe) and his ideal Christmas dream comes true when she invites him to her family’s holiday celebration. Dreams shattered, Michael struggles to survive once he realizes they want to eat him for Christmas dinner. In this new director interview we speak with Nelson about everything from what scene was most challenging to shoot to his love for Braveheart. *Mercy Christmas is being released November 28, 2017 by Gravitas Ventures.
Before directing your first feature, Mercy Christmas, you directed a lot of short films. Obviously besides length, what would you say the biggest difference in working on the two are?
The biggest difference for me was the scope of the movie. Mercy Christmas has over forty visual effects shots, contains detailed special effects make-up and features stunt work that had to be designed and rehearsed. In my short films, I’d dabbled with each of those elements, but never to the extent that Mercy Christmas contains. I didn’t have much choice, but to jump into the fire.
What was the most challenging scene to direct in Mercy Christmas?
Definitely the end fight sequence of the movie was the hardest scene to shoot. It’s seven minutes of continuous action with three separate battles between characters happening all at the same time. My challenge in shooting was to maintain the intense drama, keep focus on the story beats and design shots so the sequence chained together in the edit. Taylor Estevez our stunt coordinator did an amazing job making it look painful while keeping the actors safe.
Mercy Christmas is both a comedy and horror film. Since horror films can be very intense, was it hard to find the proper times to interject humor?
My wife Beth Levy Nelson and I wrote the script together. Our goal from the outset was to ride the line between horror and comedy. In the beginning of the writing process, it was definitely tough to find moments to interject humor. And some of our favorite lines didn’t make the cut. We tend to write stories that cross genre and can be very tough to execute. During the shoot, Beth and I really had to trust our instincts and be bold. Ultimately, I think that unique tone is one of the reasons Mercy Christmas has worked so well with people. It’s different and fresh.
You wore two hats for Mercy Christmas both co-writing the script alongside Beth Levy Nelson and also directing. Because you had such a clear understanding of the script did it make the directing process easier?
Yes. Absolutely. My responsibility as director is to help each actor and crew member execute to the best of their ability. To do that, I have to know the material inside and out. During the writing process, I’m already thinking about cast, wardrobe, props, action and shots. It gives me comfort throughout shooting because I’ve already done a great deal of homework on the story just by co-writing it.
Who are some directors that you really look up to?
Spielberg of course. Sam Peckinpah. The Coens . Tarantino. But I remember a very definite, transformative moment when I watched Braveheart for the first time. That movie really opened my eyes to how effective a movie can be. For the first time in my life, I was emotionally drawn into a story. Our editor Matt Evans and I grew up together. We saw Braveheart in the theater twenty-six times. I think he still has the ticket stubs.
In one or two sentences can you tell us why filmgoers should go see Mercy Christmas?
Completely unique, it’s a twisted mix of action, horror, comedy and emotion all wrapped into a true Christmas tale. Chock full of blood, laughs and yuletide cheer, Mercy Christmas is unlike any holiday movie an audience has seen.
Have you thought about what your next project to direct is going to be?
Yes. We’re currently writing our next feature-length film Margo Lives. It’s an action/dark comedy set in the opioid crisis in Ohio. Margo secretly fights to maintain the balance between working mother and midnight avenger as she smashes the heads of local drug dealers and fights to clean up her town. We’re also developing the sequel to Mercy Christmas. We loved Michael Briskett so much that we want to continue his story, Mercy Christmas 2: The Leftovers.
Watch the trailer for Mercy Christmas below: