Christmas Eve, a feel-good Hollywood film opening in December, features animation graduate and professional actor Jon Heder in front of the camera, but many other BYU graduates are working behind the scenes, including writer/director Mitch Davis and his editor, composer and cinematographer.
Several members of the production staff described their experience working on the family-friendship dramedy and how BYU prepared them for their careers.
The composer of the film’s score and son of director Davis believes the movie is a rare find. “You should be excited to see it because it is a positive, upbeat, feel-good, clean film,” says Christian Davis. “It is funny; it will make you think and laugh, and hopefully cry.”
Christian received a BYU degree in media music studies and credits an internship his senior year with J Bateman on the movie Forever Strongfor his career, all possible through BYU—although he admits nepotism probably was a factor for working on Christmas Eve.
“My dad has done a few movies, and I’ve never been hired before because I wasn’t qualified,” he says. “With this movie I have finally gotten to a point in my career where my skill set is good enough.”
In their search for a sound mixer, Christian recruited Carlos Sanches, another BYU alumnus. They had previously worked together on a few projects, and Mitch was familiar with Sanches’ work on the "Saints and Soldiers" movies.
Sanches has been in Los Angeles since 2003 working on movies and television. He primarily mixes for Warner Brother’s animation and won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing – Animation for working on Ben 10.
“I always try to work on projects that I would be happy for my children to see. I won’t do anything that compromises my values. Part of that is from my time at BYU,” Sanches says.
Most visual effects work on the film was done by a Utah-based team put together by Ammon Jones, a BYU media arts graduate. The post-production supervisor and visual effects producer worked with Mitch to ensure each aspect of post-production was carried out smoothly. In his capacity as the film’s post-production supervisor, Jones had to make sure the finished product reflected the director’s vision.
Jones also led the team responsible for the film’s 190 visual effects shots. As Jones explains, the visual effects team was charged with “making it appear that these sequences happened inside of Central Park or dangling on the side of a skyscraper in New York City, when in actuality they were shot on a small green-screen in the middle of Bulgaria.”
Jones notes that the film department at BYU heavily emphasizes working with fellow-students—a skill that has served him well since.
“Film is such a collaborative field,” Jones says. “All the different elements have to come together and work in concert—you’re forced to work with other artists and other creative people.”
Jones began his professional career in film in 2005 at a post-production house, and has subsequently worked on several rewarding projects, including Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration and his latest and most-challenging project, a documentary titled The Abolitionists.
“To me, film is a very powerful medium to sculpt and change people—causing them to be better people and helping them in the personal struggles they face in real life,” Jones says.
Once the physical footage and visual effects were created, the project had to be edited. BYU alumnus Danny Ramirez was one of two editors on the film and tasked with putting the scenes together for the first draft of the movie. His dad was his co-editor.
Ramirez’s first work as an editor happened with the LDS Motion Picture Studios in Provo. He now lives in Los Angeles and is working on his master’s degree from the University of Southern California. He was recruited by his father to work on Christmas Eve during a summer break.
“The most rewarding projects I have worked on have been the Bible videos for the Church. But in general, it is fun to make the story,” he says.
“Going to USC, as far as I know, I am the only member in the film program. Early on, I was presented with projects that had content with which I was not comfortable. I had to choose whether I would work on those projects. I prayed and decided the answer was ‘no.’ If students want to work with me, they know they can’t have that kind of content. So they have taken it out.”
Two of Mitch Davis’ other sons also helped the film come together. Parker and Marshal Davis are both studying theater and media arts at BYU, and each had the opportunity to contribute to the film.
Parker was initially responsible for the film’s behind-the-scenes features, but later became an assistant editor and landed a role in the film as the “clogging roommate.” A longtime fan of Psych, Parker described working with his favorite actor James Roday as surreal.
Marshal also worked as an assistant editor on the film, and was later hired as the film’s colorist. He was responsible for adjusting the film’s imagery to ensure that the tones, contrast, vibrancy, and lighting of each shot created a consistent look throughout the film.
“Watching someone experience your film is by far the most rewarding part,” says Marshal. “It’s nice to see people laugh when they’re supposed to, be scared when they’re supposed to, or feel uncomfortable when they’re supposed to.”
Parker also enjoys observing how audiences react to his films, adding, “Seeing that something you did worked is really rewarding.”
Marshal and Parker have been making films together as long as they can both remember. Both sons plan to continue their father’s legacy, hoping to pursue a careers as writers and directors.
“Media is the most powerful tool in the world right now, as far as influencing change and sharing important stories,” Parker says. “I want to make films that tell important stories and inspire people to make changes in their lives.”
Director of photography Ty D. Arnold and Shaun E. King, one of the leading actresses, are also alumni and were part of the movie as is Tyler McKellar, who created the story (originally called Stuck) and helped develop the screenplay.
Writer: Charlene Winters