CINEMA VILLAGE new york
OPENs december 6
With money running low, nine New Yorkers forgo their annual Christmas in Aspen and head to
Pennsylvania for a murder-mystery weekend.
With money running low, nine New Yorkers forgo their annual Christmas in Aspen, and opt
for a more modest celebration in a Pennsylvanian B&B, complete with a disco murder-mystery
game. Starring French New Wave’s Alexandra Stewart (Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night, Louis
Malle’s The Fire Within) as Maya Dawn, a Park Avenue grand-dame, Antony Langdon (Velvet
Goldmine, I’m Still Here) as her best friend Ted and an archetype filled ensemble cast ranging
from the trophy wife to the ill-tempered psychiatrist.
Donning elaborate costumes (also designed by Anna Condo) the stage is set at The Disco Lounge,
a seedy nightclub in downtown Manhattan, circa 1974. As the game and the weekend unravel, it
is the players themselves who prove to be the true oddballs. Prejudice and self-pity seep through
furs and boas as everyone argues about everything from God to Freud to Fox News. But when a
wandering stranger arrives at the back door, these self-entitled jet setters struggle to maintain
their delusional views.
Most mysteries are moral puzzles. Good triumphs over evil, and there are no loose ends.
Life doesn't work that way.
Anna Condo was born in Armenia and grew up in France. In 1989, she moved to New York City.
She studied acting in France and in the U.S. and has starred in critically acclaimed feature and
short films. Since 2000, she has written, directed, and produced four short films. Merry Christmas,
shot in two and a half days is Condo’s debut feature, as both director and editor. Her next film, shot
on location in Armenia, recently wrapped and she has begun pre-production on the final installment
of the trilogy, set in Paris.
Interview by Stephanie Buhle, Goldcrest NY
Hi Anna! So let’s get started. How would you characterize
Merry Christmas in a one-line description, for someone who
doesn’t know anything about it?
It’s about hypocrisy; it’s about believing versus make-believe;
it’s a satire of a bourgeois character type that I think is
universal. You know I grew up in France. It was in Molière, it
was in Guitry, in French farce, Italian comedies, and I think it
will always be around. And, I know it’s not one sentence –
It’s okay! It’s really hard to make it that short.
It’s really tricky. Put it this way: I’ve sat a number of times
at dinner tables and thought, “I just wish I could record this
conversation.” It’s just so shocking. And nobody knows you’re
thinking that! They’re not even aware. In the film there’s the
New York-bourgeois-going-into-rural-America – but I don’t
want to simplify it too much. And if you call it a Christmas
satire, then you’re afraid people are going to think, “What,
it’s Bad Santa?” And it’s not that at all. I don’t know, I’ll
think about it a bit better for the one-sentence.
That’s alright. So how did you develop the concept for
I was dying to work with an ensemble. I like the idea of dealing
with a palette of characters, so it’s not me putting my ideas
or beliefs [into the characters]; it’s more like being an
observer of what a large array of characters delivers.
When you work in film as an actor, so much of it is, “Oh,
we need this shot, we need that shot.” I remember when
I was an actor, I couldn’t open the door. The toughest thing
to do was not the emotional scene; it was the hand on the
doorknob. So I wanted to give a platform for the performers.
I wanted to tell them, “Listen, as long as you don’t
anticipate, as long as you don’t play for the camera, as
long as you listen, and you don’t ever pretend, and you’re
generous and you’re trusting – you can do whatever you
want. I will not be the one who stops you.”
That said, there were a lot of elements that were artificially
inflicted that I knew were going to create situations. So
it’s that balance of giving a lot of freedom but actually
controlling like crazy.
And what were those elements? Can you say any without
giving away too much?
First of all, the casting: I did a Proust questionnaire with all of
the actors, where I asked them random questions like – you
know the Proust questionnaire? It’s basically, “What’s your
favorite color, your favorite animal, your favorite musician, you
favorite painter…” And I had a whole page. We filmed them
while they did that, so that gave me the ability to see "Are they
a good team player? Are they a fast thinker? Are they generous
with the answers they give? Are they intimidated? Are they
lying? Are they sensitive? Interesting?" etc.
Once the actors were selected, I gave them a one-page
resume of their character, and I redid the interview again
with the Proust questionnaire, this time in character. That
was very helpful. So that was a way of giving them a lot of
freedom, because I’m not telling them what to tell me, but
at the same time everything they tell me is utilized in the film.
Once production began, the actors arrived in Pennsylvania,
went into a conference room at the hotel where the crew
and myself were staying, changed into their costumes, left
all of their belongings behind, and were driven to the bed
and breakfast [where the film was shot]. From that moment
on, they were in character. A lot of it was borrowed from the
elements of theatre: unity of time and space and all of
And then three years to edit it – that’s a lot of
The largest part, the toughest part, and the longest and
exhausting part was the editing period. Because I didn’t give
[the actors] a screenplay; I gave them a character bible, so I
told them what they were supposed to be like, and how they
grew up, and what would happen to them if they made the
wrong decision – all of that was fed to them, but not the
lines. So it was in reverse.
As an actor, you create that for yourself; in their case, I gave
them that, and I said, “Now you say what feels right.” So all
of the actors had the same weight of back story, and my work
in editing was, "How do I keep the consistency?" You can’t
have a really great scene if later on down the line, it’s not
delivered and that subject is not pursued. So I had to drop
certain things. Ironically, when I was done with it, it was
actually exactly what I thought I was doing the first time
I ever mentioned the project. What is mind-boggling
to people who've seen the film is that it was shot in two
and a half days, using three cameras, with only a single
take of each shot.
So you were able to shape the story you wanted even
without a script?
Exactly. It had its downside, because sometimes accidents
just changed the decisions I had to make, but then once
everything was picked and chosen and constructed, and
the rhythm was found, then it just felt like exactly what I
had in mind on Day One. I looked back at notes that I
had, and it was identical to what I had projected.
You know, there’s always that moment – especially when
you cut your own work or supervise heavily – where you
lose a little bit your film, and then you fight your film, and
then your film fights you, and then it always wins at the end.
It always tells you where it wants to go. And the greatest is
when it turns out to, “Oh, but this is exactly what I wanted
anyway! What was I thinking?” So there’s that moment of
darkness, which in this case was that much bigger because
I didn’t have a script. So I became the writer after the fact,
by highlighting the elements and the choices made.
You’ve directed four short films so far, but this is your first
time directing a feature. How was it different making
feature versus a short?
Well, the greatest difference is that you have an opportunity
to reach a wider audience. I love the medium of shorts –
I absolutely adore it. It's like a great short story, there's
nothing like it. But a feature film is a fuller experience
and a bigger opportunity to share it with an audience.
Did you find it different creatively in terms of the process,
or was it just longer and more of it? Did you have a different
I already knew one of the actors and the DP, and it was the
same producer I’ve been working with on my other projects.
Instead of being like, “Oh my god, this is such a jump from
one to another,” it felt like a progressive and natural growth.
I didn’t do film school, so the four shorts I directed prior
were my film school.
Ironically, more than changing me, I think it changes the
perception of others. If you say it’s a short, it’s not as
impressive to people as a feature. They tend to treat
everything around it differently. I don’t think that’s right,
I don’t think it should be like that, but it is like that. So
in a way, it's a little bit smoother; people are like, “Wow,
it’s a feature,” so then they give more.
And you think that’s true among –
In every stage
Yeah, every stage. I really do. The producer, Alex
[Charpentier], and I – we don’t feel like that, but let’s face it:
in terms of a marketing point of view, where do you place it?
And that would be the question he would ask, and I think
everybody down the road feels the same way. The actors are
like, “Well, it’s a short film…” They kind of apologize as they
say it. Same with the crew. So that’s possibly the greatest
difference: there’s a greater willingness.
That’s good to hear! I know you’re not actually a first-time
director but a first-time feature director. So what kind of
advice would you give to other first-time feature
Well, this is only my opinion, ok? I don’t think it’s a golden
rule. I think it’s better to take longer; I’m glad it took a decade
of practice to make my first feature. I think it’s good to
remember you only get one chance in life to do your first
feature. That’s it. And it would be silly to think that doesn’t
somehow shape the way people see you. If you’re lucky
enough for your feature to see the world, then it does put
out a certain image of your work.
Work as hard as possible, as long as possible, until you feel
really ready. Don’t fall in love with your own footage. Don’t
fall in love with your own script. Don’t fall in love with what
you thought you were going to [do].Also, this is the cheapest
of all my films. It’s cheaper than my four-minute short. So
it’s not about the money; it’s about stretching the money.
It’s about making sure that you do enough practice and
enough prep. Don’t feel like you have to wait for people
to hand you out larger sums of money to do your work,
because sometimes that means too many cooks in the
kitchen, too many opinions, and it stifles creativity.
And eat, drink, breathe the film. Give the audience
everything you’ve got. Always act like as if it’s the last
film you’ll ever make. I would say that’s the biggest key.
I always think, maybe I’ll only make one feature, so it’s
not just the first feature [but also the last]. I hope not,
but you have to treat it that way.
cast and crew
Maya Dawn Lewis
David Michael Holmes
Darlene 'Kay' Elders
Mandy Jacques Sober
Anselm Hakeem Reid
Aaron Richard Golub
Director of Photography
On-set Continuity Supervisor
Additional Costume Design
Hair and Make-up
Supervising Sound Editor
Digital Intermediate Producer
Run Time 83 minutes
2013 fern films