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Categories: Interviews

Born in India and raised in Irving, Texas, Kasundra now calls the San Francisco area home. But by percentage, DC Kasundra would say he has spent 30% of his life lost in daydreams. It wasn’t until his move to Northern California in 2006 that he began exploring filmmaking as a means to brings his ideas to life.  In 2011, Kasundra’s first serious attempt at film led to a short film entitled The Magic Man, a black and white silent film in 3D about a vaudeville magician.

DC KasundraThe Magic Man toured multiple countries and played at several notable festivals, including Palm Springs, Raindance, Atlantic Film Festival, and Slamdance.  Kasundra followed The Magic Man with The Night Before Christmas, which was released directly to the internet on Thanksgiving of 2012.

What was your inspiration for the short? What is the film about?

Though I am not a Christian, I’ve always loved Christmas tunes.  On a drive down some backroads in Central California, I was listening to a solo piano version of Carol of the Bells and felt the song was rather sad and melancholic.  But for anyone who knows the lyrics, they know the song is supposed to be joyful. As the song played, I started picturing these slow-motion shots in my head of all the warm and cozy images everyone associates with Christmas: warm fires, decorated trees, puffy white snow.  I didn’t really experience any of that growing up, but popular culture always burns those images into everyone’s head.

As I was picturing this, the melancholy of the song led my mind to think about what my experiences with Christmas were as a child, and for me, the joy of the season was always mixed with a bit of insecurity. My immediate family didn’t really have much money, especially compared to my close friends and cousins.  Every Christmas, I always felt a little bit “less-than” my peers — my parents could afford to buy my brother and I one gift each, while my friends received dozens in their stockings alone. I realized Christmas was mostly joyful for people who have money, and they use that money to buy presents for other people who have money — is that what Christmas is supposed to be about?

For many months, I kept hearing Carol of the Bells in my head, and slowly a story began to form.  As a director, I wanted to make a film that I hoped would break people out of the material worship of the holiday season.  But I didn’t want to make a film that over simplifies good-and-bad, right-and-wrong — the world is more complicated than that, and instead of pretending that the season is joyful simply because we declare it so, I hope to spark conversation and get people to ask themselves what Christmas really means to them.

sleeping santa figure

Why did you decide to have it set over the Christmas period?

I am not a Christian, but growing up in Texas, I was surrounded by the songs and decorations and levity of Christmas and it became a favourite time of year for me. Christmas might have the most powerful emotional connection with people in the Western world, and I wanted to explore that theme.

What were the highlights and difficulties of production?

As an independent filmmaker, a shoot like this can be a nightmare! Our interiors went swimmingly but our exterior shots were brutal. Hollywood would have used fake snow at a reasonable temperature to make the shoot tolerable for cast and crew. But we had to venture out to the Tahoe region of California and shoot in real snow in below-freezing conditions. We spent two eight-hour nights in freezing our butts off to get those shots but the cast and crew never complained! My gaffer pitched a small tent with a portable heater that people could duck into when they needed to warm up. For the most part, we all just bundled up, and got the work done.

Did it receive any awards or recognition?

The Night Before Christmas never went to any festivals. We didn’t even submit it to any festivals, actually — I just didn’t care to. I’m passionate about this story — it wouldn’t leave me alone, always popping up in my head — that I wanted to get this film out there in the wild and in front of as many people as possible.

What did you learn from this project in particular?

Since I knew this film would be more visual than narrative, I needed to “test” how the shots would flow. So I did more work in the pre-production phase for this film than any other project. I actually made animatics for the entire film so I knew exactly which shots I needed to get in order to edit this short together.

What did you shoot on? (Plus other technical trivia)

We shot the film on the Panasonic AF100 and used a variety of lenses. Since we were shooting at 60 frames per second, we weren’t completely confident that the shots would turn out as we needed. So, another first for me, I asked my editor/colourist to be on set during the shoot. Every hour or so, we’d drop the footage onto his editing suite and let him play with it.  And before I crossed anything off the shot list, I’d check the scratch colour correction work to see if it looked like it was going to give me the look I wanted. If not, we’d fix the setup and get the shot again.

Was there a particular look you had in mind when shooting?

I had a strong vision in my head of all the warm and cozy Christmas commercial where you would see the happy family in a warm and comfy house, with a giant tree and a fireplace and stockings. “Warm, cozy” became the mantra for the first half of the film. And then we contrasted that with “cold, lonely” for the exteriors. My production designer Van Dyke Roth was able take these rather vague descriptions and build on them to find just the right set decorations and wardrobes.

scared boy

Did this look carry through into the post-production?

Absolutely.  My editor and colourist Edmondo Tinetti was able to take the images Tom Krymkowski captured and really make them come to life just like I had imagined.  That’s the joy of working with a great crew!

What are you currently working on?

At the moment, I’m taking a break from shorts to concentrate on commercial work in the San Francisco area. We are hoping to use the income from paid commercial work to finance my next narrative project, which will be an online series (details will be announced on my Facebook site later in 2014).

The best way for people to follow my work is on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DeadSetFilms

Finally, what’s your favourite Christmas-themed film?

My favourite Christmas film has to be The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton. But Scrooged is a close 2nd!

Christabel Samuel is a writer, director and editor. Having graduated from University College London with a BA in English Literature and an MA in Film Studies she is now a self-taught filmmaker, writer and perpetual learner. She won funding in 2011 for Lust in Translation and has gone on to judge at the London Film Festival, been appointed Head of Film for The Book Magazine and is currently editor-in-chief for The Spread.

Posted on Dec 4, 2013

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