Jonah Feingold spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the new Amazon Freevee film, EXmas, and teased the upcoming 31 Candles.
The romantic comedy–directed by Feingold from a script written by Dan Steele–stars Leighton Meester, Robbie Amell, Michael Hitchcock, Kathryn Greenwood, Veronika Slowikowska, and Steven Huy. When Graham (Robbie Amell) decides to surprise his family at home, he is surprised to find them playing host to his ex-fiancée, Ali (Leighton Meester). Graham’s arrival soon sparks a battle between the two of them as they see who the family picks to stay through the holiday.
When I spoke with Feingold on November 2, it was a few days before he was set to start production on 31 Candles. We chatted briefly about the film–which is currently ending its second week in production–towards the end of the interview. If you’re looking for Jewish content or films dealing with Judaism, make sure to keep it on your radar.
EXmas will premiere exclusively on Freevee in the U.S., UK, Germany, and Austria on November 17. The movie will also be available on Prime Video in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s so nice to finally talk face to face. How are you doing?
Jonah Feingold: I’m great. How are you?
Well, aside from a bathroom leak that had to be fixed this morning, I’m doing fine, all things considered.
Jonah Feingold: Well, that’s not fantastic that the bathroom leak happened. That’s an annoying one to have to deal with. Yeah.
Yeah, especially when they’re making all this noise and I’m looking at my watch, like, Please let this be done by 12:40!
Jonah Feingold: I can hear you perfectly. I’m in New York—they’ve got jackhammers and nonsense literally across the way anyway, 24/7.
Yeah. How did you first come across EXmas and decide to attach yourself as director?
Jonah Feingold: Well, I was in LA visiting friends and there was impending talks of a writers and a SAG strike. At Midnight had come out and I was curious what I was going to go do and I was considering just going to make another independent film again, like Dating and New York, same way, and got a wonderful email from the agents. They said, here’s a movie called EXmas. It’s a holiday movie, which we know you love, and it’s a great premise. It’s two exes under one house. We have the same sensibilities in films. I’m like, is that some Howard Hawks I hear? Is that some Bringing Up Baby? Is that some two exes under one roof physical comedy screwball potential? I said yes and I got to immediately go to Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, which is about four hours east of Vancouver, and make this movie with an amazing crew of people who had made a bunch of Christmas films. I came in and said, Look, I’m going to be the one telling you that we’re making The Philadelphia Story meets Norman Rockwell. Those are the words we’re going to be using. It was a lot of fun and happened quite quickly, but very lucky, obviously, to be able to continue to pay my rent and live in New York City.
When did production take place?
Jonah Feingold: Production took place over the spring. We jumped in and did post-production very quickly because we wanted to make sure we had a Christmas movie that could come out November 17 in two weeks. It took place over about 22 days or so. Because we had a house, it was nice because we could show up to work every day at the same location for the majority of it. Some of the sequences were more involved—ice hockey, which was a full day, or a bar where it’s an overnight and you have to wait out the bar to close and you’re shooting three in the morning to three in the afternoon. But it was really special and because we were all such a tight knit group, it just felt like summer camp or something like that.
What was it like to direct the cast?
Jonah Feingold: Really funny group of people. Obviously, Michael Hitchcock, brilliant Second City actor, Katherine Greenwood as well. The favorite thing about it was that they got dinner every night so every single night after we wrap, they’d say, Hey, do you want to come have dinner with us? I’d be like, No, I have to go prepare for tomorrow. They would send selfies to our group chat of all them at this at this restaurant having a blast. It warmed my heart that truly five strangers were getting dinner every night and honestly mimicking their characters, mimicking the father, the mother, and the son and all that. They were so amazing to work with and we, of course, still do have that group chat.
Is it just me or did I hear a hint of the score from Home Alone while watching the film?
Jonah Feingold: You probably did. Grant Fonda, who I’ve collaborated with on three different movies, him and I love love obviously the John Williams score on that, which John Williams pulled a lot from the Stravinsky Nutcracker and other sort of classical influences. I think a combination of all that probably went into there. Grant Fonda who wrote his thesis at USC on the movie, Hook—that was also not to be left without as well. But the music was a big part. The first conversation I had with someone after I got the job was to Grant and I said, Hey, we’re gonna make a Christmas movie now and I know it’s been your dream for a while do this. I think we need to have themes. I think we take it really seriously. I think we need to make something feel magical.
What was the most challenging aspect of the production?
Jonah Feingold: When you have eight actors in a scene, it’s really difficult to learn how to do—I’ve also not worked with two cameras before so where’s A cam going? Where’s B cam going? Sounds simple—it’s not because your camera can’t get in the way of the other camera and then you have all this footage and you want to be economical about the footage and you have eight different actors. That’s eight close-ups minimum in the coverage and then you have to also do the mediums and the masters. You have to block them, you have to make them dance. That was just a learning curve and once we figured it out, it went great. No one teaches you that. No one says, oh, when you do two people in a rom-com, it’s pretty easy to cover that scene and block it but multiply that by four and now you have to open your brain up on how to do these bigger set pieces.
Jonah Feingold: I’d say more economical. On Dating & New York, for the diner scene, for example, we would do five to eight takes of something. I think the more movies you make, the more you realize that you don’t need to—you can move a little quicker than you think that when you’re editing the film, you really only need two to three takes. That’s okay and you can move on. You’re gonna have what you want. I think it’s also about becoming more confident in your choices and trusting your gut in those little moments in the movie where they feel silly and embarrassing, but they end up being the most special parts of the film. In the instance of EXmas when Leighton is cuddling with Robbie in bed after they have their makeout and I’m like, snore in his face—really kind of like make it goofy. I was embarrassed but then I was like, this is one of my favorite jokes, moments in the movie. I think the more you make stuff, the more you become confident in your silly ideas.
There are a lot of holiday rom-coms set during Xmas. Have you ever considered making a film with a Jewish holiday as the backdrop?
Jonah Feingold: I’m so happy you asked that question. On Monday, I start production on a movie called 31 Candles. Not to self promote here but it’s about a 30 year old that has their bar mitzvah. After having made a Christmas movie, I was deeply deeply inspired and motivated to make a film that looked at Jewish heritage and my relationship with Judaism and whether it’s Hanukkah or in this case, a bar mitzvah. We start on Monday and it’s literally about a 31 year old who has a Bar Mitzvah. It will be a way to explore some Jewish holidays in a way that a Christmas movie doesn’t necessarily do it—although I tried to make the Uber driver have a menorah. There was a fire issue because I wanted to have an actual lit menorah in the Uber but they were like, we can’t do that—that’s a fire hazard.
I’m picturing that right now.
Jonah Feingold: I know. How funny would that be if we got away with that.
Best of luck with the new film and I look forward to talking with you about that one.
Jonah Feingold: Likewise, Danielle. Always great to see you—big fan of everything you’re doing. (This is where I moved the screen to display the Jurassic Park poster hanging on the wall). There it is and the Kenobi poster.
Yeah, I was gonna show you the poster in 2021 but we had Zoom issues and how to make that a phone call.
Jonah Feingold: I know, I know. I’m so glad. I get it. You can see the Dating posters there and then that’s a Disney vintage backpack, which I’ll send you a better picture of at some point. But yeah, I’m just a big fan and congrats on just everything you’re doing. You’re covering movies. I mean, I think you’re the best. Appreciate you.
Alright, take care.
Jonah Feingold: Cheers.