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One of the most delightful films of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival was Boman Modine's award-winning short family comedy, Merry Xmas.
In Xmas, a mischievous father (living legend Dick Van Dyke) calls his very busy kids (Matthew Modine and Glenne Headly) to tell them that after 55 years of marriage, he and their mom (Valerie Harper) are getting divorced. Horrified by the news, the children prepare to fly home to stop the divorce and save their parent's marriage.
We talked to father-son duo Matthew and Boman Modine about family filmmaking dynamics and their stellar cast.
Tribeca: Matthew, what were the unique challenges and joys of working with your son?
Matthew Modine: Every experience has its own particular challenge. This was the first time I had collaborated with a person that I’ve known for twenty-nine years. So there was a familiarity that was unlike any experience I have ever had working on a film. We need only look to mythological legends, religious texts, and human history to acquaint and remind us of epic misunderstandings and battles between sons and fathers. Merry Xmas is a short film - so we escaped an Oedipal finale. I’m still alive. Boman’s mom has not hanged herself and he has not gouged his own eyes out. I hope to see him this, and for many, Christmases to come.
Tribeca: Boman, what was it like directing your dad?
Boman Modine: There's a familiarity when working with a friend or family member that both helps and hinders the professional relationship. My father and I were both very passionate about Merry Xmas, especially with so many people coming on board and donating their time to make the project happen. As a result we sometimes went head to head in the way that only family can which is often over the top but with the fortunate caveat that we're still going to sit down at the dinner table.
Tribeca: The film features a small but stellar group of character actor veterans. How did you secure their involvement?
BM: This film has a really incredible cast for something so short. We accomplished getting Glenne, Valerie and Mr. Van Dyke entirely by prior existing relationships and in one case: reaching out with social media. I believe that actors always want to be working on good projects and that if they like something they'll go for it. The fact that our project took three days to shoot didn't hurt either.
MM: I worked with the amazing and lovely Glenne Headly on the HBO film And the Band Played On. I’ve always wanted to work with her again so I reached out and she graciously agreed. Valerie Harper is friendly with producer Joe d’Angerio. It was a home run getting Valerie because she has the most important role in the film. Dick Van Dyke is a casting miracle - that could only happen in this day and age. We tweeted him saying we’d love to have him on board. Mr. Van Dyke responded saying, “I'm not doing anything at the moment. What have you got?” And the rest is, as they say, history!