John K.D. Graham Interview – Wish For Christmas – Part 2

John K.D. Graham Directing Bill Engvall and Anna Fricks

In Part 2 of our interview with Wish For Christmas director John K.D. Graham we discuss the film Wish For Christmas and also share some more behind the scene photos.

Part 2:

What inspired you to make the film Wish For Christmas?

Ultimately we wanted to investigate what the world would be like without the love of Jesus Christ. With that starting concept we watched our favorite Christmas movies in order to determine what we loved about them.  We decided to make a Christmas movie that contained elements of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and even ‘Home Alone’ amongst other greats. You can find several nods to holiday classics in Wish For Christmas if you compare films.

We realized that one element we wanted to include was a wish. I think it’s fascinating because during Christmas people love to wish for world peace and different altruistic things. But it’s really fun when a naughty character wishes for something selfish and then is taught a lesson.

Although the film is about Anna’s wish, it is God who provides the miracle that she recognizes as her wish being granted.

From this simple concept the story seemed to leap onto the page.

Please tell us a bit about the film

Anna Fricks, Joey Lawrence and Leigh-Allyn Baker

Anna Fricks, Joey Lawrence and Leigh-Allyn Baker

The Wish For Christmas is about Anna, a selfish teenager, who wants to be in control of everything in her life. From new cars to positions on important social functions, she wants to make the rules. Unfortunately for Anna, her parent’s Christian beliefs don’t always match her agenda. After a few incidents where she doesn’t get her way, she desperately wishes that her parents would loose their faith in God.

God uses Anna’s wish and decides to perform a miracle and let her have what she wants, if only to allow her to learn a lesson. What seems like a miracle soon becomes a curse as Anna’s life shifts in unexpected ways.  Anna has to learn the importance of God in her parent’s lives and ultimately discover her own faith. ‘Wish For Christmas’ is a melding of the spirit of cherished Christmas film classics and a strong story of faith.

What is the highlight of the film for you?

Making ‘Wish For Christmas’ was a wonderful experience for me. The process of creating the story and writing the script with Alexandra Boylan and Andrea Polnaszek is always a fun adventure. We spent a Christmas together in snowy Wisconsin during a record-breaking streak of -18 degree Celsius days. From morning to night we drank coffee, discussed story and laughed at our main character ‘s antics.  There is something mysterious about the writing process. One has complete freedom to bring something new into the world and it is a time of discovery and excitement. I think that during these moments of creativity I am my child of God self. God made us in his image and he is a creator, so it’s natural for us to want to create as well.  I think that is why humans have art.

The filming of the movie was also incredible. Not only did I have a real God experience, which I’ll tell later, but also we had such a wonderful team and locale to film the movie. We shot in the area of Georgetown, Massachusetts where the locals opened their doors to us allowing the crew a place to eat lunch, escape the cold, offering up locations and items needed for the filming. It is incredible how much a community will come out to support a film about faith.  There is something special about these films that Hollywood doesn’t understand and probably never will. As Anna’s father (Joey Lawrence) tells another character, “It isn’t about the bottom line”.

Bill Engvall

Bill Engvall

I also enjoyed the opportunity to direct some wonderful actors. Bill Engvall is a hilarious and kind person to work with and he captured the part of our down on his luck Santa perfectly. Leigh-Allyn Baker brought a strength to her part that really made her character shine in a way that only she could. Working with Joey Lawrence of Blossom was a unique experience for sure. The actor that impressed me the most was Anna Fricks who we casted out of Los Angeles. She had no real credits when we auditioned her but she brought a force to her feature debut. Anna had a particularly tricky part to play as she had to be a mean version of herself as well as a sweet version and all the variations in between.

Films are rarely filmed in sequence, so Fricks had to keep careful catalog of her character’s emotional journey so that she could jump from scene to scene, out of order, as we filmed and still have the right emotional beats being hit.  Anna is a real pro and I imagine I’ll work with her again one day.

Tell us about your God experience while filming

The highlight of filming came in an unexpected way on the most stressful day and in my darkest hour of our shoot.

We were filming three of the most important scenes in the film, the opening two scenes and the final scene. It was our last day of filming with Joey Lawrence and Leigh-Allyn Baker. We had finished filming the opening scene and were finishing our blocking and setup for the second scene of the film. Anna, her parents, Pastor Paul, Rebekah a child actor and tons of extras all had to hit their marks at certain times, say their lines right, all while the camera is dollying in and out to reframe for the different blocking. There was quite a bit to get right in this scene and we were racing the setting sun. The sun was beginning to set, we had about one hour of sunlight remaining when we had to let everyone break for lunch. We hadn’t even been able to get a shot off yet. This particular scene was integral to the story, it setup many characters, told specifics of the story that would play out later. If we didn’t shoot the scene before the sun went down it would be a disaster. We had to take at least thirty five minutes for lunch which would leave us less than half an hour to get this complicated shot once everyone came back from lunch.

I was stressed. There was no way I could eat.

I stayed in front of the church, contemplated my defeat, while everyone went to lunch. I asked God for help. “God, just help me get through this.”

At that moment a bird flew straight passed me and through the open doors of the church. This was just what I needed, beyond possibly missing our scene after lunch, we would now have a bird inside the church chirping away while we try to film the important final scene of the movie later that night.

I raced into the church just in time to see the bird fly into the sanctuary. I barreled into the sanctuary, my mind filled with plans of how to capture a bird: A big net? How do you get a bird out of a church? How do you film a scene in a church with a bird chirping the whole time? My audio will be ruined!

In the sanctuary I frantically scanned the ceiling. No sign of a bird anywhere.

From behind me I heard a small chirp. Slowly I turned to see the small bird, standing on the floor right beside me.  Like a cat I slowly turned and squatted and picked up the bird in my cupped hands. Beside myself with luck I ran outside the church and a little bit away from the building, so that the bird wouldn’t fly back in!

John K.D. Graham

John K.D. Graham with the bird.

I opened my hands, ready for the bird to explode back into the world, and a strange thing happened.

The bird stayed on my hand. It looked at me, took me in. It moved onto my finger and perched there, watching me. All of my stress melted away and nothing in the world mattered in that moment except for this creature and me. After about five minutes I had to persuade the bird to leave my finger for a low hanging branch.

It occurred to me how rare this event was. A wild bird flew into a church, landed on the ground next to me, let me pick it up and then wouldn’t leave me outside once it had freedom. This was a message from God telling me to not be afraid. Like the birds of the field.

It is rare to receive a direct message from God, only because it is rare that we take the time to notice the message.

I urge everyone to look at his or her world through curious and open eyes. God is speaking to you in all kinds of ways. 

What do you hope people will come away with from watching the film?

Hopefully people realize that it is what you do that matters in this life. Every decision, no matter the size, could have ripple effects. Whether those effects are positive or negative will depend on your intentions. The way you carry yourself, how you interact with others and the way you view your world that will shape it. In America it is very popular for Christian’s to ask one another, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior?”  To me it isn’t about saying words to each other or God, it is about who you are in your deep down self that will answer this question.

On a less deep and more selfish note, I also hope that people come away from Wish For Christmas with a new Holliday classic to watch with their family. We tried very hard to give it the spark that so many of my childhood favorites had.

What does Christmas mean to you?

Christmas means several things to me.  It is a time to reflect on the birth of Jesus and what that has meant for creation. It means love for one another be us friends or strangers. It means sharing what you have with someone else. If you watch the film you will see very clearly what Christmas means to me, from the beautiful scenery to the actions of good will between people. The most important thing that I try to follow is the line from the film; “Lets keep Christmas in our hearts, all year”. We shouldn’t have to wait for the season to come to do what God would like us to do all year long.

What are you working on next?

We have a few scripts completed right now that are being packaged and will hopefully go into preproduction in the new year.  My partners and I have just finished the most recent draft of Catching Faith 2, which we are very excited about.  We also have some exciting news about that and our other films coming soon. If you want to get more information and be included on our future newsletters go to our website and sign up for our newsletter!  The signup is at the bottom of the page and we will soon update the website with the new and exciting info.

Go over to our website: Mustard Seed Entertainment and sign up!

Click here to read part 1 of our interview where we discuss filmmaking and being a Christian in Hollywood.

Richard Smith is the founder of The Christian Film Review. His passion is to generate a buzz about Christian film and get people informed and excited about Christian films, showcasing the alternatives that in this day in age are a light in the darkness of what society is promoting.

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