Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones opens up about this outrageous Yuletide comedy, on DVD September 16th
A big hit in Canada, the shamefully outrageous holiday mockumentary Coopers' Christmas finally arrives in the States on DVD November 16th. Set on December 25th, 1985, this yuletide tale tells the story of Gord Cooper and his brood as they slug through one of the worst Christmases ever caught on VHS tape. A mash-up of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Cloverfield, director Warren P. Sonoda has perfectly captured this bygone era with loving detail in what is surely the funniest found footage of the season.
Destined to become another go-to yuletide classic in the tradition of A Christmas Story, Die Hard, and Gremlins, you better make room on your Christmas shelf for this truly hilarious look at family dysfunction. Co-written and starring Jason Jones of The Daily Show, Coopers' Christmas has a blacker heart than the The Grinch, more laughs than Elf, and an off-sweetness that never out-smarms the grotesqueries on display.
We recently caught up with Jason Jones to talk with him about the comedy, working with his wife and co-star Samantha Bee, the truly dedicated method acting of his co-star and co-writer Mike Beaver, and the one gift that keeps on giving, David Foley's giant package.
Here is our conversation:
From what I understand, Coopers' Christmas was a big hit when it opened this time last year in Canada...
Jason Jones: Is that what they told you? Then...Yes!
The film has a similar vibe to the Trailer Park Boys, which was also a big hit in Canada, but their last sequel, Countdown to Liquor Day, still hasn't quite caught on with American audiences. Despite it being, along with Coopers' Christmas, one of the truly funny movies of 2009. Why do you think American audiences are so slow in coming to Canadian grown comedies?
Jason Jones: You know? The market down here is immensely saturated. For a movie from any country to break through is a tough game. That is what we're hoping this one does on video. Certainly nobody wanted to distribute it theatrically. (Laughs) A tiny Canadian film at the domestic box office would get dwarfed. Hopefully it will find a nice little audience on DVD.
That's funny. I watched this on a movie theater sized screen and it really is engrossing. It plays quite well on a big screen...
Jason Jones: Oh, yeah, yeah. We played it at the Toronto Film festival in 2008. There were two films that they added screenings too, because they were sold out. One was ours, and one was Slumdog Millionaire. I'm not sure what happened to Slumdog, but ours is about to blow up.
I truly feel, in all honesty, that this movie was a little bit more enjoyable than Slumdog Millionaire...
Jason Jones: No, it was pretty funny when he was getting tortured...
There is that. Now, with your character, certainly the wig plays into it, but also in the attitude. I sensed a little Mike Brady coming through. Were you purposely trying to channel Robert Reed?
Jason Jones: Its funny that you mention Mike Brady, because I am always compared to young Greg Brady. Barry Williams. But no. Not really. I think Mike Brady is the quintessential dad. He was kind of like my dad. I was channeling more my father than anyone else.
The whole Christmas experienced by the Coopers is captured on an old VHS tape, and since its release, the movie has been compared to Cloverfield. Were you sitting in the theater, watching Cloverfield, thinking to yourself, "This whole scenario would work much better if it took place in a living room on Christmas Day"?
Jason Jones: We actually got the idea when we saw The Blair Witch Project, funny enough. It wasn't even Cloverfield. I'm not sure when Cloverfield came out. But ours was either written, or in pre-production, when Cloverfield came out. The idea was, when we saw The Blair Witch Project, we though, "That is such a great format. Lets lift that format and apply it to a comedy." Mike Beaver had all of these home videos of his parents and him, home at Christmas time. He would always make me watch them. I thought, "These are terribly boring!" But then I thought, "What if we took the best moments of that as a highlight reel? And we formed together some sort of narrative?" I thought that would be a great little film to watch.
Is Mike Beaver related to Jim Beaver? The guy who plays Bobby on Supernatural?
I know both you and Mike wrote this screenplay together. Were there any autobiographical elements that fell into this? I know you said that the old videotapes are pretty boring. But did you guys cull anything...
Jason Jones: It's hard to put a percentage on it. But there is a good fifty-to-sixty percent that was based on actual happenings. Of either his family or my family. There is a little bit of Samantha Bee's family in there. We drew on a lot of people's experiences.
Samantha, your wife, was pregnant at the time you filmed this. Are you at all worried about your kids finding this unlabeled DVD in the basement? That they might think this is really their mom and dad back in the day?
Jason Jones: My children are very suave. They live in New York City. They are well aware of irony at the ages of four and two. (Laughs) Sorry, I have a three month old, too. I always forget her. No...No, not at all. But they probably won't like it! (Laughs) Because anything I do that I think is funny? They think it's terribly unfunny.
That usually is the case, I find. Now, Mike Beaver. He looks so unlike himself in this movie. Its crazy. And you, too! I am not sure if that is a wig you are wearing, but you don't usually look like this...
Jason Jones: (Laughs) Sadly, that wasn't a wig. That is what happens to my hair when I grow it out. This was during the writers' strike. I think it was month four of the writers' strike that we were into, and I had just not gotten a haircut. It was getting long. I obviously teased it out, and I ran a curling iron through it. To get those tighter curls. But, yeah, that was all mine.
What was the process of capturing this look and feel of the 80s. You guys truthfully nailed it. Everybody in this movie looks like a true artifact of that time period. Was that a hard thing to lock down? Or do our own current styles sort of reflect that time period in a way that it isn't too hard to capture at all?
Jason Jones: The 80s is when we all grew up. All of the actors in it? We instinctively knew...Everyone working on the project was in their mid-thirties. The wardrobe stylist would bring in something, and we'd go, "Yes! Perfect!" She'd say, "You don't want to look at some of the other shirts?" And we'd go, "No! That Christmas red sweater? Its perfect!" I had one just like that. My father had one like that. She goes, "My father did too!" The same with make-up. She'd go, "Should we go with more blue eye shadow?" And we'd all go, "Yes!" Everyone was all in sync. Because we all knew that period so well.
The chain smoking from all involved was something that struck a chord with me. I was a kid in the 80s, around the same ages as the kids in this movie, and that is one thing...You'd go into the kitchen, and everyone is smoking. Nowadays, you just don't see that. Everybody is standing outside in the cold...
Jason Jones: Everyone is respectful now. But, yeah, there was one shot we had. I wish it was still in there. It was of the Grandma smoking. It was one of those scenes that wound up getting cut. But she was smoking out of one of those ashtray holders. One of those thin ashtray stands. She was smoking off of it. It was her repeatedly chain smoking while she was eating chips. My parents...It would smell like cigarette smoke for a week after Christmas. It was a horrendous time. Smokers!
The ladies all smoking right on top of the food as they prepared Christmas dinner was kind of grossing me out, too!
Jason Jones: Oh, yes! (Laughs)
Whose house did you shoot this in?
Jason Jones: Our location scout...Some guy rented it out. It was perfect. We did not touch much. We walked into the location and thought, "Wow, this is a time warp." (Laughs) Physically, there were better houses that looked the part outside. But when we walked into this house, we thought, "We don't need to touch anything! This is really great." Of course, we brought in little touches, like the brown wire converter. The remote that is wired to the TV.
Yeah, that brought me right back to that place in time. I had not seen one of those, or though about one of those, since the last time I changed the channel with one.
Jason Jones: I know. It's just an awesome way to change the channels. Just flicking through them all. One of our goals was to make this movie be a little time warp to people who are in their mid-thirties, who grew up in this time period. We wanted to transport them back. Remind them of a simpler, yet still very complex time.
The one scene that didn't actually feel like acting to me, but genuine concern on your part, is when Mike Beaver lays this cigarette on that beautiful oak liquor bar in the basement, and you quickly pick it up and put it in the ashtray.
Jason Jones: (Laughs) I think that was one of those moments...It was an exposition scene, and Mike Beaver and I always like to cover those the best we can with little gimmicks and tricks...That was one of those moments we came up with before hand. That is something my mother always did when people were smoking. She spent half the night running around picking up cigarettes and changing ashtrays. She was always on cigarette detail.
One of the funnest moments in the movie is when you guys are out there, in the snow. And Mike is turning bright, sickly red, running around in the Toronto cold without his shirt on...
Jason Jones: I think that was our second to last day. We just went balls out. We had fun. We had a bunch of stunt guys on set. And they said, "We're going to do this." Mike was like, "No, no! We're not. We're just doing this!" He ended up ripping his shirt off and riding down on the toboggan. The stunt guys were cringing with every look, "Are you sure you don't want padding?" "No! padding is for pussies!"
It looks beyond cold and very painful. Were you guys method acting with the whiskey out there...
Jason Jones: I think we had a few nips. Just to stay warm. We're commited to the bits. We're both classically trained, he and I.
Are you guys personal friends with Dave Foley? I know Mike worked with Dave on the new Kids in the Hall show that was on IFC...
Jason Jones: Mike and I were in a comedy troupe in Canada. We performed pretty regularly. We got a show after Kids had been off the air. We were called Heir Apparent: Kids in the Hall...Of course it went nowhere. Because to label it that is the kiss of death in Canada. We were performing live, and Dave Foley came in out of the blue and watched us. We started to maintain a relationship with him after that. We did another Canadian film that Mike and I wrote, and Dave was in that. He loved his part in that so much, he said, "Anytime. If you guys are doing anything else, please think of me." We called him immediately for this. He came willingly.
This is the second film I have seen just recently where he has barred it all. Do you have any insight into why he has decided to show everything at this point in his career?
Jason Jones: Did you see the size of his penis? Why not show that thing off?
It was kind of shocking watching that on the big screen. I wasn't expecting it. But it was the second time I'd seen it in the last couple of months.
Jason Jones: I believe that he is working that into his contract these days. And his ass gets some screen time. Its one of the more shocking things. Because we were watching it in Toronto, and it was on a really big screen. Seeing his ass, full frontal, right up there? It was pretty shocking. To see his ass just pumping away.
How long did it take you guys to shoot this movie? You obviously didn't shoot it in one day, but it feels as though you could have...
Jason Jones: I think we shot it in ten days. That was the actual, official account.
That is amazing. Before you go, I just have to thank you. Christmas is a big deal in our house, and every year we have to watch all of the classic Christmas movies leading up to the big day, so its great to have something new to add to the collection. Were you a big fan of some of those movies? Like Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story? Did you look to any of those for inspiration?
Jason Jones: No, there wasn't an awareness. There wasn't an end goal like that. With Mike and our stuff? I think we have a bit of an unique voice, and we want to share it with people. We set out to make a funny film. Something that was a little off. We wanted to share our off-kilter comedy. The people that love it are ravenous for it. You know? We are happy about that.
What are you and Mike setting out to do next?
Jason Jones: I'll point you to a web short that we did for Funny or Die. Its called Shotgun Harley. Watch that. That is where we're going for our next project.
You'll be turning that into a feature film?
Jason Jones: That is what we are hoping. Yeah. It's in the negotiations process right now.
But I'll have to go to Canada to see it on a timely basis...
Jason Jones: Our hope is that we're going to do it here. That is our next goal. To actually make a movie here.