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SURVIVING CHRISTMAS

It's Beginning To Look Like Christmas
Principal photography began on "Surviving Christmas” in Chicago in the dead of winter. Executive producer Patricia Whitcher remarks, "We wanted it to take place in a city that actually has a winter, so it needed to be somewhere other than Los Angeles. You can't really duplicate winter in Los Angeles on the scale we needed to, so we decided to shoot in Chicago.”

Production designer Caroline Hanania notes, "Shooting in Chicago gave us the opportunity to get real neighborhoods with bare winter trees. We were able to dress whole streets with Christmas décor and we'd have real snow.”

"We thought we were being so smart shooting the exteriors in Chicago so we wouldn't have to spend all that money making our own snow. It turned out to be one of the coldest winters ever in Chicago and no snow, so now we're in Chicago, freezing our butts off, and we end up having to create our own snow after all. It was the coldest weather any of us had ever experienced…even the people living in Chicago said it was ridiculously cold. It was awful because here we were asking actors to be funny or romantic and all they can think about is, ‘I can't feel my feet,'” Jenno Topping laughs. Even the Boston-bred Ben Affleck had a hard time handling the cold, coupled with the wind that gives the city its nickname of the Windy City. "It was ungodly cold,” he attests. "It literally took my breath away.”

Josh Zuckerman agrees, "It was freezing. It hit 20 below with the wind chill and there was always wind. I've never been in weather that cold. It was bitter; I know the validity of that expression now.” "We all thought we were going to get frostbite,” says Mike Mitchell. "Another problem was the wind. We had to use fake snow for some scenes, and it was so windy it would blow the snow everywhere except where we wanted it. Around the crew it would be snowing beautifully, but in front of the camera where the actors were, no snow.”

The weather wasn't the only thing that kept the director hopping. The creativity of the cast led to some improvising on the set, which the director welcomed. "Every take was different because the actors would try new things. But I would be crazy not to let someone like Catherine O'Hara improvise, and Ben is a writer, so he brought tons to the table for his character. In fact, the whole cast were such pros and really good at what they do, so you never knew what funny stuff is going to come out. I would never stand in the way of improv. In fact, I encouraged it.”

"Mike was very collaborative and open to letting the actors try things, which made the actors even more comfortable in their environment,” Topping notes.

Affleck adds, "Mike set the right tone for everybody to have a good time while still focusing on getting the work done. He allowed us to keep coming up with stuff and try new ideas, which is the kind of atmosphere I love to work in. It's fun and it's more rewarding because you feel like you contributed something extra to the movie.”

After two weeks in Chicago, the production moved to Mammoth Mountain, the ski resort area in California, for the scene where Drew coerces Alicia and Brian to go tobogganing with him. After the biting cold of Chicago, the winter landscape of Mammoth "was like a beach,” jokes Mitchell. The company then returned to Los Angeles for the remainder of shooting on soundstages, where Drew's bachelor apartment and the interior of the Valco home were built.

Caroline Hanania reveals that the design of the two homes was very much a study in contrasts. "Drew's loft is all affluence—a very modern and expensive but cold world. It's a large open space, beautifully designed with a big fireplace, but very sparsely furnished, with clean, strong lines.” Hanania continues that the Valco house is more of a working class home in the suburbs of Chicago. "What we wanted to do in the Valco house was to reflect wh

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