A behind-the-scenes look at setting up Christmas…in the middle of September.
Written, produced and directed by Brian Patrick Flynn with photography by Tomas Espinoza.
One time, when I was a chubby-fisted little five-year-old boy with a Dorothy Hamill bowl cut who got busted trying to steal a wooden frog from a plant nursery, I was ejected from a preschool Christmas play. The situation was this: I threw a tantrum ten minutes before showtime because my sweater was itchy and I refused to go up on stage and sing, but then I got jealous when some skinny little non-bowlcutted introvert took my spot and was instantly adored by the audience. Like a yuletide bat out of preschool holiday hell, I bum rushed the cast in the middle of their live performance, grabbed the microphone right out of the spotlight stealer’s hands, and totally took back that stage. My parents, the ones who probably should have reprimanded me, busted into laughter and caught the whole thing on video before taking me outside for a stern talking-to, one that never actually happened, most likely because they felt guilty about giving me that haircut. And for the past 33 years, I’ve continued to make a production out of Christmas. Case in point: setting up my mountain house for a holiday magazine spread.
When it comes to holiday design, I’m not really a fan of anything elaborate because I don’t wanna put a ton of effort into something that’s gonna be taken down shortly after it’s installed. Hey, if it’s going up for ten years, I’ll layer the hell out of anything, but spending three days messing with ornaments instead of watching a Real Housewives marathon, that ain’t gonna happen. I’m more of a make-something-original-that-you-just-stick-in-place-and-you’re-done kind of guy. For real. I even went as far as having custom upholstered Christmas tree structures made this year. When not in use, they collapse into two pieces and flat-pack for easy storage. I also wanted to add holiday flair to the outdoor living room, so I had my new carpenter Trevor (super young, has cats) turn a bunch of old shipping pallets into makeshift rustic trees. And when I was tired of seeing the same damn wreaths over and over again, my stylist friend Alaidriale (ugh, so hard to spell) took a bunch of yarn skeins and made a pair of yarn ball wreaths that are kinda weird and amazing at the same time…like James Franco on Instagram. Oh, and then we also turned our favorite holiday movies into scroll art by printing scripts on canvas and suspending them from drapery rods. One (A Christmas Story) was successful and the other (Home Alone) turned into a humidity-related hot mess.
Most of the time, when you open a shelter magazine and fall in love with a holiday spread or turn on the TV to watch a Christmas house tour, it’s safe to assume those spaces were shot and styled in the dead of summer. Why? Well, if something has to be printed or scheduled to air during the holidays, it needs to be created way ahead of time to account for proper editing, layout and/or broadcast procedures. And thanks to strategic composition and amazing camera exposure techniques, you’d never know that Christmas was actually happening in 94 degree weather with 160% humidity. For a behind-the-scenes look at all that goes into producing Christmas way before tacky yard ornaments grace the shelves of home improvement stores, my team and I captured the holiday installation of my mountain house for a regional shelter magazine. Whether it’s an editorial education in black holes, hitting the office supply store for makeshift gift tags, minimizing deciduous foliage that doesn’t exist in winter, using building supplies for wrapping gifts, or giving winter clothing a camera test, here’s a glimpse at what it’s like to pretend-host Christmas while your neighbors for-real-host backyard barbecues.
Yeah, so once all of the holiday styling is tackled, there’s one more factor left that’s kind of a major pain in the ass…wardrobe. How is that a major pain in the ass? Well, for one, who the hell wants to wear sweaters and jackets when it’s 98 degrees out and there are gnats in your eyeballs? And then there’s the fact that most winter wardrobe pieces are kinda bulky and tend to make people look boxy in photographs or on TV. So, just like with prop styling, it’s really important to have a ton of options, then try each one in front of the camera to see which works best. After three attempts, we settled on a super basic knit sweater because of how well its texture read through the lens; however, settling on a facial expression, that was not as easy because when I don’t smile I tend to appear (a) lost (b) very sad (c) psychotic (d) super judge-y. See, look, I’ve got proof below. Now you go look at me bitch face non-smile and sideways half-smile while I go practice a brand new smile for this year’s Christmas card.