Darren Gilshenan, Heath Davis, Hannah Joy, and Steve Le Marquand.

Christmas has come early in the Western Sydney suburb of Campbelltown, with production nearing completion on a new feature from Heath Davis set to offer a different take on the holiday season.

Written and directed by Davis, Christmess stars Steve Le Marquand as Chris Flint, a desperate, once famous actor fresh out of rehab that takes a job as a Santa Claus in a suburban strip mall, where he unexpectedly encounters his long-estranged daughter (Nicole Pastor) and infant grandson.

With the love and support of his sponsor, Nick (Darren Gilshenan), and a young, sharp-tongued musician in recovery named Joy (Hannah Joy), Chris sets out to stay sober in order to win his daughter’s forgiveness for Christmas.

Producing are Daniel Fenech, Cindy Pritchard, and Matthew McCracken, with Nick Cole executive producing. The project, which has been financed through crowdfunding and the support of partners, is being shot across three weeks in Campbelltown.

Speaking to IF, Davis said the idea had come out of a desire to apply the Thanksgiving movie trope of “estranged characters people being forced to unite” to the Christmas period.

“I’ve always liked that setting and then I’ve been watching all these Christmas movies over time and I saw one that I connect with that actually depicts what Christmas is actually like for a lot of people, including myself,” he said.

“We were trying to get something else up with a bigger budget and that’s been having a few false starts, but then I was like, ‘I think I can make this the same way I’ve made my previous films Broke and Book Week‘, (in terms of something) micro-budget with bruised characters that would attract really good performers.

“Like those two films, it really spilled out when I wrote it, so I gestated and thought on it for quite some time and I knew the characters and knew the general plot, but it’s really a character story.”

Christmess is the fourth feature that Le Marquand and Davis have collaborated on, following Book Week, Broke, and Locusts. Joy, of alternative indie rock band Middle Kids, will make her feature film debut in the film and will also contribute original music, as well as Christmas covers.

Davis said he shared good shorthand with Le Marquand, who also was able to bring some of his own experiences to the role.

“Ironically, when I had this idea for a Christmas film, he told me his first role out of acting school was as a mall Santa, so then I started picking his brains about the experience,” he said.

“It snowballed from there a little bit because I was writing for him and I was also writing for Hannah.

“She really connected to it and we did a lot of workshopping, plus she has written all these great new songs, so it’s been a real discovery for us.”

Davis is again planning to work with Bonsai Films for the distribution of Christmess, which he hopes will have a theatrical run, including Q&A events, before potentially going on to an SVOD service.

While working towards Christmas release, he said it would be dependent on post-production as to whether the film would be delivered in time for this year’s festive season

“We may have to wait till 2023 Christmas to put it into festivals,” he said.

“It’s just going to be dependent on how we go with post because we really want to take our time and not break our necks.”

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