With Tommy Wirkola's Violent Night now available on Blu-ray and Digital HD, we were able to catch up with screenwriters Pat Casey and Josh Miller to talk about their critical and commercial smash hit, which grossed over $75.8 million worldwide on a modest $20 million production budget.
While we didn't get into any sequel talk, we did talk about how the writing duo initially conceived the ambitious Christmas movie and how they were able to merge two potential movie ideas to craft that inventive Nikamund the Red backstory for Santa Claus (David Harbour).
They also revealed the one scene that was deemed too violent to make it into the movie, whether more magical Christmas characters exist, and teased Sonic the Hedgehog 3!
Read on for the full interview and don't forget to SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel!
ROHAN: First off, how did you conceive this film? I have to imagine Die Hard was a big inspiration...
JOSH: I mean, we had the idea back when we were teenagers and made like a teenage version of this, essentially. I think there was just something we loved about that era of kind of Die Hard-knockoffs you know, Under Siege, Sudden Death, just anything where it’d be like Die Hard in a ____ seemed to be the premise behind the movie.
PAT: And we had the idea of Die Hard, but with Santa. It kind of didn’t matter where he was actually, but that was the idea. Die Hard with Santa. We just thought it was so funny. We would bring it up every once in a while over the years, like ‘Man, we should do that Die Hard Santa thing,” but we always thought it was too stupid to ever get made into a real movie… until we finally told our agents the idea and they laughed so hard. Then, we thought, ‘Oh, maybe it's just stupid enough.’
JOSH: I think everyone can - well, not everyone - but a lot of people kind of have that impulse to do a Christmas movie at some point, just because we all have memories of the Christmas movies we had growing up, and I think, not that it was this calculated in our mind, I think it's just what we liked about the idea was always kind of wanting to do this sort of 90s-style action movie as well, and I think we maybe had a hard time trying to think of, ‘Is there like an actual Christmas movie that would get us excited to write it?’ So, that idea just kind of stuck around in our head for 20-plus years.
ROHAN: I really loved the Viking backstory with Nikamund the Red becoming Santa Claus. Where did you come up with that idea? Did you look at any actual historical figures for inspiration?
PAT: That was actually sort of a whole separate movie idea that we had one Christmas like 10 years ago. To do like, I don't know, it just sort of struck us because he kind of looks like a Viking. The idea that he was a Viking, who had had some epic adventure and kind of thinking about like, you know, in Clash of the Titans, Perseus goes on this adventure, and he ends up getting the helmet and the shield and all those different magic things. Thinking about how Santa is just sort of this guy, he's got a magic sack, he's got the reindeer, he's got the elves. There's probably this epic journey this guy went on, to get all the magic stuff, but to also learn the importance of generosity and Christmas spirit, and we were like, ‘Oh, that would make a great epic movie.’
JOSH: And we're realized, that movie is way too expensive.
PAT: Especially at that time, because that was before Sonic, that was even before Golan the Insatiable, so we were nobodies. We were just like, ‘Oh, we can't do anything with this idea, but then that was sort of swimming around in the soup along with his Die Hard idea. So, we thought we would just combine it, but yeah, it wasn't really inspired by any actual historical figure. It was more sort of just building our own myth that was similar to other mythological figures, perhaps, but yeah, not any particular one, I suppose.
JOSH: Yeah, I mean, the real answer is that it was a separate movie idea that we weren't sure if it could fit into Violent Night and during our very first meeting with David Leitch, we mentioned that to him as possibly being Santa’s backstory.
PAT: We mentioned it with a big question mark, because we weren't sure if anyone was gonna like it, and David just lit up. He was like, ‘Oh, my God, I love it. This idea of Santa as an immortal Viking.’ So, it made it into the movie.
JOSH: Then, of course, when Tommy Wirkola came on, we knew he was going to love it because he's Norwegian. Of course, he wants to hear that Santa was secretly a Viking.
ROHAN: You mentioned David Leitch, who runs 87North, what was your working relationship with them? What kind of feedback were you receiving?
JOSH: Considering they're an action company, our relationship with David and Kelly McCormick was still basically like any other producer, until the movie was being shot. We were up in Winnipeg for two weeks just to visit and do some minor script stuff, but David was also there because he was on a break, I think from sound mixing on Bullet Train or something like that, I don’t quite remember, Pat?
PAT: Yeah, he was finishing Bullet Train and prepping The Fall Guy. So, he was on set, but he was just jumping in and taking part in the fight choreography, helping run the stunt team and stuff.
JOSH: Well, because I think the stunt coordinator got COVID and had to be - he wasn't like super sick, but you're not allowed back on set, and since David was there, he was kind of like, ‘Alright, and I think he was kind of having fun stepping back into what his role had kind of been in the industry, before John Wick.
PAT: So, we had the most overqualified stunt coordinator of all-time for a little while. David and Kelly were like the first ones who came on, it was literally the day after we mentioned this idea to our agents. We went and had lunch with David and pitched it to him, and he loved it, and everything kind of stemmed from that initial meeting when we went out and pitched it to the studios, it was with David and Kelly attached to produce. They really helped shape it, but also gave us a lot of freedom to just kind of write it the way we saw it, which ended up being - the finished movie is kind of shockingly similar to our first draft, really.
JOSH: But I guess my initial point, if that was kind of part of your initial question was, a lot of their notes were really just about character stuff, not like, ‘Oh, this action sequence, we should do this or do that,’ you know, I think because they know that that will all come later.
ROHAN: How long did it take you guys to find that right balance between the suspension of disbelief that Santa is real and just the reality of the film's setting?
JOSH: Weirdly, not long at all, I think, because to us, the joke was the more seriously we approached it, as though we were just making an action movie, but where instead of John McClane, it's Santa Claus. Somehow just like not worrying about it. I think we're always worried that once we turn this in, are people going to be like, ‘What is this movie? We thought it was going to be like, more tongue-in-cheek or something.’ If that makes sense. So, it's kind of like not thinking about it turned out to be the best approach to finding the balance.
PAT: Yeah, I mean, we just trusted the concept of putting him into just a real action movie in the real world that this movie doesn't take place in an alternate world where Santa is real, it takes place in our world AND Santa is real, but people still don't believe in Santa. We had the line about how he doesn't visit every house every year. He only goes where he's really needed, so you know that's why there's a plausible deniability of Santa’s existence for everyone else.
ROHAN: With actors like David Harbour and John Leguizamo, did you feel like they enhanced the characters you wrote for them?
JOSH: For sure. I mean, we wrote the role with David Harbour in mind. Yeah, obviously, he still enhanced it, but that was more of a case where it was like, ‘Yeah, he's doing it the way we hoped he would!’ Leguizamo, I think is an even more clear example of an actor fully taking over role and he's our villain saying villainy stuff, and Leguizamo added a lot of his kind of signature Leguizamo personality to it and came up with some things.
PAT: His big speech, where he explains why he hates Christmas. We wrote that for John at his request. He was like, ‘Why do I hate Christmas so much? What's going on?’ We were like, ‘Yeah, good point.’ We’ll we’ll give you a monologue, a big villain speech. But yeah, I mean, these guys are creative guys too. Actors are always going to bring something to the role, and you want them to. You want them to add their own flavor to it, then make every part more distinctive.
JOSH: Harbour’s big acting choice was that he wanted Santa to start out softer than we had him in the script, and ease his way up to being super, super confident in his violence, and I think that turned out to be a great choice, because he's so lovable and goofy at the beginning.
ROHAN: We know Santa exists, but do any of those other magical Christmas characters - Krampus, The Grinch, Scrooge, etc. - exist?
JOSH: This is getting our foot in the door, and we'll see where it goes. I mean, we kind of have the line where he's listing off all the different things that people have called him over the years, which is kind of meant to imply that he's been around for a thousand years going all over the world and possibly different cultures have been interpreted him a little differently.
PAT: Do Krampus and other magical Christmas figures exist? Quite possibly. Obviously, this is a world where magic is real. So, who knows what’s possible? But definitely, for the first one we wanted to keep it as grounded as possible, so it wouldn't feel like a fantasy movie. Everything is real - plus, Santa. We wanted to stick to only that for the first one.
ROHAN: The film is ultra-violent, as expected. Was the violence basically how you wrote it in your first draft or did you have to tone it down at all?
JOSH: From the get-go, Universal was fully onboard for the movie to live up to its title. We hoped that they would stick to their guns on that because sometimes studios don't. They're like, ‘Yeah, this will be Rated R and then, at some point wiser heads prevail, and they're like, ‘Wait, we'd make way more money if it was PG 13.’
PAT: We always thought the best version of this movie was Rated R and we were happy that they agreed and Tommy really embraced it.
JOSH: Yeah, Tommy definitely found ways to make certain kills more violent.
PAT: Yeah, pulling a guy up the chimney and stumpifying him. That was in the first draft, but that wasn't actually Scrooge’s death, because Scrooge had a different one. The one bit of violence they made us take out because it was just too disgusting was when Santa shoves those guys into the snow plow. In the first draft, he hoses down some other bad guys with the guts. They're all like slipping in the guts and can't keep their footing.
JOSH: For some reason that one, of all the things. I don't know, I feel like we have way grosser things that happen in the movie than that. That, in my mind, was silly.
PAT: But, you never know what any particular producer or exec there, what their hang-up is going to be. We tend to always stumble upon it by accident on every project. There's always one thing that they’re like, ‘No way, guys!’
ROHAN: I have to ask, what can you say about Sonic the Hedgehog 3?
JOSH: Unfortunately, almost nothing is what we can say.
PAT: I mean, it's well on its way and it's going to be epic.
JOSH: I mean we're very excited about the script. I think we all started it being like, ‘Wow, we really went for broke on Sonic 2, not knowing if there'd be a Sonic 3. Can we ramp things up even further?.. And we tried!
When a team of mercenaries breaks into a wealthy family compound on Christmas Eve, taking everyone inside hostage, the team isn’t prepared for a surprise combatant: Santa Claus (David Harbour, Black Widow, Stranger Things series) is on the grounds, and he’s about to show why this Nick is no saint.