This time of year, nothing is better than holiday-themed horror films. When the press release for the upcoming movie Santastein came across my desk, I wanted to know more, so I reached out to its co-directors, to learn more about the film, which has an exciting concept that combines Santa with Frankenstein.
In the film, inspired by a short film, “Max Causey was only six years old when he accidentally burned Santa to a crisp on Christmas Eve. 12 years later, Max attempts to raise Santa from the dead in order to fix his past mistakes and restore the Christmas spirit. But he soon realizes that the creature he has created is a bloodthirsty killer – and it’s headed straight for his friend’s Christmas party!”
Kelli: “Now, all right, so tell me about Santastein, or Santastein, actually.”
Manuel: “It’s a common misnomer. People mix it up a lot. Ben, you want to start, or should I?”
Ben: “Go ahead, Manny, you know what Santastein is.”
Manuel: “I do know what Santastein is. Okay, so hi, my name is Manuel. I can go by Manny, whatever ends up being easiest. I’m one of the co-directors. That’s Ben, and he’s the other co-director. Santastein, where to start? We started this as a short film back in 2018. We were students in college back then. We needed to make a Christmas horror movie. I came up to Ben, and I was like, “Hey, hear me out. Just Frankenstein Santa, they call it Santastein. Are you in or you not in?”
A day later, Ben gives me a 10-page script, and he is like, “Here, I wrote something.” There it was. The rest is history. We made the short film. We showed the short film to the school’s film festival. One of our colleagues came up to us and was like, “Hey,” Can you hear me?”
Manuel: “Okay. No, sorry, my mic did something weird. One of our colleagues came up to us and was like, “Hey, have you considered making this into a feature film? If you do, I’ll help you.” We were fresh out of college. Sure, why not? We Kickstarted and we did a Kickstarter campaign to raise some funds. We raised, it was, I believe, $25,000 off of Kickstarter, and we were just like, “Oh. Well, we didn’t expect that to happen. I guess no choice but to make the movie now.” Well, we made the movie. Pandemic happened, we finished the movie, and here we are.”
Ben: “It was kind of a crazy experience, the whole Kickstarter thing. Manny was saying we finished college, and it was like we had nothing set up after school. We were like, “We might as well try for this.” We knew at least as we were making the script for the feature, which was happening while we were trying to fundraise for the Kickstarter, as our original goal was like, “Okay, if we don’t raise any money on Kickstarter, we might as well make this movie anyway.”
As the script kept getting bigger and bigger, we were like, “Okay. We can’t make this movie unless we actually raised the money on Kickstarter.” It was definitely the stressful back and forth if we were doing the creative stuff, we were putting together on our team, and at the same time, we had this 31-day countdown on Kickstarter. We were doing our best to make sure we reached that goal. All the work we were putting into building our team, getting facilities, getting equipment, and looking for locations wouldn’t go to waste.
That final day when we reached the goal was very exciting. We had our script done by then. This was around the end of the summer, and we were looking to film starting just a couple of months later in November. It was a fast turnaround once we knew this project was going to happen to actually filming what ended up being the first half of the movie because the pandemic shut down our production halfway through.
Kelli: “I’ve heard that story quite a few times from filmmakers.”
Manuel: “Yeah. It was just a situation where momentum just kept pushing us forward whether we wanted to or not. We’re like, “Oh. Well, now we’re making a feature.” It just kept moving.
Ben: “The pandemic, the stop there was obviously a curse, but also in a mini disguise, a blessing because we took what we had, which amounted to about half the movie, and edited a rough cut. We would fill in the gaps with the parts of our short film that kind of related to those gaps. Through watching it and also through the understanding that we would have to pare down our crew to a skeleton crew and no longer shoot any scenes that had more than two actors in the frame and a time, that led us to actually rework the story.
The movie’s actually quite different from its original intent, the way we shot it originally. Just the whole second act completely shifted. I think it was, at least for us, for the better.”
Kelli: “Oh, awesome. Awesome. When is the movie set to be released?”
Manuel: “Well, that’s an interesting question because we’re currently right now working on submitting it to film festivals. We’re hoping to be doing some premieres at some festival in the next five to six months, which would be great. As far as a public release is concerned, ultimately, it just ends up; we’ve been having a couple of meetings with different distribution companies trying to see what ends up working best for our movie.
As of right now, there’s no official release date other than the festival stuff, but we’re working on figuring that out. At the very least, 2023, so it’s going to be a 2023.”
Ben: “We’re obviously really hoping for a next Christmas release. It would be the perfect time for it. We’ve seen this movie with a bunch of people, and we know that it works really well with a crowd. That’s why we’re really excited about the opportunities that festival screenings can give us. Once we start getting those locked in, we’ll create a sort of site for fans that we’ve been building up to track those screenings. Maybe if some are in the area at those festivals, they can come see it.
Then the hope is to get it to as many people as we can. That’s through. hopefully, someone would pick us up and give us a Christmas release next year for the perfect timing, Christmas Halloween movie.”
Kelli: “Right. How did you go about choosing Santastein?”
Ben: “Okay, Santa. That was a hard one because there are actually, in this movie, I guess, two different Santa actors. The premise of the film is our character, when he’s six years old, they’re trying to prove the existence of Santa Claus, and through a freak accident, he kills Santa. That’s like the original Santa, that’s the Santa we all know with a big white fluffy beard.
Then we had zombie corpse, reanimated Santa Claus, which in the story of the movie, was created through a body that’s actually stolen from the local morgue. Our character has spent years stealing bodies to try his experiments, to try to merge the brain of Santa with this body and bring back Christmas joy, which is just totally lost in this desolate world. Finding our original Santa, our 1990s Santa, a lot of mall Santas we spoke to because they have that look.”
Manuel: “They were also in season at a time. They were in season at the time. It was like, I think, November when we were filming that. We’re like, “Okay, they must be growing the beard.”
Ben: They had their beard all ready to go. They had their costumes pressed in their closet already. Those were some great auditions there. Then actually we ended up finding our actor for our Santastein, his name’s Michael Vitovich, a friend of ours had made a film a couple years before, also actually a holiday horror film. He had worked with this actor, and so we had that connection.
When we spoke to him and when he did the audition, and actually just through the process of rehearsing with him too, we kind of saw this extra piece of humanity that he was bringing out of the character, something that we didn’t really …, when we wrote the script, it was like slasher monster. Then he came in and was like, “This is Frankenstein, let’s get the humanity. There’s still a piece of Santa lost deep in this reanimated body.” Michael Vitovich did; it was such a pleasure working with him. He really brought a lot to that role.”
Kelli: “Oh, that’s fantastic. Okay. Exactly what response are you hoping fans to get from the film?”
Manuel: “The movie is a good time. Let’s just start it out there. I think the movie is, it’s called Santastein. It’s about a Frankenstein Santa. I think our objective is for people to go into this movie wanting to have fun. It’s got a mixture of scares; it’s got a mixture of good and bad jokes. It’s part of the spirit of it. Like Ben mentioned, with just now with our Santa actor, it also has a good deal of heart in it.
The main characters actually manage to bring out a certain level of … one of the hardest things when you’re making a movie is just like, “Okay. How can we make audiences care about what’s happening?” When we watched the first version before we did our rewrites, we were like, “I think the problem that’s happening right now is we just don’t care about what’s happening with these people. It’s missing a lot of those connection moments.” We managed to write up a couple of scenes where there were actually thematic elements surfacing in the movie that kind of served as a drive behind it to keep audiences invested.
Ultimately, what kind of response are we looking for? We want people to come out of that and say, “Hey, that was a lot of fun. Those filmmakers definitely, they did their best with what they had, and we had a good time watching that. We’ll recommend it to our friends.”
Ben: “Yeah, I think groups, maybe even a yearly watch, would really get a lot out of this movie. A lot of this movie was found in the editing. Like Manny was saying, we were watching our first cut, and we were like, “We’re just not feeling our characters.” That’s why rewriting it, I think we separated our characters a little too early. Santa goes on a rampage across the town, and the Scooby-Doo gang going after him separates just a little too early. We had to keep them together.
That’s what I think brings a lot of the soul of the movie is those elements. We also, Manny and I also edited the movie, and thankfully we are not the type of directors who are so tied to or married to what we originally wrote or filmed that we’re not willing to completely tear it apart and try something new. We definitely took the spirit of just going absurd with certain edits. Sometimes, we’d go a little too far and be like, “Okay, this is a little too crazy, but it’s definitely in the right direction.” We’d bring it back a little bit.
I think that’s where a lot of the humor comes in this movie. As we said, we have seen it with a crowd, we have seen it with our cast, we have seen it with our crew. They reacted to the right moments. I think the people that we’ve shown it to, they react to the right moments. That’s definitely a satisfying feeling.”
Kelli: “Well, that’s fantastic. Okay, so we’ll keep people posted when you have an update about when film festivals are going to happen and every step from there until you’re released. Do y’all have a website besides the Facebook page?”
Ben: “No, we have Facebook and we have Instagram. I’d say we probably update them both simultaneously. We might have more of a reach on our Instagram than we do on the Facebook. The website’s going to come soon. Our trailer we’re really happy with how our trailer’s doing on YouTube. I think a lot of people are reacting really well to it.
We’re going to take those people that have been commenting, asking about a release, asking about where they can see this movie, to create a sort of one-stop, one page website, where, as you were saying, we can inform them of when these screenings are going to happen, and what our journey’s going to look like for the next year. I know you went through it because you were telling me you produced a movie a couple of years ago, right?”
Kelli: “Yeah, I executive produced it. It’s a Christmas movie, 13 Slays till X-Mas.”
Ben: “Yeah. That’s awesome. I was looking into it. I want to watch it. It looks very fun.”
Kelli: “Thank you! It’s on Tubi and Prime.”