Bruce Vilanch At Work On A Gay Twist On ‘A Christmas Carol’

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HuffPost Chicago
Chicago Filmmakers At Work On A Gay Twist On ‘A Christmas Carol
Joseph Erbentraut

For self-professed “movie addict” and long-time Chicago-based film critic Richard Knight, Jr., it was probably only a matter of time until he put down the pen — or laptop, as it were — and took up the craft himself.

And in his latest project, Knight has done just that. In collaboration with executive producers Tracy Baim (Windy City Times, “Hannah Free“) and David Strzepek (“Hannah Free,” “Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together”) and others, Knight isn’t looking to make just any old movie, however: “Scrooge & Marley,” his first-ever feature film, is a modern-day take on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” — told with a gay sensibility.

The aim, Knight explained, is to create a gay-centric, old-fashioned holiday film, an idea he said first began to ruminate after seeing out director and screenwriter Thomas Bezucha’s 2006 film “The Family Stone.” Knight said he was so captivated by the gay couple depicted in that film that he “wanted so badly for the story to be told through their eyes.”

So for Knight, a film like “Scrooge” is “a dream come true.” In order to fund the project, which is set to begin filming in Chicago this May, Knight and his team have created an IndieGoGo fundraising campaign.

With the campaign recently launched, The Huffington Post checked in with Knight to learn more about his film.

What inspired you to put a gay twist on a classic holiday story such as “A Christmas Carol”?
I’ve been a film critic for a very long time and I write from a queer perspective. I was in a writing group with Tim Imse, who has since passed away, and [primary screenwriter of “Scrooge & Marley” and The Annoyance co-founder] Ellen Stoneking, a friend who has written many screenplays and was looking for an idea for something new to work on. At that point, we were approaching the holiday and so I said, “Why don’t you write a really good gay holiday movie?” I have never seen one. Ellen liked that idea and two seconds later, I said, “How about ‘A Christmas Carol’?” It’s in the public domain, first of all, and I also thought it would work really well coming from a gay place. We put together an outline very quickly and it went from there.

(Scroll down to watch the film’s IndieGoGo campaign video.)

It sounds like you’re sort of embracing this idea of a gay villain, which I know some filmmakers have been very hesitant to do, given the history of such sort of problematic depictions.
I do understand that concern, because for so long we [the LGBT community] did not have fair representation in films and television, so absolutely there was an initial hesitancy to have a gay villain. But then we went the reverse direction. Hello, we’re people! I think at this point culturally, there should be any problem with that. Scrooge actually redeems himself in this film. He’s a good guy in our story, or at least you understand the psychology of why he is the way that he is in much more detail. There are reasons why he is so blackhearted.

So tell me more about how “Scrooge & Marley” is set to play out — or are you keeping these things under wrap for the time being?
We’re keeping it close to the vest, but I can say that it is set in modern day and goes back to the ’70s, to Scrooge being a teenager. Of course, one plus one equals two: Being a gay teenager in the ’70s was not the best time to be out. We’ll flash forward to the ’80s and the AIDS pandemic and that will take us through to the present. The story has been changed — Nephew Fred is now a lesbian and, this is a scoop, we have signed Bruce Vilanch to play our Mr. Fezziwig, who presides over the biggest disco in town when we go back to the ’70s. It will be campy and fun until a much more serious kind of thing happens. We’ll see Bruce do something in this role that he has not done on film before.

You mentioned in the IndieGoGo video that this movie isn’t going to be about camp so much, like so many gay films are. You’re really aiming for something more in line with traditional holiday classics, correct?
Definitely. Our approach is to create a traditional Christmas movie that can be watched by and enjoyed by everybody. There will be camp elements to it and a little bit of salaciousness, but it will be based in the characters — it won’t just be there to have it. That’s certainly not the approach. I don’t know if fans of Ronnie Kroell will be really happy about that — you won’t seem him unclothed in this role — but he’ll look great, don’t worry.

We’re just not worried about the coming out story or the go-go boys or other typical gay scenes you see in films. We wanted to do this because every year, you pull out movies like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” and “Miracle On 34th Street” and we don’t have a gay one that’s told from our perspective. Hopefully now we’ll have one.

Tell me more about how the cast and crew for this film has come together.
I knew when I was writing the script that I wanted to direct and wanted Peter Neville to be my co-director. I’ve worked with him for 20 years on various projects and he is a fantastic editor, wildly creative and we have a great chemistry together. We’ve never shot a feature, so it’s a pretty big undertaking for us, but we feel greatly supported by Tracy Baim, our producer. I’ve worked with Tracy for almost eight years as her film writer [at the Windy City Times] but known her for much longer than that. And integrity is like her middle name — when she says she’ll do something, she does it and doesn’t mess around. When I went to Tracy with our initial draft, she said she really liked it and saw a lot of potential in it from both a creative and business standpoint. She brought in David Strzepek who is a marketing wonder kid and the creative daisy chain has gotten bigger and bigger as we went along.

As for the cast, we have Megan Cavanagh who is openly gay, whom Peter has known very well for many years. She loved the script. Rusty Schwimmer is an old friend of mine who has worked in Hollywood for 23 years and worked with every major director you can name. We’re thrilled to have this level of talent for our film.

Has having this talent attached to the project helped with funding?
Just because we have some high-profile names involved does not mean that the funding comes. It does help but we’re going to try and shoot this movie that spans 30 years in 12 days. It’s not a slam dunk, particularly as a gay movie. It took Lisa Cholodenko almost eight years to get the funding for “The Kids Are All Right” with Julianne Moore on board. It’s never a given.

You mentioned that this is your first feature film you’ve worked on — is that a daunting prospect to step from the writing world into this side of things?
I think what has been saving me is learning from those around me. Everybody has their first movie and film has been my passion, I’ve written about it backwards and forwards and worked on probably every other kind of film-related project. It makes sense to me that you have to have a great script, then find really talented people to enact that script and then have great people who technically can do it. Everybody coming on board sees it as an ultra low budget labor of love.

*Baim is a blogger for The Huffington Post.

As of March 7, the “Scrooge & Marley” film’s campaign has raised just $1,775 of their $15,000 fundraising goal. Click here to learn more about what inspired the project and how you can help get their gay-centric holiday movie off the ground.

Get in touch with us at if you have a Chicago area-based Kickstarter or IndieGoGo project that you’d like to see featured in “Can They Kick It?”

WATCH the “Scrooge & Marley” IndieGoGo campaign video: