Blogmas Day 23: Throw It Back This Thursday With My Exciting Interview With The Director of Nativity!


 Image result for Nativity! debbie isitt

Good Morning Lovelies, 

Anyone who knows me knows that I love the film Nativity! It brings me such joy to watch and I can’t help but fall in love with each film every festive season all over again. One thing about them that causes this is the lovely teams that make them. 

After witnessing the musical, as well as all the films in the franchise, over the years, I have grown a huge appreciation for director and creator Debbie Isitt. After being inspired by her little girl's Nativity!, she has gone on to make some of the most memorable Christmas moments to feature on the big screen and off. 

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Kindly she agreed to speak to me about the franchise, a few weeks ago, and now as we delve into Blogmas, I thought it was the most perfect time to share it. Sparkle and shine your way through her amazing discussion with me below: 

Firstly, thank you so much for making Nativity! Where did the idea for the film and the franchise come from?                                                          
You are so welcome! I first had the idea whilst watching my little girl in her school Nativity - it was such a comical and touching experience for me sitting in the audience. I could sense the teacher’s stress and ambition for the kids but so many things went wrong and the children were so sweet and funny. Then when things went right it was such an emotional feeling that I thought it would be a brilliant event to explore on film. 

I don’t think anyone will ever get over the relationship between Mr. Poppy and Paul Maddens! How did you find Martin Freeman and Marc Wootton involved with the film?
Before I made Nativity! I made a wedding comedy film called Confetti that starred Martin Freeman as one of the wedding grooms in the movie. I cast Marc Wootton as his anarchic best man Snoopy as I thought they would make a hilarious couple - so an on/off-screen relationship had already formed between them during that film. I really wanted to develop their chemistry in Nativity! And I have always been a fan of the double act dynamic. I have been very lucky to work with some incredible actors in the films and on stage and right now I’m loving the double act of Scott Garnham and Scott Paige as Maddens and Poppy on tour in the musical. 

Image result for Nativity! debbie isitt

The films have changed a bit over the past few years with new cast members and songs. How has each experience been as a director?
I treat each of the films as a standalone movie, so each experience is very different. I love working with new actors and because I use a lot of improvisation in my work it’s really important that I get the casting right. Each story has taken me to different places - both in terms of locations (in the first film we filmed in LA and the second we filmed in Wales and the third in New York) but also in terms of the emotion.  Each film has its own unique emotional heart.  

At the same time, there are certain ingredients which are the hallmark of all my Nativity films: warmth, humour, emotion, Christmas, kids, relationships, songs, etc. It has been an epic journey for me making four feature films for the franchise and I have enjoyed making them all. They are a bit like my children! 

Each song has a lot of meaning for both adults and children. How did you come up with the pieces within each film?
One of the key things I aim for with the songs in each of the films is that they feel Christmassy in some way - whether that’s through the arrangement and production/using sleigh bells etc or through the lyrics - that Christmas feeling is always at the front of my mind when I start creating the songs.

Then it’s all about the story, using the songs to either push the story on or make a statement. I tend to get a concept in my head for a song (e.g. Sparkle and Shine - or Christmas Shopping from Nativity 3)- I find a melody, I know the kind of style or sound I want. I write the lyrics then take it to Nicky Ager and together we develop it into the finished piece. We have written so many songs in so many different styles - we have 5 albums including the stage show - so if you ever need a Christmas song - come to me!

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The last film Nativity Rocks starred the actors from the musical production. What made you choose to feature them instead of the old cast?
When you work with talented people you always want to develop those relationships and the musical cast were so brilliant, they deserved a shot at being on the big screen. Also, of course, many of the old cast want to move on or are too busy when I’m shooting so the stars (in the sky) don’t always align when you make a film. I was thrilled to work with so many brilliant people on Nativity Rocks including Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys and Ramin Karimloo. They deserve to be on screen - and I loved working with Craig Revel Horwood too - in fact, everyone in that movie was sublime. And the children were amazing - incredible performances- I was very blessed. 

On a scale of one to ten, how much fun is it as a director making this franchise? I think I speak for lots of us when I say we want to be involved!
I honestly absolutely love making these films. It is a world that I created and although it is very hard work it is joyful for me. Great actors, beautiful children and Christmas- well it’s my life really! On set can feel a little crazy at times - especially with the big set pieces and dozens of kids and animals in the mix but out of the chaos comes the comedy and the joy.

The first film is now a very successful musical on the West End. What was it like taking the feature from screen to stage?
It was something I always wanted to do but it took a few years.  It was brilliant to be given the opportunity to write songs for the characters in the film like Mr. Maddens and Jennifer - and to give Mr. Poppy his own songs like ‘my very first day at school,’ it was so much fun! Audiences absolutely love this show and I have to admit I love it too! Even though I created it, I still used improvisation with the cast, so everyone feels a sense of ownership and it’s brilliant to collaborate with such talented people. Over the last three years, I have watched the show so many times, but I never get tired of it! That’s the magic of Nativity and live theatre! 

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When casting the films, what was it about the children in them that stood out to you? Bob will forever be a legend in my eyes!
Yes, Bob (Ben Wilby) was a standout character from the start.  Even at his first audition, he was so funny and brilliant! I love the children who can just be themselves - they don’t ever have lines to learn - they just come on to set and work with me on their feet. It’s a natural and organic process - so I’m looking for natural kids - whether naturally funny or naturally sweet or naturally shy or naturally bossy - that’s the main thing for me - then I work around them.

What feedback have you had from schools or parents that have stayed with you since making the films? And how has this impacted the franchise?
I know that schools and parents and families up and down the country have taken the Nativity films (and the show) to their hearts. Every year, particularly at Christmas time, I am inundated with positive messages about these films and musical - it has become my vocation in life to offer these uplifting Nativity offerings because they are so valued by ordinary people and kids. 

What does it truly take to make an epic Nativity play? We all know not to give a Donkey chocolate after Mr. Poppy’s incident aha, but what advice would you give for putting a Nativity on?
First thing I’d say is “do not try this at home,” as in DON’T fly a real child off a real cathedral spire and DON’T abseil your donkey down a mountain! But DO have ambition for your production - real camels are fine!  And sing and dance your hearts out!

Image result for Nativity! debbie isitt

Christmas is just around the corner. What do you do every year to celebrate the festive season?
I shop, I stress, I wrap, I eat, I drink, I decorate the tree, I watch Christmas movies and cry, I go to midnight mass, I go to Christmas dinner with my family, I feel warm and happy and loved and I give my daughter most of the things on her Christmas list and best of all - I watch Nativity! Of course! 

Is there going to be any more Nativity films? If so, when can we expect the next?
[This year marks the] Nativity! Films 10th birthday - the first film came out Nov 27th, 2009 and went to number one at the UK box office! Such an unexpected surprise and pleasure. So, to answer your question I would love to make another Nativity film. I have so many more stories to tell - but I don’t know when that will happen...maybe we should start a campaign to get another one financed? Bring it on!

Lastly, can you remember what part you played in your Nativity? If so, what was it and was it as big as the ones in the franchise?
I played Mary!  So did my two sisters! The part wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped! There was a lot of sitting around and doll holding - but - I liked the blue dress - and it took place in the School hall I’m afraid - no cathedral ruins - not even a sniff of Hollywood - but all the same - very happy memories indeed!

Thank you so much, Debbie, for speaking to the blog! She is absolutely amazing and a try British filmmaking legend in my eyes and hopefully many of yours. Who else is now off to binge the Nativity! films? Let’s do this! 

Joey X 

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