A heartwarming story in the vein of the traditional holiday movies that everyone loves
The new comedy Almost Christmas tells the festive story of beloved patriarch Walter Meyers (Danny Glover of The Color Purple, Lethal Weapon series), who asks his family for one gift this holiday season––to get along. If they can honor that wish and spend five days under the same roof without killing one another, it will be a Christmas miracle.
In the past decade, writer/director David E. Talbert has created beloved comedy films including First Sunday and Baggage Claim, but the 24-time NAACP Theatre Award nominee and Best Playwright winner admits that his first love has long been holiday movies.
“I’m just a huge fan of them…all the big, broad, emotional ones,” Talbert explains. “I love the season and what it represents, so I thought, ‘What would it be like if I did my own holiday film?’”
As he brainstormed, Talbert reflected that most films in this genre revolve around the matriarch. So for his next theatrical release, he wanted to make a film where the patriarch is the glue keeping everyone together. “Being a new father myself, I thought it would be interesting to see the patriarch holding the family together,” reflects the filmmaker.
Talbert crafted a screenplay about a retired automotive engineer in Birmingham, Alabama, who lost the love of his life and mother of his four grown children the year before. Now that the holiday season has arrived again, his troupe must deal with all of the emotions of celebrating with one another…while still mourning the loss of the pillar of their family. As Talbert does best, the raucous humor that is a coping mechanism accompanying unthinkable loss—as well as the strength to pull together—became the through line of his script.
He sent his story to blockbuster producer Will Packer, known for his efforts in such worldwide franchises as Think Like a Man and Ride Along.
But it was the producer’s positive experience on the 2007 feature This Christmas that made him consider another offering in this genre.
Unbeknownst to Talbert, Packer had been thinking about making a new holiday film.
Packer recalls: “I’ve known Dave for a long time, but we hadn’t worked together professionally. We did talk over the years about the kind of movies that we like, and I told him that if he had a project he believed I’d be interested in that I would read it and give him thoughts.”
It was during the development of what would become Almost Christmas that Talbert took his friend up on his offer.
“Dave sent me the script for what was then A Meyers Thanksgiving,” recalls Packer. “I laughed out loud as I read it, and I enjoyed the warmth and heart of the characters. I called him and said, ‘I love this. There’s only one thing we have to change. It’s got to be Christmas. ‘”
Talbert agreed with the note and steps to make the film began.
Still, Packer knew they needed another partner to solidify the project. He reached out to actress and producer Gabrielle Union, with whom he had worked on the films in the Think Like a Man franchise, with the idea.
She reveals: “Will sent me the script and asked me what I thought, so I gave him my notes.”
But Packer had a broader role in mind for his longtime collaborator and after much discussion, Union joined the project. “I saw the light,” she laughs. “I saw myself as Rachel, and I signed on. As well, Will was gracious enough to allow me to be an executive producer.”
Talbert and Packer leaned on Union in her new role, one she’s honed as one of the creators and the star of BET’s enormously successful series Being Mary Jane.
“As one of the EPs as well as talent, you become the bridge between everything that happens at basecamp,” Union states. “That’s hair, makeup, wardrobe, transportation. You become the link between your cast and all of those departments. Being the link between the two sides is what I do best.”
Fellow executive producer Lyn Sisson-Talbert played an integral role in the aesthetics of the film she guided with her husband. She explains a bit of their process: “David and I go over what the house looks like, how we see this family, how we see each character and what their background is. Then I help him develop what that look and feel is, as well as the visual effects.”
Production wrapped, the team took a moment to reflect on the experience that was Almost Christmas. For the man who created it all, his film boils down to the gift of laughter through tears.
Concludes Talbert: “There’s so much with family, shenanigans and the drama that comes along with family, this story invites a lot of comedy. You can probably hear me through the outtakes laughing and falling out of my director’s chair. Everyone on this film caught on to that spirit, and the fact is we’ve made a very hopeful movie. This is a love story of a man who loved a woman for 40 years, and the memories of her are magical memories because they had a great life.”
“It’s a heartwarming story in the vein of the traditional holiday movies that everyone loves, wraps Packer. “The reason that people gravitate toward them every year is because it reminds you of the best and the worst things about family and the holidays. Once you get together with family around the holidays you remember why you only want to see them once a year. You remember why you don’t see them so much during the other 11 months…”