It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!
With Office Christmas Party, directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon (Blades of Glory) were immediately drawn to the concept of a magical night where professional and social barriers were less defined.
“There’s a universal wish fulfillment in having one night of the year where people live honestly, perhaps with some help from drugs and alcohol,” says Speck.
“The office Christmas party really breaks down the caste system,” says Gordon. “Suddenly everyone from the top of the food chain to the bottom is equalized and that makes for a great comedic jumping off point.”
Once upon a time, the office Christmas party was a highly anticipated tradition, an epic night of drinking and festivities that blurred the line between co-worker and friend, employer and employee.
Since the fallout from the night’s unbridled events frequently lead to countless hangovers, lawsuits, and weeks of awkward apologies, overzealous HR departments spent decades reigning in the wild and raucous office Christmas ragers until the once legendary celebrations evolved into the staid, polite and family friendly affairs we know today as “Holiday” Parties.
Morale is at an all-time low at Zenotek’s Chicago office after their pragmatic Interim CEO, Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) announces plans to shut down their underperforming branch days before Christmas. Realizing no mere Holiday party can lift the spirits of his employees, eccentric branch president (and Carol’s kid brother) Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) enlists the help of Chief Technical Officer Josh (Jason Bateman), and Lead Systems Engineer Tracey (Olivia Munn) to make their own Christmas miracle by throwing an epic, unforgettably over-the-top Christmas party to win over a high profile client (Courtney B. Vance) and save everyone’s jobs.
“The office Christmas party is really a throwback to a less civilized time. It’s like the dire wolf skeleton you see at the La Brea Tar Pits,” says Producer Scott Stuber. “The “Holiday” party today is like a house-broken pug… it’s not going to hurt anyone, and it plays well with children, but somewhere, deep down it still has that dire wolf DNA.”
“An office Christmas party isn’t a religious celebration,” argues T. J. Miller, who plays Zenotek’s Chicago Branch President Clay Vanstone. “It’s a celebration of letting go and not being afraid to tell your boss what you really think without getting fired.”
Producer Daniel Rappaport adds: “The stakes are high at the Christmas party. It’s where hopes and dreams are made, but it’s also where they come crashing down. You’re one drink away from ruining your life.”
The initial idea for the film came after a family member told Producer Guymon Casady about a decadent corporate Christmas party she had recently attended.
“As she was regaling us with just the scale and the fun of it all, it occurred to me that a party like that would the basis for a great, R-rated comedy,” says Casady. “There’s a vicarious thrill to witness that kind of chaos contained in a movie. It can go completely off the rails but you don’t have to worry about the consequences or having to clean up in the morning.”
Despite the more fantastical elements of the story, the filmmakers approached the story in a grounded way.
“We wanted to see a team of people at its most dysfunctional,” Casady explains. “Then see how barriers break, alliances shift and people connect over the course of a night. The key was keeping the fun of a no-holds-barred Christmas celebration front and center while telling these interwoven stories of the various people in the office.”
“The party is the star of the film,” says Speck, “but that makes our characters that much more important. They have to be realistic, relatable people you’d want to spend a crazy night with. Parties aren’t any fun when you don’t know anybody.”
“We wanted each character to start with their feet on the ground,” says Gordon. “So as things get more and more ridiculous, you’re invested and along for the ride.”
The Greatest Party Ever Thrown
When assembling the all-star cast of disgruntled office workers, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston were Speck and Gordon’s first choice for their respective roles, having worked with both previously on 2010’s The Switch. Office Christmas Party marks Aniston’s fifth collaboration with Bateman and second with Speck and Gordon.
“Jen and Jason are very close friends,” says Stuber. “They spend a lot of time together on and off camera, which results in their great chemistry. The relaxed, fluidity of their performance style really sets the tone for the whole cast.”
“We’re all like family at this point,” says Aniston. “There’s definitely a shorthand and confidence as to how we all work together. If you have that trust, you can immediately tell one another what works and what doesn’t.”
“We created this character for Jennifer because she’s absolutely fearless when it comes to playing somewhat unlikeable characters in comedies,” says Gordon. “For her, the more daring the role, the better.”
Rather than play Carol as a villain, Aniston framed her character in terms of her relationship with Clay in their youth. “I looked upon Carol as sort of a grown up Jeanie Bueller to Clay’s Ferris Bueller,” says Aniston. “She has incredible resentment toward him because he’s a goof off and got every break growing up. She’s wants to prove herself as the smartest, most competent person in the room. Sadly, she didn’t really develop her soft, fuzzy side.”
For the character of Clay Vanstone, the directors needed an actor who could bring equal parts mayhem and legitimacy. They found both in stand-up comedian and actor T.J. Miller.
“T.J. is the kind of guy you walk into a bar with and 10 minutes later he’s the center of a hundred people,” says Gordon. “He’s as charismatic as the characters he plays.”
“T.J. delivers an incredible amount of heart and humanity that we never envisioned,” says Speck.
“I subconsciously based my character on an actual boss I had once who believed you could have a great time and still get your work done,” Miller recalls. “She never saw having fun as an obstacle to productivity, and that’s a philosophy I’ve used to inform Clay’s management strategy.”
“Working with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston was intimidating,” Miller confesses. “But they’re so warm and professional. Even though I’ve been watching them my whole life, they were incredibly supportive to a less experienced actor like me.”
When casting the role of Lead Systems Engineer Tracey, Olivia Munn proved to be especially qualified for the role.
“Olivia has great comic timing. She always knows where the joke is and how to set it up perfectly,” says Gordon. “Still, we never anticipated she’d be as tech savvy as her character.”
“When we sent her a few pages of the script, she somehow unlocked the entire thing and read it before our first meeting,” recalls Speck.
“When I read the script, I appreciated that Tracey was an integral part of the team,” says Munn. “A lot of roles for women in comedies are whiny, or just there to chase the guy or tell him what he missed out on. I like that Tracey brings a real skill set to the table and is the kind of person that’s trying to look ahead and bring the company into the future.”
About The Filmmakers
Directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon met at NYU Film School and immediately bonded over a love for the same movies. They decided to work together.
Their first post-graduation project was a short film they wrote and directed called “Culture.” It starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and was nominated for an Academy Award. Off that, they were signed by Ridley and Tony Scott’s RSA Films, where they began a successful career as commercial directors.
Among their early standouts were spots for Levis out of BBH London, which won 4 British Arrows including Gold for Best Campaign. Their work for Geico, including creating and concepting the iconic “Caveman” and “Gecko” characters, swept award shows and won AICP’s Campaign of the Year.
In 2007 they were founding directors at commercial production company Furlined. Based in Santa Monica, Furlined has since expanded to London and was named one of the Top Production Companies in the world by Campaign magazine.
Recent standout commercials have included the PSA for Donate Life starring Thomas Jane, the PSA for Prop 8 starring Mike White and Justin Long and the WWDC launch film for Apple starring Bill Hader… as well as their ads for Moto X starring T.J. Miller, Century Link starring Paul Giamatti, and the Emmy Nominated Web series “The Power Inside” starring Harvey Keitel.
Other recent TV work has included episodes of Will Arnett’s Netflix series “Flaked.”
Their first feature film was “Blades of Glory” produced by DreamWorks and Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Films, it starred Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, and Amy Poehler and was a box office success earning more than 100 Million dollars domestically. It was nominated for three MTV Movie awards including “Best Picture” and “Best Kiss.” They lost in both categories.
Their second film “The Switch” was based on the short story “The Baster” by Jeffrey Eugenides and starred Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Wilson and Juliette Lewis.
Justin Malen is a professional screenwriter based in Los Angeles. His feature writing credits include the upcoming Bastards, Baywatch and Wished, a Mandarin language adaptation of Malen’s original script for filmmaker Dayyan Eng. Justin also has numerous projects in development including Bad Teacher 2, The Manny, Time Out, and Trophy Husbands. On the television side, Justin has written for Trophy Wife (ABC) and also scripted a pilot for 20th Century Fox TV with LBI Entertainment attached to produce. A former corporate attorney, Justin attended Cornell University and the University of California at Berkeley. He is repped by Verve, DMG and McKuin Frankel Whitehead, LLP.
Laura Solon is a British writer-performer who won the Edinburgh Festival Perrier Award for live comedy. Since relocating to Los Angeles, she has written on Office Christmas Party, adapted Tamara Mellon’s autobiography In My Shoes, and is currently rewriting Let It Snow.. She is also working with Illumination on an in-house writer overall deal. She recently sold an original pitch for action-comedy Bodyguards and prior to that sold her original comedy spec Work It.
Dan Mazer is a British screenwriter, TV/film producer, and comedian. He is best known as the long-time writing and production partner of Sacha Baron Cohen and has worked with him on such characters as Ali G and Borat. Mazer co-wrote and co-produced the films Ali G Indahouse (2002), Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan (2006), Bruno (2009) and The Dictator (2012). Mazer attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, where he met Baron Cohen. He went on to read Law at Peterhouse, Cambridge University. He was an active member of Cambridge Footlights while at university and was vice president from 1993 to 1994. His early work includes production roles on The Word, The Big Breakfast and The 11 O’clock Show. He also created, wrote, and directed Dog Bites Man for Comedy Central. Dan most recently re-wrote and will direct the upcoming Parent’s Night, and is developing television shows for both Imagine Entertainment and ABC studios. Other recent work includes co-writing the latest feature installment of the Bridget Jones franchise, Bridget Jones’s Baby, and directing the feature film, Dirty Grandpa.