Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us! Before we delve into Merry Pawmas, we’d love to know what drew you towards making this film?
Chris Ruppert, myself, and Greg Poppa were all a part of Transient, the sci-fi, thriller feature that looks at the Blakely family, specifically David, after a tragic accident and how his feelings of loss lead him to make this big invention that makes him wrestle with the ghosts from his past, and we are all looking at creative ways to tell that story further and share it with as large an audience as possible.
Chris Ruppert wrote and directed Transient, was involved since the beginning as Producer and then the wife, Claire Blakely, and Greg plays David Blakely, the lead. That film is going to be much different in tone and takes a significant left turn from where we are in Merry Pawmas. Merry Pawmas is a ‘slice of life’ look at the Blakely family BEFORE the events that transpire in Transient. We see glimpses of the underlying issues that these characters will deal with in the feature, but obviously, as a heartfelt and upbeat Christmas film, we don’t let things get too dark and let them all have one last good Christmas together as a family.
We like working together and always wanted to do a Christmas movie—and Greg’s mom wanted him to do something that she’d watch since most of his characters are super dark and she hates cursing and violence. Lillian is Chris’ daughter and just a joy for all of us to work with, so we couldn’t wait to get together again. Thematically it is not Chris’ style but he indulged his actors and producer and had a bit of fun with it.
Borphy is such an interesting character, almost like a fluffier and cuter Frank from Donny Darko.
Was there a certain children’s icon like Barney or Elmo that inspired Borphy?
Borphy is a Guinea pig take on Barney-if you watch the original short that inspired audiences first look at that character. Chris and his daughters are fascinated with guinea pigs—they have like 6 of them as pets. Chris Ruppert, who runs a successful Youtube Channel called “Bad Movie Night” and now BMN Films loves to make comedic, horror films and some of them revolved around guinea pigs.
Anyway, Borphy was originally a Barney-like character that was depicted going feral and going on a killing spree after missing a dose of calming medicine in the comedic, horror short film Fun Time With Borphy, which is available on the Bad Movie Night Channel.
So the Borphy we meet in Merry Pawmas is from the BMN Films universe but not what we see in that previous short. In many ways, Merry Pawmas is the precursor to both Transient and Fun Time With Borphy. The Borphy we meet in Merry Pawmas is pre-feral and potentially just part of Laura’s imagination based on the tv show Borphy that she knows and loves as a child, so that’s why he is the way he is with her.
This is the last Christmas before things escalate in Transient, what made you want to set the film at Christmas?
Transient really won’t have a lot of that, so there was a desire to show the family in a way that introduces them to audiences as more than just the glimpses they will see of that relationship in the feature.
The feature is going focus on David (Greg Poppa) and his feelings of loss and his relationships with those he thought closest to him, including his best friend Bill (Eric Melaragni).
So, other than for some memory sequences, there are very little glimpses into his relationship with his family. Greg, Lilly and I have great chemistry together as a family unit and have a ton of fun together, so it was nice to put them in a different setting and show that there were good times too, and almost like that “moment before”, we talk about as actors, that we can channel and consider before things take a turn.
We had a lot of fun with it and have even thought it might be an interesting exercise to take characters from the film and keep exploring them in different genres and settings in the future.
Within the sweet family story here, there is lingering darkness. This is seen in the arguments between Laura’s parents but also by a shuttering on screen, as if the entire film is just a cam- corded recording.
Without too many Transient spoilers, what was the intense foreshadowing inspired by?
The shuttering was intentional and a fantastic add-on idea from our phenomenal editor, Rich Everts. He’s the executive producer for Transient so he was well aware of some of the beats we wanted to foreshadow when it came to a prelude look at this family’s story.
There are three instances of these shuttering moments in Merry Pawmas and they are purposeful for moments that could mean something to David specifically in Transient later on.
In life, there are always moments we recall and live over again and again-our turning points if you will. In Pawmas, it’s the moments where the audience can reflect on a possible deeper meaning or offer an opportunity where audiences can go back and forth between the films and see what was a foreshadowing moment that we added in.
In The Shining the child actor playing Danny was unaware the film was as intense as it is.
Apart from the arguments between Laura’s parents, was the actress-the fantastic Lillian Ruppert- aware of any potential strangeness with Borphy?
As BMN Films creator, Chris Ruppert’s daughter, Lilly has been in many of his short films before. The two of them and her sister, Miranda, were in a few guinea pig-themed stories including Very Pig Trouble and Fun Time With Borphy (FTWB). In FTWB, both girls interacted with a homicidal version of Borphy done to comedic effect, so they were quite aware of a potentially strange Borphy. Lilly had a blast this time though with a much kinder and comedic Borphy who was a big kid and played with her all day. Austin Greene is fantastic with kids and the two of them really just had amazing chemistry and you really could believe they were besties.
As far as shielding any of the kids from the intense plot points in any of the stories, that will likely come with Transient. Lilly has already been told she will only see segments of that one since it’s likely to garner an R rating. As far as Borphy is concerned though she saw what that character turns into eventually so she just took it as an opportunity to be with a fun and more interactive version of that character. This one is based on a tv personality she likes watching and she is the one bringing him to life in a way so in many ways she was in the driver’s seat deciding what that interaction would be like.
How did you approach directing the parents?
Was there a specific tone that you directed under like more drama based or an eerie thriller?
Both the parents had already worked together on Transient as a couple who were in a similar predicament—loving one another at the base but arguing and fighting a lot because they just couldn’t get over some things. So that was already there as a base for it and it just needed to be softened even more since this was more upbeat and family-friendly.
Creating the character of that parents is something we worked extensively on since August 2022. The actors shared their process and asked and answered questions where they could envision a rich backstory for who Claire and David were. The fun thing here is that in Transient you see only glimpses of that backstory in memories and some interactions but like in most movies, you don’t get a more complete look which means that audiences have to do a lot more guesswork for whom they think those characters are and their relationship to one another.
With Pawmas, especially since the actors helped co-write the story and I co-directed it, they were able to include more of the backstory they created. We had the bonus too of being able to foreshadow some things for audiences thus hopefully making it more fun to go back and forth between both films eventually and spot moments that the directors and actors incorporated into them for the keen-eyed audience member.
What inspirations did you take from your favorite films?
In this instance, I'm a big Christmas fan. The two biggest inspirations she sent Chris and Jamie Root, our fabulous cinematographer, were “The Parent Trap” - both the Lohan and Miles versions- and “Last Christmas” with Emilia Clarke.
The shot with the parents at the tea room table was largely thematically inspired by the children’s attempts in the “Parent Trap” to reunite their parents, but visually had a lot of the look of “Last Christmas” (two shot segments and the final color grading).
It was something I was proud of and worked on a lot when I assisted Rich with the edit.
We’d love to know what drew you towards being a filmmaker.
All of us are creative people who just felt we had stories to tell and wanted to find an outlet to tell them. Every adult involved in the production has a hands-on approach to all the areas of film and is involved in front of and behind the camera.
In many instances, all of us have turned to writing as well to create stories we want to tell, and how we want to tell them.
The video of the dancing performance is such a lovely addition.
Was that in the original screenplay or was it something that was added since it worked so well with the story?
We lucked out as a team that Lilly is a talented ballerina as well and was selected to play the lead in The Nutcracker at a local school. We were able to incorporate it into the story then and add that extra bit of storytelling to the script. We had written it into the short script because we
knew we’d be able to get some sort of footage from the event. It worked out that Greg was not able to attend the event so that informed how the scene developed. Had he been there we’d incorporated dialogue or interaction that was a bit different. It was then the first scene we filmed and some of the subsequent scenes were adjusted accordingly.
Many parts of the film are so personal, homemade even, the house and even the dog Cooper.
What are all of the props in the film that are personal to you?
There were only a few items there that were ours personally. Cooper is our friend dog—or his sisters-and we asked to borrow him for the day to improve upon the story. We bought him some specialty treats at a local place named Lancaster Cupcake to help him comply a bit more and he was great.
The house, which is our main Transient location as well, is the John Harris Simon Cameron Mansion in Harrisburg, PA and it was truly an amazing venue. It’s a non-profit museum that has all this grand, historic furniture in it and which for the holidays we and they were able to style to feel more welcoming. What wasn’t already “built” up, we just moved around or added to.
That was a combination of my, Karen Crafton and Steve Wydra’s efforts to make the spaces we utilized feel like someone lives there as much as possible. The main “prop” that is in both films is the small stuffed Borphy Lilly carries with her at all times. I gave Lilly that on the first day of filming for the ‘family’ on Transient and it just became a staple of something her character Laura has with her a lot of the time. It is more an homage to Fun Time With Borphy than anything else.
Marshmallows on a string for the tea room date scene was a great touch the location had for us. It gave it a much more home decoration feel than fairy or holiday lights would have. Again the goal is to make it look more lived-in and less like a museum.
What was the main inspiration to make Merry Pawmas a prelude to Transient?
The main inspiration is that we loved these characters but wanted to explore them in a way that was a bit more complete.
In Transient we will only get glimpses of them as a family, so when we were looking at making a Christmas film, we thought it would be nice to explore that family dynamic in a way that showed the chemistry and care these actors do have for one another.
Looking at our BTS footage or even pictures for Transient and then seeing the scenes you don’t think that what we were making is the same film in a way. The 3 actors-Greg, myself, and Lilly-are always having fun and laughing as soon as Chris yelled cut, so it was fun to give the audience a taste of a family that wasn’t perfect and had its issues, but who at their core do love one another and want to make things work.
There is this real human “dance” in the film of intention (that the family will work things out and realize what matters) versus reality (that too much damage may have been done and that they are just buying time) and how all that plays out. You hope at the end of Merry Pawmas that things will work out for the Blakely and in Transient we will have our answer on what happened and why and hopefully offer some great discussion among our viewers.
Overall, the intent there was to get a more well-rounded view of these people’s relationship with one another and to imagine what their interactions were like before the events that transpire in Transient.
In your opinion as a moviegoer, what qualities are essential to a great film?
The great thing about our team is that we all come from interests in different genres and we constantly teach one another about what makes our genres so enjoyable. Tony likes Crime dramas and Marvel; Chris loves horror and sci-fi; I love dystopian tales, fantasy, and drama primarily and Greg likes human stories where the protagonist is very complex and the audience would struggle to empathize with.
It definitely in our case helps to have these varied tastes. I think it helps us as a team to bring a different perspective when we see one another’s work. We can be more constructive and help the filmmaker who is at the helm at that moment, think about the work a little differently.
In our case, we think that it’s essential to entertain and to have the audience thinking about the project afterward and trying to connect the dots about what our intention was in particular scenes.
Having human, complex characters whom you have to wrestle to understand or empathize with and who will invariably lead to some discussion about where they fall on the good vs. evil paradigm is something all of us on the team find .
If you have five words to describe the film, which words would you use?
Heartfelt, realistic, uplifting, foreboding, and loving.
What part of the film, or even an experience that you had post-production or during production, feels like a huge victory or something that still excites you today?
Getting it done during the Holidays, was a huge victory. Everyone goes away for Christmas but I was a bit intent (maybe insane is a better word) about getting Merry Pawmas out by the Holidays. She learned how to start that editing process and provided Rich with the building blocks of what she wanted and he graciously agreed to indulge her crazy.
One of our biggest achievements was being able to take something we envisioned and storyboarded and seeing the final product come out exactly as we had imagined it. 2 scenes, in particular, came out mentally picture perfect-the tea room date montage, and then the scene in the the the the bedroom where David lies down on Claire’s lap with her looking down on him and them making up.
In the case of the tea room scene, we had envisioned a 2 shot scene that had vibrant colors and activity and a connection that paid tribute to Parent Trap and Last Christmas. What was not already achieved by our two-camera team of Chris and Jamie for that one, Rich was able to get there in post-production with color grading.
The bedroom scene which we termed the Romeo and Juliet foreboding moment that includes some staggering effects to enhance that was a late-minute add-on by Greg who wanted to give audiences another hint about the dynamic between these characters. He discussed the idea before filming when they were in rehearsals. and again, it’s a moment that whatever might have been missing during filming, had elements added in the post that enhanced the feeling and visuals we were going for.
Finally being able to unify these BMN Films ‘worlds’ - the short for Borphy, Pawmas, and then Transient in fun and technical ways was a great achievement. If you see the Transient trailer, you can see the staggering effect used there, so it was important to add that to Pawmas at key times to help them look like memories someone might be having at a later date.
Do you have any projects currently in the works that you can share with us?
Many of us worked on M Night Shyamalan’s “Knock at the Cabin” on the BTS side, so it was nice for us to go see that as a team when it premiered in theaters.
Our core team has been hard at work on three productions that right now are in the Post- Production stage. The obvious one is Transient which is hopefully due out at the end of this year, though that will largely depend on the festival circuit. The first thriller trailer for that is out now and can be seen on the Bad Movie Night YouTube page.
Our other titles in Post-Production include Score (You and Me) written by Greg Poppa whose tagline is- An addict looks to score from his volatile dealer, but their manipulative girlfriend torpedoes their friendship, sucking them all into a grotesque "choose-your-own-adventure" of utter degradation; and The Rest of The Money a film by Tony Marion which is currently a short proof of concept that is the first 14 pages of a feature film we will be circulating and pitching to investors and possible collaborators.
In addition to projects in post-production, we all work together all the time on ideas. Myself, Greg, and Austin Greene (Borphy) are currently writing a pilot for a series about Dracula’s younger brother Francis and our imagined issues and interactions that such a person would have. There are some other projects in the works too for the writing team and we are all working filmmakers so we are also involved in commercial and other film projects as well.
Pawmas and Foxes are two films currently in the film festival circuit that are both performing well with audiences and judges.
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