Let’s be realistic, we’ve all sat through Christmas movie marathons. Whether it was The Christmas Story on infinite re-runs, the whole series of Die Hard, or the classic stop motion TV specials such as Rudolph. Either way our valuable holiday vacation time has been consumed with the indulgence or Christmas stories depicted on the big and small screen. These films play an important role to get us primed and ready for the biggest holiday of the year and in a sense it has become a cinematic tradition if you will.
However, one local director looks to join the ranks of classic holiday films and he has gone about it in a very unorthodox way. Tommy Avallone, who hails from Haddon Heights, NJ and currently lives and works in Philadelphia, has directed a Christmas documentary that will forever change the way you look at Santa Claus.
The I am Santa Claus documentary, follows the lives of four Santas from different regions of the country as well as super star wrestler Mick Foley who experiences what it’s like to portray Santa Claus. What makes this doc so unique is the fact that the cameras are rolling throughout the year, which gives viewers a glimpse of what everyday life is like for the men who are hired to be Santa during the holidays. The eccentric idea of documenting the lives of the men who listen to kids’ wish lists came to Tommy one day as he was strolling through the mall. “Me and my wife were walking around the mall one day and there was a Santa Claus in the mall and I was like, I wonder what life does he go to on December 26th.”
Sure there are movies and documentaries about Santa Claus and what it takes to adorn the big red suit, but no one has ever peaked behind the curtain if you will and spotlight some of the outlandish and compelling stories these men have to tell. “It was interesting to me. It was really something I didn’t see that was done. Only a couple Santa Claus documentaries and never the angle we wanted to do it with,” Tommy confirms. However, it wasn’t until after a chance meeting at a film festival with prominent documentary maker Morgan Spurlock that got Tommy to get the ball rolling on his holiday project. After exchanging pleasantries, Tommy alluded to his desire to create the I am Santa Claus documentary. “I told him I wanted to do this. He told me ‘You should do it.’ That was like all I needed. Then we started researching and finding Santas on Facebook.”
Although I am Santa is Tommy’s biggest directorial project to date, his love for filmmaking can be traced back to his adolescent years when he and his pals shot backyard wrestling promos and short films. “When I was 11 years old it was the first time having a camera in my hand. Me and my friends would video tape ourselves wrestling. We would shoot promos, sketches, and all that stuff,” Tommy vividly recalls. Those wrestling promos eventually transitioned into acclaimed underground films most notably Community College (2009). However, Tommy soon discovered that his talents behind the the camera were actually more suited in a producing role. “At the time [Community College debuted] I realized that I am not very good at directing actors. I am not good at getting what’s in here [points to head] to them. So I started producing movies.” After producing several other films including Mancation and Miss December, the ideal of the I Am Santa Claus documentary started to manifest. Tommy knew that although he had difficulties directing actors, working on a documentary would play into his strengths as a filmmaker. “I didn’t have to work with actors. I could videotape things and make something out of it. I feel that’s what I am better at nowadays and that’s what I got myself into,” Tommy explains.
Pointing and shooting subjects in a documentary is usually very manageable. However, it can be tricky when you’re trying to follow a Santa at a Santa convention. As we sat and discussed directing the film, Tommy vividly recalls the difficulty keeping track of his Santas as they attended conventions such as FORBS (Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas) and yes there is such a thing. Not only was it visually challenging to keep track of the right Santas, Tommy and his crew were constantly bombarded by the hoards of other Santas wanting to have their stories told. “That was the most difficult part, trying to ignore a bunch of fat guys dressed in red.”
Luckily for Tommy Avallone and crew, one of his subjects for the documentary stuck out like a sore thumb. Mick Foley also known as Mankind to his loyal wrestling followers steals the spotlight in this movie. Who would have guessed that a man known for hitting other guys with steel chairs and putting them in submission holds, would be a warm and gentle giant. So how exactly did Mick get involved in the project you ask? Well Tommy explains that in each movie he works in, he and his crew always include a wrestler. After all deep down he is still that 11 year old wrestling fanatic living out his dream as an adult. While brainstorming on which wrestler to include in I am Santa Claus, Frank Vain the director of Mancation & Miss December gave the suggestion to include Mick. Unbeknownst to Tommy, Mick Foley is a huge Christmas fanatic that even keeps a Christmas room in his house all year-round.
After Mick was on board the documentary became that more interesting since Mr. Foley adds a dynamic that just can’t be duplicated. “Mick took classes, he got a suit, he bleaches his beard. After he bleached his beard he stopped being a subject and more or less became a producer because he was always giving me calls, texting me, trying to see how he can help, pulling all nighters editing. He helped us raise money for the Kickstarter. In the movie he out his heart into it. He also brought attention and awareness. Without him it would have been very tough to do,” Tommy explains.
With a figure like Mankind helping stir the pot of an already enticing documentary, the film is poised to make an impact in the holiday film genre. In a society where reality TVs and documentaries have never been so popular, a film such as this one brings a hilarious and fresh perspective on a subject that we thought we knew everything about. I guarantee after watching this documentary you will never look at those bearded men at the mall the same ever again.
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