Falling For Christmas became a certified hit when it was released on Netflix last month. The film marks Lindsay Lohan’s return to acting and follows her in the role of a newly engaged hotel heiress who finds herself in the care of a handsome, blue-collar lodge owner, and his precocious daughter, after getting amnesia following a skiing accident. Falling For Christmas quickly reached #1 worldwide on the streaming platform, racking up nearly 50 million hours viewed in its first week, according to Netflix’s Top 10. Screen Queens’ Toni Stanger spoke to director Janeen Damian and her producer husband, Michael Damian, about Falling For Christmas, working with Lindsay Lohan, and their upcoming film, Irish Wish.
SQ: Janeen, I know you’ve done writing, producing, and even editing alongside your husband, but what was it like for you to be in the director’s chair for the first time?
JD: It was really exciting. I had a lot of support from my team and of course I’ve been working alongside Michael for so long, so he’s taught me so much. And it was a thrilling opportunity to work with Lindsay and to work on this project and for my directorial debut. I couldn’t have been more honoured than to have this project.
SQ: There was so much excitement for Lindsay Lohan’s big comeback. Did you feel any pressure about that when making Falling For Christmas?
JD: We understood that there was gonna be all eyes on this project. It’s a real special one and we wanted to make sure we took care of finding all the elements that Lindsay has to bring to the screen that everybody’s missed so much, and see if we could inject that into this film. She has such amazing comedic timing and physical comedy, but she also has a lot of heart, emotion, and charm that she can bring as well. So we wanted to make sure that we really brought all that to light for her and give her a chance to shine. I think when you’re in the driver’s seat there’s always pressure to bring home something more special. Every time we make a movie, we try to elevate it from the time before, to learn from it.
SQ: In an interview with Netflix’s Tudum, Lindsay mentioned your background in classical dancing helped you with elements of the physical comedy. Could you expand on that?
JD: *laughs* Yes! You know Lindsay’s mother is also a dancer, so she was raised with it as well, so she’s really coordinated and she has that background to rely on. And physical comedy is like choreography, so especially in the making the bed scene, it was one where we really had a lot of fun and so we sort of named all the moves and choreographed it together. We had “the starfish” where she was trying to make the bed and all that, but she relates to dance terminology so that really was a fun and helpful common denominator for us to have.
SQ: Michael, what was the role of executive producer like for you?
MD: Filming is a team collaborative effort and so my goal is to just help bring everyone together, help put all the pieces of the puzzle together, help Janeen. We worked together on the rewrite of the script and we worked together on the polish of the script. Finding the locations together, casting, and just really staying positive, keep the energy flowing, help create a positive atmosphere on the set at all times to enable Janeen and for Lindsay to have the optimum creative venue to work in — and all the actors and the crew, and that’s really important. Filmmaking is the coming together of so many converges of so many elements and so many talented, artistic people, and it’s just really fun to see it all happen.
SQ: You’ve touched a little on the energy on set. Did making a Christmas film, and the fact Lindsay was proposed to on set, make the experience more magical?
JD: It was amazing because Lindsay and her now-husband Bader (Shammas) had their own love story going on at the same time and I think she was drawing upon that. [Bader] was on set a lot and he and Michael actually have a really good energy and a really good relationship together. They relate to each other because they both have women in the entertainment industry and Michael was able to talk to Bader a lot about that. I think that relayed itself into the storytelling and that Lindsay utilised that on set with Chord (Overstreet) because they had a great chemistry. I think it was the perfect atmosphere for them to be getting engaged and Chord was so excited for them. But meanwhile, we had to keep the chemistry on-screen as well and they did beautifully so I think the relationships off-screen helped.
SQ: I know you’ve both worked together on a lot of Christmas films. Why do seasonal films speak to you and how do you make them stand out in the swarm of Christmas films released each year?
JD: I think we love Christmas films because we love rom-coms so they give us a chance to do a romantic comedy, but Christmas films have another special element to them and that is the spirit of Christmas. It gives you the platform to be able to bring in heartfelt stories, and hopeful, inspirational moments, and that’s something that we like to inject into our Christmas stories — to make people feel something, to make them feel better than they did when they started. We like to bring hope and warm and fuzzy magic and all those elements that you can have in a Christmas film, and a little bit of suspension of belief so that you can really lose yourself in the movie.
MD: Also I think that the goal is to find the most beautiful location, the most beautiful Christmas village, the most beautiful mountain, the most beautiful sledding area to run a sled on. I mean, that’s what I think our goal was: how do we find these elevated, gorgeous locations to help people dream and escape and really feel transported?
JD: And the fashion, and the cars! Then you have the other side of the story where you have the baking and the cooking and the families and the lodge, and the fireplace, and the cocoa. So it was really fun because on this one we had a chance to kind of explore both sides. We wanted to elevate both sides to make it where whatever speaks to you, you want to be in that village or you want to be in that hotel.
SQ: That definitely answers a lot of my next question. The costumes and set design includes these incredible, vibrant colours. How important is the traditional, seasonal aesthetic?
JD: Commercial design is super important and [production designer] Konnor Jenson did such an amazing job. We like to come in at the very start with visual references. On this movie, we had the opportunity to create two very different worlds and our production designer really took care of everything that was at Hotel Belmont. We wanted no garlands, nothing warm and fuzzy, that the trees were made out of Christmas balls and crystals and everything was shiny, hard surfaces, and when we got to the [the lodge], everything was garlands and fuzzy and warm and we really wanted to have a visual distinction between the two worlds.
SQ: You said at the beginning that you were very aware that all eyes were on you. Did you expect such a big, positive response to Falling For Christmas?
JD: I expected a positive response to the film because Lindsay is so amazing in it and everybody did such a beautiful job. It’s a movie that I was really proud of. I was hoping that my direction was going to be looked at in a positive light but I think that we all felt as we began, I would say in the first couple of weeks, that we really had something special. But I think the whole thing was really on Lindsay and her performance because she’s under the most scrutiny of anybody. And she really, really delivered, she came so prepared. She took a lot of care in choosing the project, something that her fans could relate to, are used to seeing, and are wanting to see from her. I thought it was a really smart choice on her part and so I guess you have to go in with confidence when you’re going to be leading a team and that’s what I tried to do and I had Michael by my side so that was really helpful for me.
MD: *off-screen* It got over 110 million hours, tell her!
JD: 110 million hours of viewing! *laughs* Over 110 so we’re thrilled with the response!
SQ: I know you’ve recently wrapped filming on Irish Wish, another Lindsay Lohan film. What is it like to have Netflix and producer Brad Krevoy (A Christmas Prince and The Princess Switch trilogies) on board?
JD: We sold Brad our first movie and he has been our mentor in our career and so instrumental in bringing us to Netflix. We’ve been wanting to work with Netflix for a long time, we’ve been hearing how filmmaker friendly they are, and they are absolutely that. They are amazing, collaborative, and they really work with the director to try to make sure they get our vision on-screen. They gave us all the tools that we needed and we spent the money in the right way. They really listen, we have a lot of conversations. They’re really communicative so that was amazing. And then to have Brad there who we have been working with for so many years, for him to bring us in first, to all work together on this one was really a magical experience actually, it’s great. And we did the second one as well with the same team, so now we all know each other and it’s become like a family.
SQ: Were you approached to do these films with Lindsay in mind? How did it come about?
JD: For the first one, Netflix came to us with the script in place and Lindsay attached. So then we wanted everybody to meet each other, especially since it was Lindsay’s first time back. We wanted to make sure that everybody was really comfortable and that it was a team that had synergy so we did a lot of meetings. And then, once we were in Falling For Christmas, they started talking about Irish Wish, that they thought it would be fun for us, thought it would be fun for Lindsay, and we all just kind of came together and said, ‘oh, let’s do it together’ since we were having such a positive experience on Falling For Christmas, so it sort of evolved out of the first film.
SQ: How are you feeling about Irish Wish? Are you in the editing process now?
JD: Yeah, we were editing today. [The editor] is waiting for us to go back in the room. We think we have a phenomenal film in Irish Wish. We’re really excited about it. It’s a completely different story, it takes place in the summer, it’s a love letter to Ireland, and again, it’s gorgeous. It has a lot of really fun physical comedy but also a lot of heart and a little bit of magic so we’re really excited to get this one finished and out there for everybody to see.
SQ: I loved the physical comedy. I’m looking forward to seeing Lindsay take on more of that.
JD: Because we had worked together on Falling For Christmas we really could play to her strengths when we were putting this project together. We were like, ‘oh we know that, she can do this, and she loves this,’ and so we tried to really tailor it for her this time.
SQ: Did you film it all in Ireland?
JD: Yes. The whole movie is in Ireland. It was so fun, we loved it. It was a really great time.
SQ: What was that like in comparison to the sets and locations for Falling For Christmas?
JD: It was very different because Ireland has a special magic about it. When you say Ireland, everyone’s eyes light up and they think of Rolling Green (Hills)… Michael keeps saying sheep and Guinness beer. So for instance, we were looking for a beautiful, glorious location and we went and found this lake, and there’s these stone walls and the moss, and we saw this tree, and we picked this tree for a very key moment in the movie, and we find out after the fact, which we didn’t even know, that it was a fairy tree. And we’d never even heard of fairy trees. So there was all this folklore and magic that dates back to centuries that we don’t have in America, so that was something really special. And the crew was amazing, they really loved sharing stories and things with us that was a really special experience.
**This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Falling for Christmas is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix
by Toni Stanger