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Camille Griffin Interview: Silent Night | Screen Rant

Camille Griffin is the writer and director of Silent Night, a pitch-black comedy about a group of friends who get together for one final Christmas. A deadly toxin is sweeping across the world and instead of going out in pain, the old friends will go out in style, celebrating one more night together before taking the Exit Pill provided by the UK government. The Christmas movie is both a comedy of manners and a thematically relevant tale about environmentalism and family.

Related: Annabelle Wallis Interview: Silent Night

Screen Rant sat down with Camille Griffin to talk all things Silent Night, including what it was like directing her son, Roman Griffin-Davis, how it feels to finally be releasing the film, and balancing the somber story with great comedic timing.

Screen Rant: So first I just wanted to ask you how Silent Night came about. What was your inspiration for the film and why set it during Christmas?

Camille Griffin: Okay, I'll try and make this one a bit more interesting than the last time I said it because I keep saying the same thing over and over again. First of all, I think we're supposed to be our best selves at Christmas. So we hope we can be or we attempt to be. I think I've always had this rush, for many years, of sentimentality at Christmas - like, oh, maybe I should call that friend who I don't talk to anymore. Or maybe I should send my father who abandoned me when I was a child a Christmas card. Or we must go out and feed the starving, which I believe genuinely, I'm not taking the piss out of that. But that's what happens at Christmas. You go, "Oh, I'm a better person than I am normally at Christmas," and then you feel the loss. I don't know why it's like a program trigger.

Maybe I'm the only person, but when those little Christmas lights come on and you start seeing decorations, somehow there's a feeling of hope, right? It's just hardwired into our systems. It's come from the television obviously. So it's easy to stamp on that and that's a great landscape. Because I think I am quiet - I'm not big, I'm actually a very short person, but I'm turned up. My volume is kind of high. My spirit is turned up quite high. Right? So I think if you have that landscape of happy, hopeful, sentimental, emotional Christmas, you can go far with it.

But these things weren't conscious decisions. What was a conscious decision is like, I've tried for years to write stories about my class system and the dysfunction of the middle classes and the privileged in the UK. And I couldn't get a film made, probably because they were too depressing. Because, another thing is, I'm a hopeful person, but I veer on melancholia as well. I had experience with Roman [Griffin-Davis] on the set of Jojo Rabbit. He'd had this rather remarkable experience with Jojo Rabbit and, and I was so inspired by Taika [Waititi] and his comedy. I hadn't really investigated comedy and I didn't know that comedy allowed for anything. And I was like, "Well if he can talk about Nazis, I can talk about stupid posh people with comedy. I'm gonna go and do that." So he inspired me to use comedy to be able to have my volume high, I think because my volume was very high, and no one wanted to make my movie. So that's really how that came about.

And then the actual story itself was inspired because my kids had just watched Warhorse and were like, "What are we going to do if there's a war?" and I remember as a child learning about nuclear war. I saw this film When The Wind Blows and I never recovered. It was like my world had crashed. There's a possibility that everyone could just die in an instant. Or melt. So I said, "Look, there is this, but if this ever happens, it's okay. We've got options."

Silent Night is so much about balancing comedy and drama - making fun of these absurd characters, but then making the audience care about them despite all of their flaws. As a writer, how do you find that balance and how does that influence how you shoot the film? 

Camille Griffin: Well, I think it's difficult because I think the tone is me. It wasn't my first script. I've written many, many others. I just got to get it out. I'm just gonna put it out there, right? I think as a filmmaker, you just go, "I'm going to just write what I want to make." Because the chances are no one else is going to want to make it right. That's just the facts. One in a million probably get to make a film. So just write what you want and then sit down and go, "Was that any good?" And I think this is the first time I thought I'm just gonna write what I want to write because I was going to try and make it for no money. And thank God for [producer] Matthew Vaughn. It's not Matthew's kind of movie, but he admired the courage in it. And that was very, very unusual.

[But] put on the screen what you know. Put down on paper who you are, what you know, and embrace it, because there's too much similar material out there. And I'm not saying everyone's different, and we're not the same. But I think the difference is, is the first time I thought, "Sod it, I'm going to write exactly what I want to write and not worry that it was too much or too little or too temperate or too boring or too silly or too ludicrous." So that's the only advice I can say because that stuff was just me. And an amazing cast and amazing filmmakers. We found like-minded people.

Speaking of the cast, how did you get this amazing crew together? 

Camille Griffin: Well, again, I have to be honest with Matthew Vaughn, I have to credit him here. He's very, very ambitious and very pushy and he doesn't take no for an answer. Because we have a lot of people say no, I'm not saying like he forced anyone. But very early on he asked, "Who do you want to be in this movie?" Well, if we're going to parody the Love Actually type, maybe we've got to have Keira Knightley and Keira Knightley said yes and she wanted to meet and it all started from that.

Keira is quite a formidable human being. She's not just a brilliant actress. She had range that I hadn't imagined she had. I mean, in fact, they all did. It was like opening a box of magical chocolates that are all full of caramel. There weren't any coffee flavor ones or orange little ones. No one likes orange-flavored chocolate. So I think a lot of people wanted to work with Keira and a lot of people loved the script. And we were very, very, very careful about how we brought people on. And we talked and we spoke and some people did tapes, and some people didn't. I had to make sure they understood the film. It wasn't just about the character. It was the message of the film.

Roman is definitely a standout character in his role as Art. What kind of challenges did directing your son present on your first feature? 

Camille Griffin: I think what wasn't difficult for him is he felt confident, right? Because he had his mom and dad there. Even if he was ignoring us, or just hanging out, I think he felt safe, as did his brothers. And that's one of the main reasons I cast my kids. Because it was a difficult subject matter. I knew it was going to be a fast shoot [with] a busy schedule, and I needed the kids, whoever played those roles, to feel safe. And then they were good. That's the other thing - Roman is very, very good at what he does. And I know that and I didn't force him to become an actor. He wants to become an actor and he's worked incredibly hard.

I mean, there are all the roles he hasn't got that people don't know. He spent two years auditioning before he got Jojo, and he's done nothing but auditions since Jojo. He's very hard working. But the problem is, I was the one who would him learn his lines or make him learn his lines, but I was too busy to do that. That was the one difficulty. I did worry that they wouldn't listen to me, that they wouldn't take direction. But he has for years because we prepared his self-tapes together.

But very quickly, they saw Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode and Lucy Punch and Annabelle [Wallis] and Sope [Dirisu] and Kirby [Howell-Baptiste] and I'd give them notes and the boys would go,  "Oh, they're listening. Keira Knightley's taking her notes, I better take her notes." If it had been a solo movie with just Roman and the kids it would have been a disaster. But because he was around other professionals and they were listening to me and they liked what I had to say, he listened.

Roman gets plenty to do in the movie, too. Was he game for everything you threw his way? 

Camille Griffin: He hates the shot by the car - the slow-motion shot - and he's like, "Why did you use that shot?" [But] there wasn't another shot. It is not up to me. I can't just cut a shot out because [Roman] doesn't like it. I've got to make a movie. We had a funny scene shooting that scene because every time he ran up to the car, and he looked in the car right away. We had to 20 takes and we had smoke and we had tracking - we had lots of things happening and we had to reset everything. It wasn't a simple just turnover. And he'd run out to the car and he was supposed to stay there, but he kept running off. And I was getting really angry.

His instinct was to look at the car and run away and he was right. Why would you stop by a car with dead people in it. But there wasn't anything he didn't want to do. There was a couple of things you found difficult, which is that scene, but the scene on the bed was, I'm ashamed to say, hilarious. That was very, very funny. We could not stop laughing with him doing his whole [mimics scene].

You also filmed at the beginning of 2020 so then you had this really crazy real-life parallel of an actual sort of airborne pathogen spearing at the beginning of the pandemic, making the themes of Silent Night even more relevant. What is it like with the film finally coming out to know that it has this sort of extra resonance? 

Camille Griffin: It hurts because it's painful - I don't want to hurt people. The last thing you want to do is traumatize an already traumatized environment. You make a film as a filmmaker, and you don't think for a second it's going to land in a world that's experiencing the film, right? They are weird coincidences because when I first did my first draft, I wrote it as a virus, and my then agent, who I'm not with anymore, said that that would never happen. So I changed it. We made it environmental. So that's weird.

But I wrote this film on the back of Jojo Rabbit in 2019. Then when you film the film, what people don't understand - like some people's comments, you read said it's insensitive. And it's like, well, first of all, you have to make a film, you have to cast the film - that took us a year - and you have to raise the financing, then you have to shoot the film, then you have to edit. It takes years to get anything done. Unless you got a load of money. So we'd already cut the film and we were doing post-production VFX when the vaccine was being introduced. We didn't even know that there was a vaccine, we knew they were trying to deliver a vaccine. We didn't know there was going to be one. So there's an unfortunate parallel. But it's very simplistic to say [Silent Night] is anti-vaccine.

It's not because people who take the vaccine care about society and [Art] is fighting for society. And he's questioning the trust around a suicide pill, not a life-saving vaccine. We take the vaccine to save lives, you take a suicide pill to kill yourself. I mean, of course, you should question whether or not to take a suicide pill. It's insane. So the simplistic kind of references, makes me angry and anxious. The landscape makes me sad. It hurts because I don't want to hurt people. So it's very, very unfortunate.

I don't know how hard we have to be hit on the head, with an environmental catastrophe or with a pandemic for people to go, "I'm going to wear a mask. I'm going to get a vaccine. I'm going to start taking care of the old person down the road who doesn't get to go to the supermarket. I'm going to start caring about the refugees in Europe." How many people have to be killed for people to sit up and give a s**t about each other? So that is the truth. And that is something we can't get away from. So sometimes I am in the belief, well, I don't care how difficult it is, you know, you can't just sit down, have a cup of tea, and pretend that was okay. But I don't want to hurt people. I didn't intend that.

More: Every Movie Coming To Theaters In December 2021

Silent Night is available in theaters and on AMC+ December 3rd.

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