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An Interview with Mike McMurran, Director of Secret Santa

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2015

Films directed by Mike McMurran on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Secret Santa - in a few words, what is it about?


Secret Santa is a B-movie, horror/comedy about a group of friends trying to make it through the hectic exam period at school. They plan a Secret Santa party only to find that their gifts have been replaced with the weapons that will create their demise.


What were your inspirations when writing Secret Santa? And is any of this based on any real life disastrous Christmas parties you have attended?


The inspiration for Secret Santa came out of pure frustration. I was working two jobs in retail over the Christmas rush and after weeks and weeks of Christmas music, promos, and cranky people, I had it. When I finally had a few days off after Christmas, I pounded out the screenplay for Secret Santa. I wrote certain roles for actors that I have worked with before, Annette Wozniak, Geoff Almond, and Keegan Chambers, and that made the character development a blast to write because I pictured them in the roles.


With Secret Santa being a slasher movie of sorts, is that a genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites?


I love the slasher genre! It's my favourite. Ever since I was 8 years old I was watching films like Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, and Halloween (even though I wasn't supposed to) and I think that element of the forbidden is still alive inside of me a little bit when I watch horror films to this day. Some of my genre favourites are the classic like Halloween, Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I also love Prom Night, Sleepaway Camp, The Burning, Black Christmas and Slumber Party Massacre.


For all the gorehounds among my readers, you of course have to talk about the killings in your movie for a bit, and how were they achieved?


Without giving too much away about the deaths, I will say that Carlos Henriques from The Butcher Shop did an amazing job on the special effects. He pulled off amazing gags with next to no budget. For a couple of the deaths, he created a fake torso and filled it with blood bags so we could feel free to stab away at it with whatever we wanted to. It made for a great effect. What was really cool was that Carlos had a bunch of different stuff at his shop that he modified for us on set. That way we ended up staying on budget and creating some magical gore! 


Also, do talk about the brand of humour of Secret Santa!


I wanted to try and make Secret Santa as original as possible and put my own stamp on it so I added the element of comedy to it. I think that horror movies should have at least some comedic moments to ease the tension of the viewer, and then scare them again when their guard's down. With the element of comedy in the movie, you get to know and like the characters more and then you actually feel bad when they bite the dust in horrific ways. Plus it's a B-movie, and I wanted to cheese it up a bit. It's a beer and popcorn kind of movie.


A few words about your directorial approach to your story at hand?


My directorial approach to Secret Santa was to simply get it in the can! We had 15 days to shoot (barely) and we were shooting on one camera with a budget of six thousand Dollars. We had no time to spare so I had to be as prepared as possible. We made sure to follow our call sheets and I storyboarded every single shot of the movie before we rolled picture. It was time-consuming but it paid off in the end. That being said, there were times that I prolonged shooting scenes so I could get that "must have" shot. I try to keep the set light and fun, make sure the cast and crew have a good time while doing what they love to do. There were a lot of laughs while shooting the film, and I'm sure you can guess why.


What can you tell us about your cast, and why exactly these people?


My cast is amazing. I have worked with Annette Wozniak, Geoff Almond, and Keegan Chambers before, so I was able to write characters with them in mind. Annette is a very diverse actor, but she's never been "naughty" before, and I wanted to take her out of her comfort zone a little bit and she rocked it. I knew Keegan would love playing the role of Carissa because she get's to play the villain in a sense, besides the actual killers, and if you know Keegan, she's the sweetest person so I wanted to give her a different role as well. I like to torture Geoff as much as possible and because I have a camera pointed at him, he puts up with it. Haha. Me and Geoff have been friends for years and he has a very unique delivery to his acting and he's a great comedian so writing the role of Dwayne for him was so much fun because I knew he would bring it to life, fantastically. Brent Baird, Nicole Kawalez, and Tony Nashed came out to auditions we held and brought their own unique style to the role. Brent gave us a sense of mystery and when you watch the movie, you can't 100% trust Brian. Nicole killed it in her audition, bringing both the elements of the OCD and sultry that we needed in the character of Olivia. Tony had the look we were going for, but also brought a sense of fun and comedy to the role that we didn't expect.


Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The set was fun. We had a great atmosphere on set. When you're making an indie movie, there's a special feeling in the air where everyone wants to help and create the best movie they can. We're all living our dream and being able to create something and that gives everyone the push they need to endure the late nights, and sticky blood. Plus, when you're shooting some of the scenes we had to shoot in this movie, you can't help but laugh your ass off. There were a lot of laughs.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Secret Santa so far?


The audience reception to Secret Santa has been phenomenal. We had our world premiere at Blood in the Snow Film Festival and sold out both of our screenings. There were a lot of laughs, cheers, and one death scene that left everyone in the audience cringing. People took it for what it was, a fun B-movie.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


My next project is in very early stages, in other words, I haven't written it yet. My next idea is a ghost story combined with HGTV shows. It will be another horror/comedy and I plan to start writing the script in the new year.


What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


I have been interested in filmmaking since I can remember. I made my first film when I was six, it was a Dracula film. I went to Wilfrid Laurier University for Film Studies, but it was all theory, so by year 4, I was itching to make a film. An opportunity came up at school where we could make short films for the annual Fringe Festival. I made a short film called The Everwood Massacre - and ever since then I have been making films.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Secret Santa?


Some of my prior work includes a documentary short on the reported hauntings at the Canadian National Exhibition entitled Ghosts of the CNE. I did a short film entitled Beneath which stars Annette Wozniak and is told almost entirely from the point of view of under a bed. My most successful short has been Demon Bitch, which has screened at the Toronto Independent Film Festival among multiple others festivals and stars Keegan Chambers and Geoff Almond.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


That's tough. I would like to think that I am an energetic director. I try as much as possible to spread my energy and passion to everyone else on the cast and crew. I think I am a laid back director, not screaming or getting pissed because we're behind on our call sheet. I am open to suggestions and really try to keep the set as fun as possible. That's why we're all doing it! For fun!


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Craven. I watched Scream when I was 8 years old and it really did change my life. I knew from then on that I wanted to be in the movie business and especially make horror films. I'm a huge fan of his other films too. Carpenter is another classic director that I consider an inspiration with films like Halloween and The Fog, and I really love the trio of Bruce Campbell, Robert Tapert, and Sam Raimi.


Your favourite movies?


My favourite Horror films are Scream, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws, Black Christmas, and When a Stranger Calls. They all have a huge sense of nostalgia from my childhood and teen years.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


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In terms of movies I deplore, I can't really think of any. I know a huge amount of work goes into making a film so it's hard for me to say a film that I really hate. Maybe Michael Bay's films... stop with the horror remakes!


Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?


Here's the link to our official Reel Phobia Productions Facebook page:

My official Twitter:


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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and shall not be held responsible for
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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD