11 Facts About Bad Santa

Dimension Films
Dimension Films

If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from Bad Santa, it’s that the holiday season isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. The non-stop ratchet party of a film stars Billy Bob Thornton as the titular character, a functioning alcoholic and misanthrope who works as a mall Santa in order to rob department stores on Christmas Eve.

Of course, plans go haywire when the con man befriends a troubled kid (Brett Kelly) and falls for a bartender with a Santa fetish (Lauren Graham). It’s the ultimate film for pessimists who shirk at Christmas sentiment but love to throw down, making it the perfect pick-me-up to pull you through December. Get to know more about the cult classic on the 15th anniversary of its release with these fun facts about Bad Santa.

1. BILL MURRAY WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE LEAD.

According to The Guardian, Bill Murray was actually in final negotiations to take the lead, until he dropped out to film Lost in Translation. Suffice it to say, it was a win-win for both Murray and Billy Bob Thornton.

2. THE COEN BROTHERS HELPED DEVELOP THE MOVIE.

Raising Arizona, Fargo, and, er, Bad Santa? Believe it. According to director Terry Zwigoff, the Coens were actually the first choice to helm the movie. “The story I had heard was that the original writers, who wrote about 90 percent of what you see in any of the cuts, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, met the Coen brothers and said, ‘We want to write a script that you guys direct.’ And they said, ‘We only direct our own writing but we've always had this crazy idea about this drunken Santa Claus and this little person elf that has to keep him in line,” Zwigoff told IndieWire.

“So John and Glenn wrote this script," Zwigoff continued. "And the Coen brothers read it and they told them, ‘We don't want to direct it. We think it's great but we don't want to do it.’ So they asked them if they could give them some notes. And when the Coens sat down to try and give them notes over a weekend, eventually they just thought it would be easier if they take a pass on it and rewrite it.”

3. IT WAS A SINGLE LINE IN THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT THAT MADE TERRY ZWIGOFF WANT TO DIRECT THE FILM.

“I’m more interested in dialogue,” Zwigoff told The A.V. Club. “Most of the scripts I’ve gone after to direct, there’s generally just something about the dialogue.” For Bad Santa, it was one line of dialogue that hooked him. Continued Zwigoff, “It was something like, ‘Sweet Jews for Jesus!’ One of the most inspired lines I’d ever read.”

4. ZWIGOFF ISN’T A FAN OF THE THEATRICAL CUT OF THE MOVIE.

Following an interview with IndieWire, Zwigoff hosted a public screening in which he presented the director’s cut of the film, which is his preferred version. “That's the filming of the script, basically,” Zwigoff explained. “The studio wanted to mess with it and make it more mainstream and pour some fake sentiment on it for the people that stumble around the mall. Go to Target some day and look at who your target audience is. Look at the people who are out there going to films and you realize you are totally f***ed, you don't want to do anything these people like. But that director's cut is exactly the script I got. I wanted to protect the script. I like writers a lot. It was a lot darker.”

5. BILLY BOB THORNTON WENT METHOD FOR THE MOVIE.

In an interview with Film4, Billy Bob Thornton detailed exactly how he got into his alcoholic character. “I've traditionally played really extreme characters and even in a comedy, if you're going to play a guy like this, you can't be sort of drunk, you know? And I wasn't sort of drunk,” said Thornton. “You have to go completely into it. I love children, I'm crazy about them, but I had to ignore that fact and play the part.”

6. IT WAS JOHN RITTER’S FINAL FILM ROLE.

A still of John Ritter from 'Bad Santa' (2003).
Dimension Films

America wept when news broke that John Ritter, the beloved star of Three’s Company, passed away suddenly on September 11, 2003 of aortic dissection at the age of 54. His hilarious turn as mall manager Bob Chipeska in Bad Santa was his final feature film appearance. The movie was dedicated to his memory.

7. LAUREN GRAHAM HUMPED A CHAIR DURING HER AUDITION TO PLAY SUE THE BARTENDER.

If you’re going up for a character who’s got a fetish for Santa, you’ve really got to sell it. “I had to audition doing the scene where I first straddle Santa,” Graham recalled to Uncut. “So I’m basically in front of a room full of executives humping a chair. I really did love Billy Bob though, even more than the chair. With a character like this you have to make a big decision. I just thought: she loves anything to do with Christmas, she totally doesn’t see what’s disgusting about this particular Santa. He fulfills a strange kinda fantasy for her.”

8. ANGUS T. JONES OF TWO AND A HALF MEN WENT OUT FOR THE ROLE OF THURMAN MERMAN.

In an interview with The Province, Brett Kelly, then a student at the University of British Columbia, recalled his audition to play Thurman Merman. Among those he beat out to play Bad Santa’s sidekick was fellow chubby-cheeked actor Angus T. Jones, who’d go on to star in Two and a Half Men (before infamously trashing the show). Kelly recalled how filming the movie affected his life: “It wasn't like I was in Bad Santa and I came back and everything had changed. It was more like I got to drop in and see like, ‘Oh, that's what making movies is like.’”

9. THORNTON HAD TO DEFEND THE FILM AGAINST THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT.


Dimension Films

Let’s be real: Bad Santa isn’t for the easily offended. Taking a cultural icon and turning him into a sex-crazed alcoholic isn’t exactly going to win over more conservative moviegoers. Which is exactly why Thornton found himself defending the movie. “We did get a few comments," Thornton told Film4, “and my reply was always, 'As far as I know, Santa Claus is not in the Bible. I think you guys are talking about Jesus.””

10. IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC, THE MOVIE IS CALLED SANTA IS A PERVERT.

Films are known to change names to fit foreign markets. That’s nothing new. However, sometimes its nuance gets a little lost in translation. Case in point: the Czech Republic’s extremely literal, albeit accurate, title.

11. IN A DELETED SCENE, SARAH SILVERMAN CAMEOS AS A SANTA TEACHER.

Among the multiple scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor (much to Zwigoff’s chagrin) was a hilarious moment with Sarah Silverman. In the two-minute scene, Silverman acts as a Santa School teacher instructing a classroom of mall Santas on how to coax a smile out of a child and please their parents.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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