Features > Arts And Entertainment

Local cast and crew create new holiday movie

By Register Staff
Sunday, December 11, 2005 1:07 AM PST

The latest surprise Santa pulled out of his bag is a Christmas present to the community access television stations and their viewers across the country, including Napa and American Canyon. The family musical airs on Monday at 8 p.m. on Napa TV cable channel 28.

"Santa and Sons & Daughter!" is an independent movie shot in Napa and Pope Valley with local talent and crew. The show is a rockin' family musical feature that has been in three film festivals including the Starz! International Film Festival in Denver, the Gloria Film-Video Festival in Salt Lake City, and Kidsfirst! Film-Video Festival which runs in 25 cities this quarter. The movie has received an Award of Excellence from Creative Child Magazine and carries the Dove Foundation and the Kidsfirst! seals for quality family programs.

Single father, Zwerkin (John Maniaci of Sacramento) sings a lullaby to Bethany (played by Jennette Dunn of Angwin).

Photos by Daniel McElmury

The movie is slated to show in more that 40 communities during the holidays from Portland, Maine to San Francisco, from Athens, Ohio to Vienna, Austria. Even Auckland, New Zealand has scheduled a screening. "We put together a terrific cast and crew from throughout the North Bay, but half were from Napa," said Director-Producer Robert Battaile who started the project a mere 25 years ago.

Michael Waterson was picked to play Nicholas, Santa's eldest son, the business-minded one, as opposed to younger brother Klaus who tends the reindeer. Waterson has worked with the Napa Repertory Theatre, and performed Shakespeare at Stinson. You've probably seen him in Kith and Kin, a local Celtic music group.

Finding Mrs. Claus was a happy accident as she turned out to be one of the "Elf Moms," as Battaile calls the parents of VOENA, the local choir group that has performed internationally and at the White House. One Tuesday evening in March of 2004, the first audition was held at the Rutherford Grange.

A slender woman at the back of the room turned out to be a fashion model and actress with what she called "comedic flair."
"We really lucked out getting Linda Fischer as Mrs. Claus," Bataille said. Fischer was an art director who found herself cast in "Nash Bridges," and never looked back. Her daughter, Lilly is a blue-skinned elf in the show.

Along with the 30 members of VOENA that were the elves chorus, Annabelle Cruz, their fearless director appears in the movie leading some of the singers during Mrs. Claus' Pep Rally for the Elves. The scene was shot in Daryl Sattui's magnificent castle, Villa Amarosa in Calistoga.

One elf in particular, Holly Stell sang an operatic piece and hypnotized the audition crowd. "I was so taken that I re-wrote one scene to include her as an angelic sprite singing part of a tender lullaby." Stell sang with Andrea Bocelli on his NBC Christmas Special last year. She has just finished recording her own CD that includes some of her fellow Voenans.

Another VOENA elf to win a major role was Michael Caldwell who was cast as Silvin, named after Battaile's 10-year old son when the show was originally written nearly 25 years ago. "Michael did a great job in a tough part under difficult conditions." In the movie, Caldwelll plays Silvin, the son of Zwerkin, a single dad who invents a teleportation device that helps Santa get into houses without chimneys, a Tele-Santa game and just happens to fall in love with Santa's daughter, Sandy.

Silvin hooks up with Santa's main helper, Jan who was played by Kiernan Morgan, a resident trooper with Vallejo Music Theater who furnished some locations for the show.

The last of the lead children's roles, Bethany was given to Jennette Dunn who heard about the show from her Howell Mountain Elementary School teacher. As it turned out, Dunn lived in Pope Valley about five houses away from the director.

Many of the team were met through community theater plays, including Catherine Schoen who recently retired from the Napa Public Library. Schoen plays the villain's mother and helicopter pilot, Ma Snavely. She also helped with the set decorating and props along with Suzanne Carreiro of St. Helena.

On the crew side, Lucia Sanza was the choreographer and makeup artist. "Lucy" has danced in many area shows and pageants. Nick Curtis and James Dominguez helped with the location sound.

The show is a musical and wouldn't have come together without Eric Symons and Thomas Schoenberger. Principles at North Bay Entertainment both provided soundtrack music. Symons is an accomplished classical guitarist who performs regularly. Schoenberger has several CDs in the marketplace and is composing in Europe with the Russian Symphony.

Helping with the editing and special effects was Michael Lucas, who is also an English multimedia teacher at Valley Oak School. "The greenscreen effects were endless," said Battaile, who has spent the past year editing some 80 hours of raw footage into the final version.

One of the pivotal characters is the villain, Snavely who torments nearly everyone. Battaile chose R.J. Snead, whom he'd met when they worked together in the show "Planet Vega$." "R.J. has created an unforgettable character," Bataille said. R.J. also used to co-host a Channel 28 talk show with Danny "Skratch." When Battaile was at the station's recent telethon, Skratch put out the idea of running the movie. That small gem of an idea has turned into a national public access event.

It's a "give-back" and a "kid-thing" for the producer and his company, Calexas. "I'm hoping the public access stations can generate more awareness and raise some funds by sharing this with their communities," Battaile said. "It's especially timely to promote access TV now, because there is national legislation pending that could wipe out the current funding system for the Public-Education-Government channels. Everyone could be impacted in various ways.

"With Santa's help, we've gotten the manufacturing partners in place for the DVDs, audio-CDs and merchandise," Bataille added. DVDs are made by customFlix, and the audio-CDs by swiftCD. Both can be purchased at the Web site www.santaandsons.com, which ships within two days. The DVD is available at amazon.com.

Also available on online are t-shirts, coffee mugs, infant wear, inspirational Christmas slogans and "I Brake for Elves" bumperstickers. The songs can be digitally downloaded from iTunes. The video downloads will be provided by Akimbo within a couple of days.

A review of the movie at Dove Foundation's Web site calls it "an endearing story about Santa's family. ... The fantastic music is sung by some very talented singers. Get the popcorn, the blanket and sit with the family to watch it together."
Director, Robert Battaile shown taking notes from Santa. Scene was shot at his North Pole Estate.