New York-based director/editor Brad Hasse might just have a remedy for the pandemic holiday blues. Brad, along with his wife, singer/songwriter Violette and their two kids, have spent the bulk of the never-ending lockdown in Nantes, France. It was in this semi-isolation that they conceived of “Christmas Harmony”, a bouncy little song about celebrating in spite of this year’s unusual circumstances. With a bunch of toys and assists from both local and remote talent, they transformed their original tune into a feel-good holiday video. After seeing the clip featuring their products, toy maker Playmobil joined in the spirt and commissioned a fun little holiday spot edited from the original. Enjoy !
An interview with Brad Hasse with Brett McKenzie at The One Club:
First of all, what are you doing in Nantes, France? Aren’t you normally in the New York area?
(laughs) We’re usually in the NYC Metro area, but we took the funkiness of this year as an excuse to rent out our home and temporarily move to France to be closer to my wife Violette’s family and send the kids to school here locally.
As the pandemic has stretched on to its umpteenth month, what has it been like to hunker down in another country?
By renting out our home and staying with family in France, we’ve downsized in a way that has allowed us to both spend more time as a family but also to go after more personal creative pursuits.
I’ve still been able to do some of my work remotely, including one PSA that I directed to help get out the vote in Pennsylvania that featured Andrew McCutchen from the Phillies, but mostly I’ve been focused on projects I can do in Europe where I can limit the travel.
Speaking of personal creative pursuits, how did the idea to make this Christmas video come about?
One Saturday night a few weeks ago my wife was working on a melody and asked if I wanted to write the lyrics with her. It was something just for fun, and we found that we threw ourselves into it like the good old days when you could just head off on a creative tangent without any time constraints. We felt like making something uplifting for the holiday season, a song that acknowledged how it definitely doesn’t feel festive this year but that there’s still value in going through the motions and celebrating “collectively” at the same time, whether we are all apart or not.
Once we finished, we thought it was worth her recording it, so she did so almost immediately. She recorded her parts from home and sent them out to the other musicians who all worked on it remotely. And with that, we also started talking about making a video.
They say it’s hard to make a good Christmas song; Mariah Carey notwithstanding, there are very few seasonal favorites beyond the 1960s. What challenges did the two of you come across in writing one?
We had something very specific to write about, which I think made it easier — a longing to see friends and family, to return to normal, and a message that even though this is a strange year, we still have to find a way to celebrate. So hopefully that made it a little less cliché in regards to Christmas songs, and gave us something sincere to write about. Of course, we threw some “hot chocolate” and “mistletoe” in there for good measure, because if you can’t be just a bit corny around the holidays then when can you be?
“We had something very specific to write about, which I think made it easier — a longing to see friends and family, to return to normal, and a message that even though this is a strange year, we still have to find a way to celebrate.”
As for the video, you must’ve broken the bank on Playmobil! How did you craft it all and execute the production in this pandemic?
We tried to be as efficient as possible between Playmobils that we already had, and getting some new ones that could cover a few different “scenes.” Once we saw what we could get, we wrote scenarios around them specifically.
The video concept constantly changed, depending upon what resources we thought we had. At first, we talked about filming in front of a green screen and putting Violette into the Playmobil world, but our turnaround was so fast that I didn’t want to get into too many VFX like that. We finally landed on the idea you see here which intertwines Violette singing coupled with the toys that are out in the living room “acting out” the scenarios being talked about.
Because of both budget and COVID, we had a super small team that helped out with this. I’m excited that we found people to collaborate locally here in Nantes that do great work and who were also happy to jump into projects like this. Our DP Simon Legeay did an amazing job with very little resources. We also teamed up in post with some collaborators that we worked with remotely, like Brian Walsh, who did all of the various extra movements inside of the Playmobil world from New York, and Craig Harris, who did the color correction from Canada.
Seeing that this project was a family affair, what did your kids bring to the table? Are they budding directors themselves, perhaps some really, really Young Guns?
The 4-year-old is more of a method actor. He didn’t want too much direction. He was bouncing off the walls, so I started by just letting him and our 8-year-old dance around on the couch until they got tired out and could sit in one place for a few minutes! All of the celebration scenes you see of them towards the end of the video are literally the first things I shot.
During the first round of lockdowns, I started doing some short films with my kids just for fun as well. We just did things that we could shoot with an iPhone and edit together quickly. Some I put out for people to see, but a few of the ones like “How To Use An Electric Weed Whacker, Hosted By Dad” will remain private. My gardening secrets are very near and dear to me, and it’s not something I want to share publicly.
Our kids are growing up with a lot of exposure to both my wife and my jobs, so I think they’ll either be super involved in the arts, or they’ll completely run away from it when they are older… probably no middle ground!
“A Christmas Carol”. “It’s A Wonderful Life”. “The Star Wars Holiday Special.” Every seasonal adventure ends with the protagonist learning some important message. What new wisdom did you and your wife glean from this experience?
If we learned anything, it’s “why didn’t we do this type of thing together sooner?” We’ve been selfishly focusing on our own projects and careers, and this was wonderful to join forces without any boundaries between what both of us are specialized in, and just have fun together.
What’s in store for you in 2021?
My first feature film “Songs for a Sloth” will be released in the spring of 2021, and I’m hoping to take that momentum to find funding for the next long-form project. Also, since we’ll be here until next summer, I’d like to work with more of my European contacts.
And of course, now that Violette and I started this creative dance, I know we’ll keep exploring that as well to see what else we can come up with together.
Directed & Edited by: Bradley Hasse
Written by: Bradley Hasse & Violette
Director of Photography: Simon Legeay
First Assistant Camera: Cécile Plais
Art Direction: Christine Laquet & Adrian Owen
VFX: Brian Walsh
Color Correction: Craig Harris at Furrow Studio
Make-up/Hair: Emilie Brunet
Music & Performance by: Violette
Written, Recorded, Shot, Edited from “home confined home” in Nantes, France