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Webster writer takes movie script to the big screen with “The Christmas Letter”

todayJanuary 29, 2024 1

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UTICA, N.Y. (WROC) – A Webster man is watching his longtime dream come to life, and soon, on the silver screen.

This week, production is wrapping up in Utica for a new holiday movie called “The Christmas Letter.”

News 8’s Natalie Kucko sat down with Mike Cunningham, the film’s writer and producer, who is bringing this true story to the world of cinema.

Cunningham is a local freelancer, who has been working on the film script for nearly 30 years.

After sharing it near and far, he finally got the call from Los Angeles in 2022. It’s drawing some special appearances from the likes of Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, and Brian Doyle-Murray, the original stars of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

To summarize the last month or so, Cunningham boils it down to ‘surreal.’

“You can’t stop trying. You know, once you stop trying, you are never going to go anywhere. No matter what,” he said.

Cunningham grew up in Ilion, New York outside of Utica, but he’s called the Rochester area home since the mid 80s.

Much of that time was spent writing “The Christmas Letter,” which is based on a true story of letters Cunningham had written with a pen pal overseas at Christmastime.

“I had to kind of live my life for it to actually come to fruition because I have this friend in England. I always say we live on the opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum,” he said, “I’d get this Christmas letter and he’d tell me all this stuff and I’d write back, ‘I went to Wegmans today.’ Nothing against Wegmans, but it’s the fact that I had such a pedestrian life compared to him.”

Cunningham was previously a copywriter for Gannett and was let go in 2007.

That same day came a silver lining, which he says, could have been a sign to keep writing.

“Anyone who loses a job [knows] it’s not easy. What’s waiting in the mailbox for me when I get home is this letter. That’s where it really started to germinate,” said Cunningham.

Fast forward to 2022, the script had been shopped by production heads and shared online, where it was ultimately picked up by L.A.-based writer and producer Angus Benfield. Benfield is now starring as a lead role in the film.

Shoots have taken up the last month in Utica and beyond, bringing in some big names along the way.

“I always thought it was going to be low key. And, the whole talk was about how Angus was friends with an agent of Chevy Chase. Not to get into too much detail, but there was a fluke piece of information I got from the Buffalo Film Commission, which kind of sealed the deal to bring Chevy Chase in,” he said, “When that happened, Randy Quaid was going on tour with him. They have the Christmas Vacation tour every year to talk about the film. He decided he wanted to be part of it. Then, Brian Doyle-Murray decided he wanted to be part of it. It just snowballed that way.”

As production comes to a close, Cunningham is thankful to the actors and crew members who have taken part. Many of them are local to the Utica and Rochester areas.

The story’s theme, he says, comes full circle.

“The moral of the story is you have to decide what’s more important, the life you wish for, or the one you already have. We all kind of overlook what we already have,” he said, “The whole thing is so surreal. I’m just a shlub from Ilion, New York. I’m a guy who just, like anyone who’s trying to do anything big in their life… It’s a dream. That’s all.”

The man Cunningham exchanged Christmas letters with all those years happens to be playing an extra in the film.

“The Christmas Letter” is expected to be released later this year, in time for the holiday season.

To follow along with the production, visit the film’s Facebook page.

​ UTICA, N.Y. (WROC) – A Webster man is watching his longtime dream come to life, and soon, on the silver screen.

This week, production is wrapping up in Utica for a new holiday movie called “The Christmas Letter.”

News 8’s Natalie Kucko sat down with Mike Cunningham, the film’s writer and producer, who is bringing this true story to the world of cinema.

Cunningham is a local freelancer, who has been working on the film script for nearly 30 years.

After sharing it near and far, he finally got the call from Los Angeles in 2022. It’s drawing some special appearances from the likes of Chevy Chase, Randy Quaid, and Brian Doyle-Murray, the original stars of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

To summarize the last month or so, Cunningham boils it down to ‘surreal.’

“You can’t stop trying. You know, once you stop trying, you are never going to go anywhere. No matter what,” he said.

Cunningham grew up in Ilion, New York outside of Utica, but he’s called the Rochester area home since the mid 80s.

Much of that time was spent writing “The Christmas Letter,” which is based on a true story of letters Cunningham had written with a pen pal overseas at Christmastime.

“I had to kind of live my life for it to actually come to fruition because I have this friend in England. I always say we live on the opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum,” he said, “I’d get this Christmas letter and he’d tell me all this stuff and I’d write back, ‘I went to Wegmans today.’ Nothing against Wegmans, but it’s the fact that I had such a pedestrian life compared to him.”

Cunningham was previously a copywriter for Gannett and was let go in 2007.

That same day came a silver lining, which he says, could have been a sign to keep writing.

“Anyone who loses a job [knows] it’s not easy. What’s waiting in the mailbox for me when I get home is this letter. That’s where it really started to germinate,” said Cunningham.

Fast forward to 2022, the script had been shopped by production heads and shared online, where it was ultimately picked up by L.A.-based writer and producer Angus Benfield. Benfield is now starring as a lead role in the film.

Shoots have taken up the last month in Utica and beyond, bringing in some big names along the way.

“I always thought it was going to be low key. And, the whole talk was about how Angus was friends with an agent of Chevy Chase. Not to get into too much detail, but there was a fluke piece of information I got from the Buffalo Film Commission, which kind of sealed the deal to bring Chevy Chase in,” he said, “When that happened, Randy Quaid was going on tour with him. They have the Christmas Vacation tour every year to talk about the film. He decided he wanted to be part of it. Then, Brian Doyle-Murray decided he wanted to be part of it. It just snowballed that way.”

As production comes to a close, Cunningham is thankful to the actors and crew members who have taken part. Many of them are local to the Utica and Rochester areas.

The story’s theme, he says, comes full circle.

“The moral of the story is you have to decide what’s more important, the life you wish for, or the one you already have. We all kind of overlook what we already have,” he said, “The whole thing is so surreal. I’m just a shlub from Ilion, New York. I’m a guy who just, like anyone who’s trying to do anything big in their life… It’s a dream. That’s all.”

The man Cunningham exchanged Christmas letters with all those years happens to be playing an extra in the film.

“The Christmas Letter” is expected to be released later this year, in time for the holiday season.

To follow along with the production, visit the film’s Facebook page. Read More Local NewsRochesterFirst  

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