Dating back to his directorial feature-film debut, Killers Klowns from Outer Space, Stephen Chiodo has found a number of ways to circumvent expectations to deliver audiences unique and compelling narratives that blend a variety of genres. His latest project, Alien Xmas, continues this trend, delivering audiences an otherworldly tale that brings with it staples of holiday specials, both with its message and with its production techniques. Collaborating with his brothers Edward and Charles, the stop-motion special embraces the traditional animation styles of Rankin/Bass classics like 1964's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to bring the quirky holiday tale to life for Netflix.
In the special, when a race of kleptomaniac aliens attempts to steal Earth's gravity in order to more easily take everything on the planet, only the gift-giving spirit of Christmas and a small alien named X can save the world.
ComicBook.com caught up with Chiodo to talk development of the new special, his favorite holiday classics, and what could be next for his Killer Klowns from Outer Space series. Alien Xmas is now streaming on Netflix.
Holiday Special Inspiration
ComicBook.com: What first caught me off guard is that, despite knowing your career, this special is only rated "TV-Y." I knew it was something that would appeal to families, but I wasn't expecting it to be as playful as it was, where it's not even a TV-Y7, but it's an appropriate adventure for all ages that I can recommend to everyone.
Stephen Chiodo: I'm really glad, because it is really family entertainment. We tried to capture the sensibility of the Rankin/Bass specials that we enjoyed when we were young. So I guess it was not your typical holiday special, in that, I mean, they're going to destroy Earth. Maybe they felt it was a little too intense for the young ones, but I do think the heart of the story is X and Holly's relationship. And I think that's very tender and appropriate for children.
I can see this becoming a holiday favorite among families, what were your holiday favorites you had growing up?
Well, they had just started in the '60s, Charlie Brown's Christmas, the Grinch, and then it was the Rankin/Bass specials, which particularly interested me because I was a sculptor and my brothers and I were making movies in our basement. And we even tried to make our own holiday special.
I'll tell you, you can even catch it on YouTube. I think there's a "Chiodo Brothers Holiday," and it's these little elves, and we've got a little devil character. Between me and you, they cut it right before the devil takes these little martini swords, and the devil chops the head off of an elf. So there always was this family embrace of the holiday, but with a little snarky malevolent edge to it, that makes it Chiodo brothers.
Given your horror following, are there any particular horror favorites for the holiday?
Not really, no. It's interesting. The holiday [horror] movies usually have like this evil maniac. I mean, there was one. Oh, what was it? Yes, there is one. That evil, evil, ... What do they call them? It's a European character.
Krampus. There's a Krampus movie, beautifully designed, with incredible creatures. See, I like monsters. Horror or a guy with a chainsaw, it's almost too real for me to enjoy, the slasher films, but I do like monsters. So that film I thought was really great.prevnext
This story isn't brand-new, as it's based on the book you made with Jim Strain, so going back to that book, what was the initial inspiration for this story?
Well, it's really interesting. It's more complicated than that. We had always wanted to make a special of our own, but we wanted to do something different. And we were working with Disney at a certain point. We were doing some interstitials for the 25 Days of Christmas, some stop-motion Santa Claus-type stuff. And one of the executives mentioned that they were interested in holiday specials.
So I came up with this idea of, like we did with Killer Klowns, mashing two genres together, taking a classic Christmas story, like a redemption tale, like Scrooge, and putting a spin on it, which was an alien, sci-fi spin. We had this pitch. We went around town, and it was really difficult to sell something that wasn't a known property. It was an original property. It's hard to sell. So rather than lose the idea, we said, "Let's make a book. Let's take the idea, let's take the property and create something that we could actually promote."
We linked up with Bob Self. He has a company called "Baby Tattoo." It's a specialty publisher who deals with artists. So it's like, it's text and art. And Bob produced the book and published it for us. Now with that as a sales tool, we went around town, and we remembered Jon Favreau, somebody we had worked with, had a great experience with him on Elf. He loves stop-motion, specifically the Rankin/Bass style of the '60s. We pitched it to him, and he thought it was great.
We started a long, 10-year journey, because as soon as Jon got involved, he got Iron Man, then Iron Man 2, and then Jungle Book, and then Lion King. He was a very busy man, but we met with him. We always met him at the conventions, and he would always say, "Hey, guys, what's going on with Alien Xmas? I really want to do that."
We contacted him around, I think it was Lion King, and he said, "Guys, it's a great time right now to do this." So we linked up with him, and instead of going a theatrical route or network, he felt streaming was the way to go. We approached the streamers and we made a deal with Netflix, with Jon.prevnext
It's funny how you mention working with Jon on Elf, all those years ago, and how he has been championing the Chiodo brothers ever since, then he transitions to Iron Man and Lion King and now Star Wars with The Mandalorian. Then, this whole time, one of the biggest producers in Hollywood is championing the Chiodo brothers all these years later.
It was really great. First, it was an honor. He's a billion-dollar director. But it's interesting, he's just a regular guy, comes from New York, just like we do, and he loves stop-motion. He's an artist himself. And with Jon, he loves these big pictures, but he told us that he wanted to do, not that smaller things, but things that left a message, that gave the audience something more than the hour-and-a-half in the theater. He wanted to leave with something more meaningful. He wanted to do more meaningful things, and he really tapped into our core theme.
I mean, what is the spirit of Christmas? What is it really? I mean, a secular Christmas story, it really is that spirit of giving. And when you think about it, that exchange, that magical exchange, it's really love. It's really an expression of love, and that's what he hung on to. That's what he saw in our story. With all of our aliens and battling and all of that funky stuff, it really is at the heart of the story, the relationship of the girl, the daughter, with her father and the love that they share through gift-giving. And that's what X learns.prevnext
Clearly the long-lasting themes of the holiday are important to you, but you obviously always want to put a Chiodo brothers spin on things. How did you find that sweet spot of delivering that important emotional message, while also making sure to inject your signature style and sense of humor into it?
Well, it's interesting that you can define it as a Chiodo brothers take on it. Being the one who's expressing it, I don't really know what it is. It's just our take on a story. There was a malevolent aspect of the Klepts that gave them their arc. And, in fact, my idea of the Klepts was really anchored in the Black Friday sales we see every Thanksgiving. People abandon Thanksgiving, they wait in lines, and then they have this riot inside the store. And that's the Klepts. They want, want, want, but they don't know how to give, so that was the essence of it.
Is that odd to me? That's just the way I see things. And we bring that sensibility. I mean, Santa Claus is not your typical Santa Claus. He's kind of like a friendly bully. He is passionate. He's got this vision, but he kind of throws it on his underlings. And Obie is now tasked with this impossible task of building a super-sleigh. And, in fact, it kind of comes around. Santa was right. He had this vision about flying through the sky at the speed of light, but he was wrong. It wasn't the super-sleigh. It was the aliens. And so, Santa goes through this great arc. I don't know how to describe it.
I thought it was fun not to have your typical ho-ho-ho Santa Claus. What is it really like to have a boss who thrusts this responsibility on you in the middle of the holidays and causes you grief? There's something for the adults, something for the kids, and a Willy Wonka/Dr. Seuss-type war going on with makeshift weapons.
As someone who wasn't familiar with the book, I enjoyed how there was a natural conclusion where other holiday specials would have ended it, only for Alien Xmas to go even further to really make it stand out as a unique story.
Oh, that's nice to hear, because I was curious about that. We wrapped up the story in a classic, candy-coated holiday, and it's a little bit snarky. We made our holiday people really "holiday," and we had our evil guys, I wanted to make them more evil. That's what we worked on with Netflix and Jon. We toned down their evil quality, but we wanted that contrast, and it came to a head, with the end of the story. But what about Z? And then, bam, part two.prevnext
On this long journey to bring the story to life, whether it be creating the story or finding a distributor or actually shooting the special, what ended up being the biggest challenge you faced?
Well, there's two sides of that. Probably one side that people don't really care about, the business side. It took us like, I don't know, a year to get the deal going. It's so frustrating. We're ready to make this show. Everybody's on board, but then legal and business affairs. But that aside, nobody wants to talk about that.
The process of making the film is really the scope. It's a simple story. It's only 16 pages in the book, but we had these characters we wanted to make come alive. And the scope was the alien world, the Christmas world, and to create those environments in stark contrast of each other, the dark colorless Klept-world against the vibrant festive world of Christmas. And then when they combine, you do that visually. We do that with lighting and we do it with music. We got this composer from Hans Zimmer's company, Bleeding Fingers, a gentleman named Adam Schiff, not the Adam Schiff, but composer Adam Schiff. He combined what we wanted to do, a '60s sci-fi sound with a classic Christmas, lush Christmas, warm Christmas score, and then have them battle and mash-up during the show. So it was really bringing these two elements together in a fun and family-friendly way.prevnext
Speaking to those familiar elements of the holidays and classic specials, you find elements of things like the Grinch or something like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, so did you ever find yourselves mirroring iconic stories too heavily and then pivot to stay away from those touchstones to make sure it was thoroughly a Chiodo brothers project?
It came around organically, the things you just mentioned, all of them, are part of my background, my past. These are things that I've loved my entire life. And what you do is you bring them in as inspiration, but then you mix it up and you spew it out in your own individual way. I think there's Forbidden Planet, there's The Grinch, there's Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, it's all of them there, but I think it is unique. At the core, it's the story of Scrooge, a redemption story, which is the roots of the Grinch. We all pull from the same influences, but hopefully it's unique and it stands out. Christmas is always threatened, "We have to save Christmas." Well, in our case, it was bigger. It was saving Earth. Earth was the collateral damage to just a very greedy, greedy desire for stuff.prevnext
When the story opens, we see that the Klepts have ruined their planet by taking it for granted, so that theme of climate change and us taking care of the planet definitely resonated with me in ways that older holiday specials haven't, so I'm sure that will be a message that sticks with younger audiences. If you take, take, take from your planet, it's eventually going to die.
That's funny. Yeah, it's all there. Even the simplest story, as you start developing it, you find there's subtext, there's these little through-lines that you want to resonate. It just comes through. And, again, it is based on everything we've ever seen, is thrown into this thing. The battle is Dr. Seuss and Willy Wonka, strapping those things together. They're harmless little things. Like Santa Claus, they're not really prepared for a war, but they step up and they're the first line of defense against an alien invasion. Who would've thought? And then the reindeers, think about it, the super-sleigh. These guys are out of a job. So while he's celebrating, you hear, "Boo." That's a Chiodo brothers joke and I'm glad they kept it in there. We had a tough time keeping some of those jokes in there.
Were there a lot of jokes cut? Were they just too mature that kids wouldn't get them?
Well, we like to talk to the adults, as well as the kids. We knew the kids would just love the puppets and the little puppy. They would love that. But then, how do you resonate with the audience? A lot of adults could identify with Obie's dilemma and Noel's dilemma. That's a real thing, but I don't know, it seemed to come out of the story naturally. With this big hoo-ha about the super-sleigh, what about the reindeers? It's like, "Oh yeah. Well, we have to put them in there."
And we did have a union. We had them striking. We had them with picket signs outside. But actually, what happened was it was a longer vision. We had a feature film in mind. Honing it down to an hour and then 40 minutes, we really had to throw a lot of things out. So we did manage to keep that subplot of the reindeers, and we couldn't develop any further because of the format, the length, but it is there. I think it does give it more texture, more depth, for a greater range of audience.
And now you have some seeds to explore in Alien Xmas 2.
How about Alien Halloween?prevnext
We spoke about the project's biggest challenges, so on the other end of things, what are you most proud of with Alien Xmas? Either a key sequence that you are happy with being pulled off or an emotional message that you managed to get across?
Well, actually, it's really two things on that spectrum. The emotional interaction is X getting the puppy with Holly when he's caught. Tucker Barrie and Yizhou Li were the animators on that. Very sensitive, very delicate animation. And I think through pantomime and rhythm and timing, we were able to get a really great performance. I hope that worked. Same thing with Obie and Holly coming together, when she explained, "Oh, dad, he's not a doll. He's an alien." And dah, dah, dah, that moment. I wonder all the time, does it really culminate into actually reaching through the screen and grabbing the audience's heart?
But then there's also the gyro-tron and the battle with Sam Two, which is a favorite character of mine. Kim Blanchette animated that character. A lot of replacement animation because it was a Swiss Army robot. That came together with some experimental animation techniques of light painting with the time-lapse. All of that was done in-camera. That, to me, was challenging. We didn't know if we could pull it off on our schedule, but we did. I had great animators, great, great animators, that gave us great performances.prevnext
Killer Klowns Future
More than 30 years later, Killer Klowns from Outer Space seems to just get more popular each year. I know you've talked about wanting to continue the story, maybe with a sequel, maybe a reboot, maybe a TV series, so now that you've worked with Netflix, have any new talks about continuing the franchise come about or have there been any updates about its future?
We'll see. We are talking to them. We're talking all the time. Get this: we've been trying to do a sequel since we made the film and fans get angry with us. We don't mention it too much, because they get angry. They say, "Oh, what's the matter with you guys?" But we're trying. The business is just a bear, moves at a glacial pace. There's interest, and it wanes and flows. You get some executives who really want to do it, then, all of a sudden, musical chairs. They're out, a new regime is in, and they don't get it. We'll see how Alien Xmas does with the Netflix people. We'll see if they can embrace our sensibility.
We have tons of ideas to really carry that through. I'm amazed that it has stood the test of time, that it's multi-generational now. Parents who liked it show it to their kids. The kids like it. They show it to their friends. They get married, and they have kids. I am floored that it has lasted as long as it has. So there'll be hopefully something in the future.
And that's worth mentioning to fans, that Alien Xmas is already exciting enough on its own, so if Killer Klowns fans spread the word about it, Netflix will surely notice how many Chiodo brothers fans are out there.
Absolutely. That's what I tell the fans. Look, MGM controls Killer Klowns. If they write MGM and say, "Where's our sequel? Where's that property?" There's so many ways they can exploit this thing. It's really the fan base. The fan base has to be more vocal to MGM than us, because they control it. But I'm just so happy. That was a project that, we just wanted to make a film that we loved. Again, Forbidden Planet, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, all the films that we loved is thrown into that. And I'm really pleased that people responded to it.0comments
Alien Xmas is now streaming on Netflix.prev