In War Games! A Christmas Truce, Santa Claus (played Adam Benish) and the mythical Krampus (Angel Joseph Nicholas) team up to bring peace and the spirit of Christmas to the front lines of World War I with a friendly game of soccer.
When their antics land them before a war crimes tribunal chaired by one of Ebenezer Scrooge’s descendants (Mike Dillon), however, they find themselves facing more than just the gallows.
Part comedy, part musical and part war picture, the film provides an outrageous twist on history packed with memorable characters, over-the-top satire and offbeat jingles to get you in the holiday mood.
As Benish (who also directed and co-produced the project) explains, War Games! carries with it an important message about the absurdity of bloodshed and the power of Christmas to transcend some of our darkest moments.
“History has told the same story countless times about young men going to war for old men,” Benish says. “Taking a real event that happened in no man’s land and giving it a fantasy vibe by infusing Santa and the Krampus into a silly scenario allowed us to present war as a farce. Young people should be playing soccer and singing, not murdering each other.”
The idea for the story originated as an extract from a feature-length screenplay Dillon (who also wrote and co-produced) penned during the pandemic lockdown and which “was more like a Monty Python sketch than a typical short film.” Despite having an original concept, however, he admits it wasn’t until he reached out to Benish that the project really took off.
“I was struggling with it until Adam got on board in a big way. He was able to put together a group of incredible professionals,” Dillon says. “He has a decade-plus worth of experience watching people work and getting to know personalities – who was in it for the art and who wasn’t – and we had an awesome time with those people on set.”
“[It] was more like a Monty Python sketch than a typical short film.”
For his part, Benish says he was inspired to help drive the project across the finish line and “make it the greatest thing it could possibly be” by the combination of challenges and opportunities presented in Dillon’s script.
“When I make a film, I want to make it to push my boundaries as a filmmaker and build on what I’ve done in the past,” Benish says. “So, when Mike brought the project to my attention, I wanted to make it because it incorporated so many variables I hadn’t put into practice in my own films: prosthetics, period costuming and production design, songs, VFX and stunts.”
The three-day shoot came together in January 2023 with a hand from the Canadian Great War Society and the Windsor Film Society, which provided everything from cast and crew members to props, uniforms and even a trench. As Dillon explains, despite all the prep-work and help they received, a bit of Christmas magic was still needed to get the job done.
“There wasn’t much snow when we’d previously visited the trench, or really all winter. It had been very mild weather-wise,” he recalls. “But it snowed for the length of our shoot, not enough to stop us, but just enough to look perfect. It was impossible luck and we were very happy for it.”
“Prep, prep and prep! If you think you’ve done enough prep, you haven’t.”
Benish notes, however, that with people donating their time and resources, passion projects such as War Games! can often take longer than normal productions. As such, he says, success often requires both planning and the ability to “shoot from the hip when things change.”
“Prep, prep and prep! If you think you’ve done enough prep, you haven’t because you never will do enough prep,” Benish states. “Understand the time you have in prep can save you countless hours and scenarios on set and, more importantly, in post.”
War Games! is already busy spreading holiday joy at festivals around Canada (including a screening at the recent Toronto Shorts International Film Festival) and Benish and Dillon say they are now looking ahead to dates in the US and Europe, as well as a worldwide broadcast in late 2024.
“The response has been very positive so far and we’re getting the laughs we came for. We’ve had some mixed reactions [to the ending] or at putting mythical creatures into a genuine Christmas miracle, but that’s what we expected,” Dillon says. “I hope people will laugh and think it was clever, and will also understand what it’s trying to say – which is that people really could, at any moment, decide to stop killing each other.”