How a writer created his own version of “A Christmas Story” as a child in Batavia in the 1980s
Kevin Jakubowski, originally from Batavia, wanted to make a movie about growing up in the suburbs in the 1980s, with a parallel to the holiday classic “A Christmas Story”.
But first, he needed to write the book.
âI realized that a lot of studios didn’t want original scripts. They were only looking for scripts based on comic book characters, like Spider-Man, or games, like Clue,â he said.
Set in Batavia and other parts of the Chicago area, the film trades the Red Ryder BB pistol from “A Christmas Story” for Jakubowski’s coveted childhood gift: the stylish Nintendo Entertainment System video game console. .
âI was about 8 or 9 years old and wanted more than anything Nintendo,â Jakubowski said. “Everyone wanted it. It was so popular. It even had their own cereal.”
After the publication of the book, Jakubowski began working on the script for the film. The novel helped grab the attention of producers Nick Nantell and Jonathan Sadowski, and the screenplay earned a top spot on the blacklist, a prestigious review site for new scripts.
Soon, Star Thrower Entertainment was on board, which led to Warner Bros. to resume the project. The film was originally slated for release in 2020, but the pandemic has changed everything.
âWe had to recruit new actors and were very lucky to have Neil Patrick Harris,â Jakubowski said of the star of the film. “He read the script on Friday and got involved in the project the following Monday.”
June Diane Raphael, Neil Patrick Harris and Sophia Reid-Gantzert star in New Line Cinema and the HBO Max family movie “8-Bit Christmas”.
– Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
The film makes references to Batavia and other suburbs, but it was shot in Canada for financial reasons.
University Street in Toronto has been transformed into Michigan Avenue in Chicago, with 80s cars and road signs. For the Batavia scenes, production designer Andrew Stearn and director Michael Dowse traveled to town with Jakubowski to get a feel for the community. Then they found similar neighborhoods in Toronto.
Jakubowski’s wife, Meg, gave birth to their son, John Paul, at the start of filming, keeping him at home, now in Southern California, for production to begin. Instead, he watched the first takes on an online platform that allowed him to see a live feed from the cameras spinning on set.
The Jakubowski family, from left to right, Meg, Maeve, John Paul and Kevin.
– Courtesy of Meg Jakubowski
âI remember being home holding my new son in the dark at 5 am and hearing ‘roll the camera’ and watching the very first shot of the movie live from my iPad. such a special moment, âhe said.
But that initial magic was lost when he realized the actors were mispronouncing Batavia.
âI watch it live and hear Bat-ah-via. I quickly texted the producer on set to fix it,â he said. “Batavia – hard ‘A’, hard ‘A.'”
In addition to John Paul, Jakubowski has a 3-year-old daughter, Maeve.
âI’m actually referring to her in the movie,â he said. The friend that Annie (the main character‘s sister) always calls is called Maeve.
With positive reviews from across the country, Jakubowski is hoping that â8-bit Christmasâ could become a holiday classic as his inspiration.
âIt would be great because this movie is really a love letter to my childhood,â he said.