On the SANTA CLAUSE 3 set

A very merry Christmas: On the SANTA CLAUSE 3 set

Production began on THE SANTA CLAUSE 3 in November 2005 at Downey Studios, where the unit would remain for the duration of the shoot. As temporary home to such skilled comedic actors as Tim Allen, Martin Short, Jay Thomas and Kevin Pollak, in addition to hundreds of children and sets that looked like something out of a Currier & Ives fantasy, the SANTA CLAUSE 3 set often felt like a giant holiday circus.

“It was a happy set,” says Elizabeth Mitchell. “The kids in their elf ears were just adorable. Tim and Marty were hilarious. It was really fun.”

Indeed, Allen and Short were the source of much of the high spirits and hilarity.

“Watching Martin and Tim work is kind of like watching one of those Japanese horror films, like King Kong meets Godzilla. They’re hilarious,” says Judge Reinhold. “It’s really hard to maintain a straight face when they’re working together. They go off the script right away. You have no idea where it’s going, but it’s always funny.”

Allen and Short starred alongside each other previously, in the 1997 comedy “Jungle 2 Jungle.” Remembering the offstage high-jinks that occurred on that production, Allen warned director Michael Lembeck that re-teaming him with Short was a recipe for non-stop silliness when the cameras stopped rolling.

“Our days were longer because we laughed so much,” confesses Lembeck, “but that’s a good reason to have a longer day.”

“Marty and I, together in costume, created some funny moments that are never going to be shown, believe me,” says Allen. “Like the banter between us when we screwed up – which happened a lot, because we’d be joking right up to the word ‘action.’

“We laughed so hard that eventually everyone got tired of us,” continues Allen with a smile. “We, of course, thought we were the funniest things on the planet.”

For his part, Short was a willing participant in the amusement. “What I love about Tim is the positive energy he brings to the set,” he says. “Tim is really there to have fun. I appreciate anyone who brings a sense of joy and play to his work, because that’s what it should be about.”

“Working with Tim is as delicious an experience as I can have as a professional,” echoes Michael Lembeck, who was an actor for 25 years before turning to directing. “He and I are always busting each other’s chops and taking really loving, fun shots at one another. Tim makes me laugh all day long, but making him laugh is such a joy for me, and it also seems to put him at ease. We have a wonderful working relationship.”

Another major presence on the set of THE SANTA CLAUSE 3 were Santa’s ubiquitous elves. This third instalment of the franchise featured more elves – 23 different kinds of North Pole helpers in all, from architect elves to yoga elves – than ever before.

Thousands of children from age six to twelve were seen at open calls to be cast as one of the North Pole elves. Director Michael Lembeck looked at 5,000 photos of young hopefuls, most of whom had never acted before.

“I wanted fresh faces that had a fresh, enthusiastic attitude,” says Lembeck, “just like a North Pole elf would.”

Lembeck narrowed the field down to 500 kids. A 20,000-square-foot warehouse space at Downey Studios was converted into a headquarters for these background players and their parents and was appropriately named “Elfland” by crew members.

The children and their parents would arrive in the wee hours of the morning to check in with one of the nine elf-wrangler production assistants, at which point they were directed to go to one of 40 elf hair and make-up stations, wardrobe, or school. Eight large classrooms and study halls were set up at Elfland, each named after one of Santa’s reindeer.

Just before going into hair and make-up, the elf extra picked up his or her elf ears from a 64-foot wall that displayed each child’s individually crafted pair in plastic baggies. Each pair took 15 minutes to apply. The hectic hair, make-up and wardrobe process had to run like clockwork so that all the children would be camera-ready in time for shooting. On some shooting days, nearly 300 children were transformed into North Pole elves at one time.

Once on set, the children had a skilled and compassionate leader in Michael Lembeck.

“I see Michael Lembeck as a conductor as much as I do a director, because the scenes are so involved, and there’s so much background,” says Judge Reinhold. “I’m very impressed with the way he dealt with the kids. He knows a lot of their names and keeps them loose.”

Some of the film’s stars had to endure their own – much lengthier – hair, make-up and wardrobe schedules. It took four hours to bring about Tim Allen’s Santa transformation, which involved the application of pre-moulded, soft foam-latex prosthetics. Once glued in place, the edges of the prosthetics were blended to match Allen’s adjacent skin tones. Then Santa’s beard, eyebrows and wig, all made from a combination of human and yak hair, were applied. Martin Short and Jay Thomas required nearly as much time to metamorphose into Jack Frost and Easter Bunny, respectively.