This week, a tweet about the 2004 Christmas movies Too Cool For Christmas and A Very Cool Christmas started going viral after people discovered the films were the same exact story, but one version featured a same-sex couple and the other version featured a straight couple.
The tweets were a pleasant surprise to the director of the films Sam Irvin, who told BuzzFeed News he was happy to see audiences talking about them all these years later.
Irvin, a 61-year-old veteran director, said the nearly identical films about a teenage girl who wants to go skiing with her friends on Christmas instead of spending the holiday with her family were created in tandem because “it was hard to get financing for those types of films.”
“Back in those days, there was a little bit less open-mindedness to having gay characters,” Irvin, who’s based in Los Angeles, said. “[Filmmakers thought] they would have better chances of selling [the straight version] to those more lucrative markets, but also be able to do an alternate version.”
Earlier this week, Twitter users tweeted side-by-side videos of the two movies, which aired 15 years ago. They highlighted their different but similar film covers. One Twitter user also shared a screenshot of a description of the films, which reads: “Other than the gender of the actor that plays the other parent, the two versions of the film are virtually identical with identical lines being delivered by both the actors and the actress and the exact same camera shots being used for their scenes in both versions...one for the more tolerant Canadian audience and the other one for the presumably more conservative US audience at the time.”
But according to Irvin, the filmmakers didn’t create two versions of the same film for different audiences in Canada and the US. The director said in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he worked closely with Here TV, an American television network for LGBTQ audiences, on original content and projects. According to Irvin, Here TV didn’t have the funding to finance an entire TV movie in the same way a channel like Lifetime could because their “subscriber base was still in its infancy.” So they created two versions of the movie to help make the project financially feasible.
“The executives at these companies decided, if we could have some gay content in a movie that could run on Here TV that would satisfy our subscribers that are expecting gay content, but we could also repurpose it and do a quote-unquote straight version and try to sell that to Lifetime or those types of networks, that would be beneficial,” he said.
Both movies were filmed at the same time, back-to-back on the same set. “On these lower-budget films, we don't always do a whole lot of takes, and we're moving on pretty quickly because it’s such a tight schedule,” Irvin said. Actor Barclay Hope played the main character Lindsay’s (Brooke Nevin) dad in both movies. While filming scenes, they would swap out Ingrid Torrance, who played Lindsay’s mom in one version, and Adam J. Harrington, who played Lindsay’s other dad in the second version.
“We would shoot a scene with the mom and the dad, and when we’d get a good take I would say, ‘Okay, let's have the mom set aside and bring in the alternate dad’ and we’d shoot another take,” Irvin said.
The director said he was approached by the producers to change some of the dialogue between the two dads so that it differed from the dialogue in the movie between the mom and the dad, but he pushed back. Irvin said he wanted “everything exactly the same” in both films.
“I'm an openly gay director and they said, ‘Why don't you tweak the dialogue for the dads to make it more gay or whatever?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely not. The whole point would be that there is no difference at all, and it shouldn’t matter.’ I wouldn’t do it.”
As planned, Too Cool For Christmas ended up airing on Here TV and A Very Cool Christmas was sold to Lifetime. Now, the movies are streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, respectively.
Some people have been critical of the fact that the two films mirror each other in every way except for the parents. However, Irvin said back in 2004, the entertainment landscape wasn’t favorable to LGBTQ representation. Simultaneously making both movies “was a way to sort of help guarantee that the movie would get sold in those markets,” Irvin said.
“It’s such a highly competitive market place and some of the channels like Lifetime and Hallmark were not open to it back then. Hallmark even now is still fairly conservative and a bit formulaic,” Irvin said.
“We just felt that, let's not try to change the world when we're just trying to sell some films. What we're really trying to do is to finance movies that can be exclusive to the gay network and the surest way to get that revenue source to get the gay movie made was to also make a project that doesn't color too far outside the lines and fits very much into the formula that worked in the past.”
While he was disappointed at the state of the entertainment industry and the rest of the world’s lack of acceptance at the time, Irvin said he was focused on the fact that he was able to make a Christmas movie featuring an LGBTQ couple for a gay network.
“As a gay man, I'm always frustrated that the world and society isn't more evolved in being accepting of this,” Irvin said. “But I was really jazzed that we were getting the opportunity to make a movie with two gay dads, and that was exciting that there could be another project that I could work on that would have LGBTQ representation.”
The two-for-one movie format didn’t seem to catch on and wasn’t a regular occurrence in Irvin’s career. However, Too Cool For Christmas/A Very Cool Christmas was deemed successful enough that he went on to direct one more similar project: Deadly Skies and Force of Impact, asteroid thrillers which aired on television in 2006.
Irvin said he loves that the movies have been rediscovered now in light of streaming and the internet, despite some of the negative comments. He said when the movies came out in 2004 “there was no social media and there wasn’t a really big way of discussing it.” As amused as he is at the conversations sparked by the rediscovered films, Irvin acknowledged how far the entertainment industry has come in the past 15 years. He hopes there will be even more progress in the future.
“I hope that things are evolving where LGBTQ characters are being represented fully,” Irvin said. “There's always more work to be done and I'm hopeful that will continue and that we’ll look back at these movies as kind of archaic workarounds.”