In 2001, Pat Casey graduated from Boston University — he wrote a Friday humor column for the Daily Free Press, lived on Bay State Road and shot a short feature film on campus. Now, he writes blockbuster movies for Universal Pictures and Paramount Pictures, two of the biggest movie studios in the country.
The screenwriter and his writing partner Josh Miller co-wrote “Violent Night,” Universal’s holiday film release which opens in theaters this Friday. The R-rated “Die Hard”-esque Christmas movie, directed by Tommy Wirkola, mixes violence with comedy and received a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes as of Nov. 30.
“It’s a hardcore action movie that’s also a heartwarming Christmas movie,” Casey said. “It’s the perfect Christmas action movie.”
David Harbour, well-known for playing Jim Hopper in “Stranger Things,” will star as Santa Claus. Casey said Harbour is perfect for the role.
“It’s really a fantastic performance because he can handle the comedy, drama, the action,” Casey said, “and he’s got that twinkle in his eye.”
Together, Miller and Casey wrote both of Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog” movies, the FOX animated show “Golan the Insatiable” and the horror-comedy film “Hey, Stop Stabbing Me!”
John Hall, a master lecturer in film and TV at BU, said “there’s nothing harder than making a movie,” especially large scale Hollywood projects.
“You have to work your way up the ladder,” Hall said. “You have to be a proven success with something beforehand.”
Miller said he and Casey met in detention in eighth grade and have been writing partners for about 20 years.
“We’ve transcended even really being friends, it’s more like we’re just brothers,” Miller said. “We’re nice Minnesotans…it’s not that we never disagree, it always feels like we’re on the same page for the end goal.”
In high school, the duo wrote a “Die Hard Santa” sketch on their public access TV show, “YRU-Up.” The idea of a Christmas-action movie about Santa Claus stuck with them ever since, Casey said, and they’ve talked about the possibility of making the movie multiple times before.
“It was so preposterous, we thought it was probably too stupid for any studio to ever want to make,” he said. “But once we finally told people about it, everyone laughed so hard we were like, ‘Oh, I guess it was exactly stupid enough.’”
They pitched “Violent Night” the same week “Sonic the Hedgehog” came out in 2020.
“We wanted to try and sell something just in case everybody hated ‘Sonic,’” Casey said. “We didn’t want to be stuck only doing family movies forever … we wanted to do something that’s rated R… to branch out and not get totally pigeonholed.”
Maggie Hook, a freshman in the College of Engineering, said the new movie is “an interesting turnaround” from “Sonic the Hedgehog,” which she describes as a “funny, family friendly movie.”
“Kids to rated R is a big jump,” Hook said. “You wouldn’t think the guy writing family friendly kids’ goofy cartoons is also writing rated R movies.”
Hall said he could see how a writer would move from a children’s comedy film to a more violent comedy film.
It took the pair only about five weeks to write the movie, which they started writing at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown.
“We’d written so fast,” Casey said. “We were basically punch drunk and we were like, ‘Is this good? I don’t know?’ But then, we got a really positive response from everybody. Everybody loved it.”
After the completion of the script, Casey and Miller went to the first few weeks of the film production in the “miserably cold” Winnipeg, Canada, Casey said.
Miller said the movie, which he said they joke is a “Christmas Miracle,” really came together how the pair hoped. On set, Miller said the shooting of a Santa fight scene in a barn was a “wow” moment.
“It’s sort of the proof of concept of just the idea of Santa, fighting a bunch of people, and using Christmas-y things as weapons,” Miller said. “That scene they pushed further than we’d even written it as far as the level of action and violence.”
For Hall, he said he’s wary of the idea of a violent Christmas movie.
“I’m not sure about the intersection right now of horror and Christmas…it isn’t for me,” Hall said. “If it has the right kind of hipness and a sense of the zeitgeist of the humor of the moment, it could work.”
In terms of entering the film industry, Casey said students should be “bold” with their ideas.
“If you’re young and fresh coming in, you gotta come out at them with something wild,” Casey said. “The key to success in show business in particular is to just be able to move on from a soul crushing disappointment and wake up the next day without a loss of enthusiasm…also just don’t don’t be a dick to people.”
The pair’s third “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie is “in the works” and will come out in 2 years, Casey said. But, he wants BU students to see “Violent Night” first with a big crowd, in a full theater.
“It’s going to be a great time, and everybody should go see it,” Casey said, “and if people are nervous about the violence, it is extremely violent, but also the violence is all in good fun.”