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Behind the scenes of Shenandoah University’s new film, ‘Santa Girl’

Students at the university played essential roles in every aspect of the creation of the full-length film, now available on Netflix.

on the film set of santa girl
Shenandoah University students filmed, edited and starred in Santa Girl alongside well-known Hollywood actors. (Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University)

This holiday season, Santa’s daughter is all grown up and heading to college. That’s the plot of Santa Girl, an independent, feature-length film created by Shenandoah University students during the 2017-2018 academic year, which was released in late August.

How did a holiday film with commercial appeal get made on a Virginia campus? Shenandoah University’s Mass Communications Department created Santa Girl through a partnership with Capital Arts Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based film and TV production, financing and distribution company. Students helped write and film Santa Girl, worked as cast and crew members and completed post-production editing. The movie was also shot entirely on Shenandoah’s main campus and in the surrounding Winchester area.

blayne weaver
Blayne Weaver, Shenandoah’s first director in residence. (Photo by Aaron Spicer)

The production was led by Blayne Weaver, Shenandoah’s first director in residence (whose resume boasts writing eight produced feature films and directing award-winning movies), and producer Paul DiFranco. “I was very nervous that this job was just going to be me isolated on an island,” Weaver says. “Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case at all. There’s a great support system here. The students were very talented and motivated.”

mckayla witt and jennifer stone
McKayla Witt (left) and Jennifer Stone (right) starred in Shenandoah University’s newest full-length production. (Photos courtesy of Shenandoah University)

Santa Girl follows Cassie Claus, Santa Claus’ only daughter, played by Jennifer Stone and Barry Bostwick, respectively. Cassie wants to go off to college to experience the “real world,” before she has to marry the son of Jack Frost (who she’s never met) and take over the family business. It may be a Christmas tale with a classic love triangle thrown in, but it isn’t your typical holiday film you’d find on the Hallmark channel. In fact, Weaver did his best to not let the movie become that prototype. “I think Santa Girl really benefited from the fact that I don’t normally like these kinds of movies. The challenge was making a family-friendly holiday film that my mom will like, but one I will like too.”

And for those who aren’t huge fans of watching romance and love triangles on the big screen, Weaver found a solution to that too. “It’s about the things that I think are funny,” he says. “I love the character Pep, Cassie’s elf. She was played by McKayla Witt, who was 17 during filming, who is incredibly funny. My direction to her repeatedly was, ‘Just say this like a 40-year-old man and it’ll be funny because you’re not a 40-year-old man.’”

Although Santa Girl premiered over the summer in select theaters, Northern Virginians can still watch the film on the big screen on Dec. 4, for a special viewing event at Alamo Drafthouse’s Winchester location, with a portion of ticket sales benefiting Toys for Tots. The movie is currently available on Netflix, Vimeo, iTunes, Amazon and on DVD.

Fans of Santa Girl should keep their eyes peeled for more Shenandoah University-made feature films in the near future. “Right now, we’re on post-production for a horror film called Getaway,” Weaver says. “It’s important to me to show that we can do all kinds of things in this program.”

This post originally appeared in our December 2019 issue. For more local happenings, subscribe to our weekly newsletters, here

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