Director Reginald Hudlin has a storied career. From the hip-hop-infused beats of the 90s hit House Party to the soul-stirring drama of Django Unchained, Hudlin’s directorial vision and producing prowess have been responsible for some of the most iconic films of our time. (Literally! Last year, the Library of Congress included House Party for preservation on the National Film Registry.) Hudlin has had a hand in some incredible hits (including this author’s personal favorites, Psych episodes “Ferry Tale,” and “True Grits”) that have made an indelible mark on modern comedy and overall culture.
Earlier this week, we sat down over Zoom with Reginald Hudlin to talk about his new film on Prime Video, Candy Cane Lane, starring Eddie Murphy. It’s a Christmas film with a ton of laughs. We were so excited to find out how he brought this explosion of Christmas cheer to life.
The interview with director Reginald Hudlin
[Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]
Ayla Ruby: Hi, it’s lovely to meet you.
Reginald Hudlin: Great to meet you, Ayla.
Ayla Ruby: So first of all, I loved the film. It was so cute. And I think it’s one of my… I’ve been in Christmas mode, so it’s one of my favorites.
Reginald Hudlin: That’s great to hear. Thank you so much.
Ayla Ruby: Can you talk about how you got onto the project?
Reginald Hudlin: Sure. I was meeting with Amazon. We were having a general meeting about working together, and I said how much I love Christmas movies and I want to do one. They said, “Well, we have a Christmas movie and Eddie Murphy wants to do it.” And I said, “Well, I’ve been wanting to work with Eddie again for a while. We haven’t found the right project to team up on.” I read the script. I said, “Oh, this is a no-brainer. Let’s get to work on Monday.”
Ayla Ruby: Oh, that’s so fun. I think it’s been like what, 31 years since Boomerang?
Reginald Hudlin: Yeah. It’s crazy, right?
Ayla Ruby: Oh my goodness. Okay. Can you talk about, what was it like working with him after all that time? You kept in touch, there’s this friendly relationship.
Reginald Hudlin: Yeah. We wanted to find something and this came together perfectly. It was easier because we had worked together. I knew his rhythms. I knew how to best create a creative environment where he can do his best work, surround him with really great actors, do some different things that he had never done in movies before so it felt exciting and original for him. And he had a good time and we all had a great time.
Ayla Ruby: You mentioned that you had wanted to do a Christmas movie and it worked out that way. What were your first reactions on reading the script? How you know that this was the one, this was what you wanted your Christmas movie to be?
Reginald Hudlin: Well, a couple of things. One was, it starts off as one movie and you go, “Oh, that’s going to be cool.” Then it takes a hard left there and you go, “Whoa, this is a whole other movie.” And then in the third act, it has that amazing twist. You’re like, “Oh my God, I did not see that coming.” And if you can evoke those feelings in me and be funny and relatable, then that’s it. Then I’m in.
On working on The Volume for Candy Cane Lane
Ayla Ruby: I mean, this is such a cute movie. I read – I think, or maybe I listened to an interview – somebody talked about working on The Volume for this, too. I think for the Kringle’s. I would really love to hear more about that because that seems really different.
Reginald Hudlin: Yeah, it is really different, and it’s great. I loved working on The Volume. We used it on two different sequences. One is, as you said, Kringle’s, which the idea is once you get inside the building, it’s much bigger than it appears on the outside.
And working in The Volume we built a set, but then we were able to extend the set so it felt even bigger than it was. And then, a lot of the driving scenes. Which, I gotta say, dragging a car down the road and a walkie-talkie that’s not so much fun. Doing it on The Volume was a lot more fun.
Reginald Hudlin on the challenges of making the movie
Ayla Ruby: So the car thing, not having to drive the car, but this movie had… it seemed like there’s a lot of challenging stuff in it. There was… A lot of it was at night, for the pretty Christmas lights and just all of that. Can you talk about that?
Reginald Hudlin: Yeah, working at night is hard because you can’t just run and gun. In the daytime there’s the sun, so you get a lot of help there. Lighting takes longer; it’s night, so you’re literally sleepy. And even though we were in Southern California, it was shockingly cold.
Ayla Ruby: Really?
Reginald Hudlin: I guess if you stand outside for 12 hours, you get cold. So it was a lot of challenges there. But it’s beautiful because you have all these great Christmas lights around you, and then you have a marching band, and then you’ve got dancers and all this other stuff. So it balances out, and you end up having fun, even when it’s a little tough.
Ayla Ruby: Was there anything that was your favorite to bring to life, whether it be the houses or just any sequence in the film? What did you love, besides all of it?
Reginald Hudlin: Yeah. Well, that’s the thing. My role, because we had so many ideas, I said, “Only the ideas that I love make it into the movie.” If I didn’t love it, we cut it out. So, working in the houses was so much fun and all the great decor of the production design department did.
At the same time, when the special effects would come in and I’d go, “Oh my God, they’re alive. The little people are alive.” That was so much fun. And working with ILM, the people who brought you Star Wars and Jurassic Park, we had a great time working together.
On innovating a Reindeer System for Candy Cane Lane
Ayla Ruby: Okay, so I’m glad you mentioned the little people because how do you direct that? Are they models or props? How does that work?
Reginald Hudlin: Yeah, when I showed this movie, I said, “Look, I just want to use existing technology. I don’t want to invent anything.” But we ended up inventing something anyway.
Ayla Ruby: Really?
Reginald Hudlin: Which is, we did this thing that’s called the Reindeer System. You have all these different people who are standing around in different directions, and I said, “Look, I want to shoot both sides of the scene at the same time because I want the actors to be able to improv the same way they would if they were actually here.” You don’t have great comedians and tell them you got to stick to the script.
We had this light system so the real-life action actors would know where to look where the little people would be. We got to shoot it all at once and we got to improvise and then really have fun together. And it was really cool. I think that’s one of the reasons why the scenes with those guys worked so well.
Ayla Ruby: And they really, really pop.
Ayla Ruby: So the script obviously says one thing, but when you’re in the story things change a little bit things come alive. Was there anything not in the script that was in the movie that felt, “Okay, this needs to be here”?
Reginald Hudlin: There were so many things like that. There’s no way to even list how many there were.
Ayla Ruby: Do you have a favorite?
Reginald Hudlin: We had the writer [Kelly Younger] on set and I mean, the thing is, when you work-
Favorite? Oh my God, who knows? We were just making stuff up all the time. Again, the writer’s there, so we were like, “Hey, what if we do this? What if we do that?” And so we would just be having these jam sessions all the time.
And look, we didn’t rehearse, for example, when Eddie faces down the Lord Leaping and you’re the track mate. We were just making it up one step at a time, and it was just watching Eddie doing his magic where he’s just so much comic invention. We just had so much fun.
Candy Cane Lane as the antidote to real-life tension
Ayla Ruby: Is there anything that you really want folks to know about this movie and any takeaways?
Reginald Hudlin: Well, look, one of the nicest things people have said after they’ve seen the movie, and then you go, “Woo, we needed this movie right now.” It’s been a crazy year for a lot of people and there’s a lot of tension in our country and in the world. And our movie’s kind of like the antidote, right? It’s just like, hey, this is a movie that spreads Christmas vibes and makes people feel good.
Ayla Ruby: Oh, that’s a wonderful note to end it all on. Thank you so much. It was lovely chatting.
Reginald Hudlin: Thank you. Take care, Ayla.
Ayla Ruby: You too. Happy holidays. Bye.
How to watch Candy Cane Lane
Candy Cane Lane will be available on Prime Video starting on December 1st. While you’re waiting to check it out, read the review of the movie by Brian Kitson.