by Edwin L. Carpenter – Associate Editor, The Dove Foundation
William Laufer wrote, directed, acted in, and co-produced, “Christmas at Maxwell’s” with his daughter Tiffany, and they spoke recently with The Dove Foundation about the film, which will first be placed in a limited number of theaters before hitting the DVD market.
We kicked off the interview by asking William, who goes by “Bill,” about his background. “I’m sort of an odd character,” he chuckled. “I have a theater and economics background. I have an MBA and a CPA. Basically up until the age of twenty three I spent in the theater. I started as an actor at age eight. All through college I was a writer and I was a director. I did summer stock. I directed summer stock theater and was actually the director and producer. I really, in a crazy way, am sort of making a 360 coming back to where I was when I started out in life.” Laufer’s family was involved in the manufacturing business which is why he earned his CPA. He believes this has helped him as he pointed out, “When you think of the movie business, there is both the creative and the business side.”
The film, “Christmas at Maxwell’s,” is about the Austin family and their struggles with the possible loss of the mother of the home, Suzie, due to cancer. They search for a miracle as Suzie’s health worsens and the plot escalates to a surprising climax at the point of death. The film has been recommended by The Dove Foundation for ages twelve and above due to the seriousness of the theme, and many families will enjoy this Christmas escape although it is based in the harsh realities we all sometimes face.
We wanted to know what inspired the writing of the screenplay for this story and asked if it was based on a specific event. “Well, you know there really is,” he replied. “There are two sides of it. The positive side is that when I was growing up, my mother had cancer. In the old days they would say, ‘Oh well, they have so many days to live.’ In our case my mother was finally diagnosed with cancer and they said that she had six weeks to live. So we all came home—I mean it’s a strange thing. You all sit around and you look at each other and you think, ‘Well, Mom’s going to die in six weeks. So what should we do today? Should we go to a movie?’ It was just overwhelming and my mother could see that it was having a significantly traumatic effect on the family.”
“So she said, ‘You know, we’re not going to live our lives this way. The Lord gives life, the Lord takes life away. And if in fact the Lord wants to take me He’s going to take me, whether it’s today or whenever. But I’m not going to sit on that. We’re going to live our lives and live our lives to the fullest. And the Lord will take me when He does.’ That sort of broke the ice a bit. We started to go on and after a couple of weeks we started to think less about it and talk less about it. And finally, months had passed by and she hadn’t died and then it was all of a sudden, ‘Well, Mom’s still here.’ We didn’t say that because we were a good Catholic family! Time finally passed and it worked out that my mother went into remission for sixteen years! And finally after about sixteen years the cancer came back.” He spoke reverently of his mother and said, “Finally she died on August 8, 1985. She was a good person and she gave us the lesson of faith.” He went on to say that he has worked with the American Cancer Society and their message is one of hope, and that a diagnosis of cancer does not necessarily mean it’s over, despite its devastating effect on many lives. He emphasized that many, many people have overcome cancer. This is why Laufer believes the negative news of his mother’s cancer had a silver lining in it as she bounced back to live several more years, and so the negative became a positive.
Laufer related another story of a friend who was told she had a tumor but a second X-Ray sometime later revealed it was gone and he believes it was a miracle. He believes his film “is a spiritual movie. It happens to be about Catholics but you know our Jewish friends have come to us.”
There were challenges in making the film, according to Bill and his daughter Tiffany. They shot some scenes during the winter at the Maxwell Hospitality House, a registered historical site in Ohio. Laufer said that they had to, as an independent film company, actually shoot in the winter for the winter scenes they needed! They could not fake it. They were hit with a storm and one morning faced three inches of ice to start the day. Yet they had no serious problems filming that week!
“Nothing was broken in the house,” added Laufer’s daughter, Tiffany. “The crew and everybody took care of the location we were in. Everyone worked very well together.”
They worked at one location in which “we were the only people there!” laughed Tiffany. At another set they started shooting on a Saturday and the minute the cameras went on some guys above started ripping up the floor in a beauty salon! “It was incredible,” said Bill. However, as if by divine providence, they went next door to a restaurant and the proprietor allowed them to film in an unused area.
Tiffany Laufer served as both the co-producer and cinematographer of the film, and this opportunity occurred just as she graduated from film school. “Here I was just graduating thinking, ‘I know so much,’ and I show up and definitely now that we’re producing this, and we’re seeing the entire project through to the end, I’ve learned so much about business and I wish I had my CPA degree!”
One of Bill Laufer’s favorite scenes is near the end when the “spinning” scene takes place. “Is she dying?” asked Bill rhetorically, speaking of the character of Suzie. “Is her spirit leaving her body?” Tiffany said she sometimes second-guessed her father but this scene “drew the audience in.” She added that she and her father are “a tag team,” and enjoy working together. Tiffany teaches high school filmmaking and enjoyed the DP (Director of Photography) position on the film and is currently doing some writing. She and Bill said they are in various stages of working on seven different projects.
As we concluded the interview, Bill said the film “Christmas at Maxwell’s” will be out on DVD by the end of the year, in time for Christmas. When asked what the greatest reward has been in working on this film, he said, “When people have said to me, ‘What you’re doing is a wonderful thing. People want this guidance.’” And he and Tiffany both stated how much they enjoyed working together. We at Dove get the impression that they will be a “tag team” for some time to come.