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Behind the Scenes of 'Elf' with Jon Favreau

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Elf movie

Director Jon Favreau on the set of "Elf."

New Line Cinema
Were you in awe of Bob Newhart?
Yes. It was really exciting to have Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, [and] Jimmy Caan. These were all icons that I grew up watching, so it was very exciting to come to the set. But more so it's exciting when I watch the movie and I see Bob Newhart opening it up, and everybody chuckles as they recognize that the guy in the elf suit is Bob Newhart. And there he is narrating the movie with his dry delivery. It really adds a certain authenticity and nostalgia to the movie that it really needs.

How long did it take to do all the Christmas decorations?
Rusty Smith, my production designer, had his art department working for days on end. The whole idea is that Buddy loves decorating, and he's a very fast worker because he was raised by elves working in the workshop. But he didn't really have any materials to work with so he would use cotton balls, CDs, silverware, and cut up typewriter paper. We had all of our art department making hand-made Christmas decorations so that it filled up the apartment.

Was the Lego City real?
Yes, they built that. You could only do one take of the Lego City getting broken up, but I got the idea because I was like, "Okay, he's in a toy store. What's he building?" And I wanted to use all the old-school toys. I wanted to use the Light Brite and Barbie Dolls and Etch-a-Sketches and that type of stuff. I wanted the film to feel like it could've been something that was done when I was a kid. The North Pole certainly felt that way and I wanted to limit the toys there to pretty much that. I threw in a couple of things like Elmo and Bob the Builder. I had to. I mean, I have kids. I understand the significance of those guys, but beyond that, I wanted to make it feel like a movie that could've been from the '70s as far as the cultural references go. And so I had the idea late in the day of, "Hey, why doesn't he build a Lego skyline?" And Rusty Smith, my production designer, God bless him, he was like, "Okay." Then day and night, they were building the skyline, and there it was.

Could the story have been set anywhere else but NY?
No, it couldn't. I mean, this is a New York movie and especially after the events of the last couple years, I really thought it was important to set it here and to shoot it here and to not fake another city for the streets of New York. What New York’s like now is different from what it was like when I was growing up. There is a sadness to it based on what it’s had to endure over the last few years. I think that that really serves the movie. Will Ferrell does comedy and brightens up people who are kind of gloomy and cynical. New York is the most magical place that I've ever been around at Christmas time. It was really nice to be able to shoot here and capture that and incorporate the people in the city, and give it a real genuine texture.

How important is it for kids to believe in Santa?
I don't know that they need to believe in Santa, but it certainly is nice to believe in the spirit of Christmas. And certainly in the values that Buddy espouses and how innocence and enthusiasm and perseverance could bring people together and make people change. You can change somebody who's cynical. Innocence will always win out and life always wins out over darkness, light over darkness and death and cynicism. [It] shows how powerful Buddy is. Even though he's an incredibly flawed, naïve character, he sort of turns everybody else around. That's sort of the message of “Rudy,” also. I looked at that film a lot and thought about that as I went into this one.

Any plans for the DVD?
There are a lot of scenes that were cut out, especially in the North Pole, to help the movie move faster. There's a lot of that in there. Something that I was really proud of that we did on this is we did a film school for kids. The DVD crew would go around and interview everybody on the set and ask them what job they did and to explain it so a kid could understand it. I also went and explained the way special effects work, how you work with actors, and what everybody's job is. I thought that was really unique. I'd never seen anything like that, and I think it's a good companion piece to this movie because there are a lot of kids that just don't even understand.

Will there be a gag reel?
There wasn't really a gag reel, surprisingly. It wasn't that kind of movie. Everybody was really professional so everybody stayed in [character]. People didn't blow takes. There are a couple times where a kid would chuckle when Will was burping in his face, but beyond that, most of the funny stuff was actually when the cameras were rolling.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
Interviews with Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, and Bob Newhart

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