This holiday season is nothing but magical and bright for LMU English Professor and Hollywood screenwriter Kelly Younger ’94. He wrote “Candy Cane Lane,” released on Amazon Prime Video earlier this December. The film stars Eddie Murphy as Chris Carver, a husband and father who strikes a deal with a villainous elf (Jillian Bell) to win his neighborhood’s annual Christmas decorating contest. This deal brings consequences—including bringing the 12 Days of Christmas to life.
LMU School of Film and Television brought “Candy Cane Lane” to life on the big screen with an advanced screening in Mayer Theater. Screenwriting Professor Weiko Lin moderated a Q&A with special guests including Younger, Reginald Hudlin (the film’s director), and Amber Rasberry (Senior Creative Executive at Amazon Studios). One lucky student in attendance won a ticket to the film’s premiere: I was that lucky student. Attending the premiere as a film and television production major was an incredible experience and the perfect way to ring in the holiday season.
Younger took a moment to talk with me about the inspiration behind “Candy Cane Lane,” reflect on the film’s meaning, and share his advice for LMU undergraduates and the next generation of storytellers.
What inspired you to write “Candy Cane Lane”?
I wrote it during lockdown. I was looking for some joy. I’ve always wanted to write a Christmas movie. I knew that when I did, I would set it on Candy Cane Lane, or it would have some connection to Southern California. My parents moved to El Segundo many years ago, and their house is at the top of the street that leads into Candy Cane Lane. Our tradition every year is to go to Candy Cane Lane. My father has always had a wood shop in his garage. Every year for Christmas, he designs big characters out of wood, carves everything, and puts them all up in the front yard. That’s sort of the spirit of the street. My inspiration was about this part of El Segundo that really goes all out for the holidays in a very unique, Southern California kind of way. I also knew that I wanted to write a movie that was connected to a Christmas carol. I got a little bit obsessed with “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” because it’s such a weird song. I knew that there was an opportunity to bring those characters to life: the lords a-leaping, the maids a-milking, the drummers drumming, the pipers piping. There was a lot of potential there. When I figured out that the verses repeat, I thought that would be a fun twist. That’s when I put the idea together of a dad who just needed a win in his life. I think we all feel that way sometimes, like “I just need a win.” That’s what I wanted the premise to be.
Eddie Murphy’s character, Chris, has all of these wood carvings. Were those inspired by the carvings your dad made?
The production design team came to my dad’s house. They took a lot of pictures of his garage. The Christmas village with the mountains in the background and the train set was inspired by the mini Christmas village that my dad had built in his garage years ago. They not only took inspiration, but they took some of my dad’s actual pieces and put them in the movie. In the scene where Tracee Ellis Ross’ character, Carol, is stapling all of the 12 Days of Christmas characters to the board, you can see some really large chess pieces there on the workbench. Those are actually the ones that my dad hand carved. I got them returned to me after production and now they’re back on my shelf.
What was the process of bringing “Candy Cane Lane” to life on screen?
It is extremely rare for a studio to take a risk on an original screenplay. I wrote this by myself, not knowing if anything would come of it. I decided to swing for the fences. In order to break through, I tried to do something really different. I wanted there to be a lot of comedy, a lot of heart, but also there are car chases, acrobatic battles, some jump scares, lots of music. I’m very lucky that the studio, as well as our incredible producers at Imagine Entertainment, fell in love with it and loved it as much as I did.
My agents sent the script all around town. There were many producers interested in it, but when I met with Karen Lunder (President of Imagine Features), I knew that it was the right fit. All she wanted to do was talk about how much the holidays meant to her and her family. That’s when I knew that this was a really great partnership because that’s kind of all I wanted to talk about as well. Imagine had a relationship with Eddie Murphy, and they sent him the script. It turns out he had been looking for a Christmas movie for years. When he read the script, he immediately decided he wanted to do it. Once he got on board, the cast started to assemble, and the studio put it together very quickly. Sometimes a movie can be in development for years. They greenlit the project and the entire project from the first day of filming to the end of post-production took just under nine months. It’s unheard of how fast it was. I feel very, very lucky.
What do you hope viewers take away from the movie?
My hope is that this movie entertains and that it brings joy. There’s a scene where Eddie is driving through El Segundo and passes a mural and the mural says, “comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s a quotation from Teddy Roosevelt, and I had that quotation written down on a post-it note months before I even came up with the idea for the movie. I love being reminded that when you compare, you despair. I wanted this to be a theme throughout the movie. Our main character needed to be reminded that when you compare yourself to others, it’s very easy to lose your joy. My hope is that everybody who watches this movie will come away feeling a larger sense of joy. I think that’s what the world needs now more than ever.
What was it like to screen “Candy Cane Lane” at LMU?
It was so wonderful and meaningful to me. I’m an LMU alum. My wife is an LMU alum. My wife and I got married at LMU in Sacred Heart Chapel. Our children went to the LMU Children’s Center, they learned to ride their bikes there. LMU is a really big part of our lives. It was incredibly meaningful for me to not only share the film with LMU, but to have the “Candy Cane Lane” team see our campus and to meet some of our faculty and especially our students. They were so impressed with everybody and everything. I’m really happy that this movie is also bringing even more recognition to LMU.
How does your screenwriting and entertainment industry experience come into play when you’re teaching LMU students?
I am open and candid with my students about the ups and downs of the industry: the challenges, the rewards, the need for resilience. Because of my professional experience, I’m able to bring lots of writers, producers, agents, and actors to talk to my classes and meet with my students. I connect my students and do my best to help them get internships and jobs. I feel very proud that I can work both in Hollywood and also at LMU, because I want nothing more than to help the next generation of writers and artists find their way. It also allows me to share my experience with my students. For example, my students know all about “Candy Cane Lane.” I’ve been able to bring some of them to set while we were filming. I’ve been able to share some of the script pages with them so they could see what does and doesn’t make it into the movie. My background is in literature and storytelling, and it gives me great joy to work in particular with English majors. There is that cliche about the English major always getting asked, “well what are you going to do with that?” My advice to English majors is always respond “wait and see.” I deeply believe that a liberal arts education prepares you for anything and everything. I love that all of the attention, because of the movie, is also reflecting back on LMU, and in particular the LMU community.
If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
It’s a baseball metaphor. Don’t be afraid to swing for the fences. You might miss, but you might just get on base. And that’s better than not taking a swing at all.
“Candy Cane Lane” is now streaming on Prime Video. Connect with Kelly on Instagram @kellytheyounger.