They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Screenwriter Kevin Jakubowski certainly ascribes to that theory with his much-heralded 2021 film “8-Bit Christmas,” which draws heavily upon the framework of the 1983 classic “A Christmas Story.” Primarily set in the late 1980s, the HBO Max original sees Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris) returning to his childhood home for the holidays, where he recounts the story of one particularly memorable Christmas past to his daughter, Annie (Sophia Reid-Gantzert). Except instead of an official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model air rifle, the object of young Jake’s (Winslow Fegley) desire is an original Nintendo video game console or, as he describes it, “a maze of rubber wiring and electronic intelligence so advanced it was deemed not a video game but an 8-bit entertainment system” encased in “grey plastic glory.” Retro timeline and historical pop culture references notwithstanding, the tale is entirely universal as Jake discovers throughout the hustle and bustle of the season that family is far more priceless than any gift.
Shortly after the film’s debut last November, Jakubowski spoke with the “Geekscape” podcast about his regard for “A Christmas Story” screenwriter Jean Shepherd, espousing, “He was just able to, in a way that I think few other writers have, capture youth and adolescence from an adult perspective that can be really sarcastic and funny but also, you know, heartwarming.” His words may as well be describing “8-Bit Christmas.” Nostalgic through and through, the delightful film tugs at all the right heartstrings.
Although it secured a highly-coveted spot on The Black List in 2019, the story had a lengthy, staggered journey to the screen. Feeling a lack of decent holiday offerings since “Elf,” “Love Actually” and “Bad Santa” were released in 2003, Jakubowski set out to make what he hoped would become a “modern Christmas classic,” as he expressed to the “Christmas 365” podcast. Because original screenplays aren’t the easiest to greenlight, he instead chose to first write “8-Bit Christmas” as a novel, which hit the shelves in 2013. Loosely based upon a short story he penned in college, the book quickly found an audience. It wasn’t until 2018, though, that Kevin was approached by producers Jonathan Sadowski and Nick Nantell to turn the tome into a screenplay. It sold to Warner Bros. soon after and was set to go into production in March 2020, but was derailed almost a full year by Covid. Filming finally commenced in February 2021 and the rest is history, with the flick becoming the “number one direct to HBO Max movie of all time,” per “Christmas 365.”
Set in the Chicago suburb of Batavia, Ill. (where Jakubowski grew up), “8-Bit Christmas” was shot in its entirety in Toronto, Ontario and its environs. Captured throughout the winter, the city provided the filmmakers with a picturesque, naturally wintry backdrop. As director Michael Dowse stated on Facebook, “Day one of shooting, we were blessed with a foot and a half of snow.”
A few area spots featured include Woodbine Mall and Fantasy Fair in the suburb of Etobicoke, where the Doyles engage in some holiday shopping and where Jake and his friends later hatch an elaborate scheme to procure an NES. The front of the Doyle family’s idyllic home can be found at 24 William St. in Weston. Interestingly though, scenes involving the backyard, where Jake is constantly picking up after the family dog, were lensed a good 16 miles away on the grounds of a charming Colonial located at 1286 Kane Rd. in Mississauga.