The answer is that you need an amazing team behind you, and an extremely supportive family!
I was asked if I could join a zoom call with Chris Jones and Bob Schultz from the LSF in the second week in November. Having bumped into Bob a few times on the Sunday Writers Café zoom calls, he knew that I had not shaved since the beginning of lockdown, so I had an inkling about what they wanted to discuss.
It turned out to be a very quick call as I showed up in my red sweatshirt with a Christmas background and the conversation went something like:
“Ah, I think you anticipated my question. Will you help the LSF this Christmas and be Santa?”
“OK, details to follow!”
And that was the start of all the fun!
Within days, the Christmas Bedtime Story Book was under way, with calls going out to writers around the world for their best 500-word or less bedtime tale, with a deadline of just ten days!
The call was answered by 230 writers and then the selection team had just two days to read them all and choose the winning 25 stories. Announcements, contracts, edits, everything happening at lightning speed.
The deadline day for the story entries was also the test day for the live calls to Santa’s grotto. Chris had sent a Santa suit and a backdrop and some lights to help set the scene, and I had transformed a corner of our living room into a cosy place to meet Santa by using most of our normal decorations in just that one corner.
The tests went very well, with lessons learned but happy kids and parents.
More decorations, better lighting, and lots of practice.
The next task, and biggest so far, was to record all twenty-five stories so that they could be transmitted on the Santa Calls website and Facebook page, one a day all the way up to Christmas.
For those that are interested, let me turn a bit techy here… I filmed with a Canon 7D, 18-135mm lens and a remote monitor so that I could see what the camera was seeing. I used an HT-81A shotgun mic plugged into a Han Zoom H4n audio recorder for the sound. I had two Lume Cube lights fitted with diffusers for key lighting and a standard lamp with a low wattage bulb to create a nice warm feeling to the lighting.
With remote direction from Chris, using a second camera pointed at my monitor so he could see what was happening, and comms handled by the amazing Savannah Morgan, I got the first couple in the bag and sent them to Chris to add the magic and sparkle.
More lessons learned, mainly about sound quality and framing, but then I pushed through the stories at between 6 and 8 per session. That’s all my voice could manage. Some stories I nailed on the first take. Some had such tongue twisters in that I needed four or five – and lots of water.
The part where my family’s support came in was that I was completely commandeering the living room. Furniture pushed around, camera gear everywhere and hours of quiet required. It’s amazing how clearly you can hear a washing machine running in another part of the house when you’re trying to record a voice!
Between each session I had to pack everything away (apart from the tree and backdrop) so that we could continue to use the room.
Well, all the stories are done and the first few have been released, with lovely comments from those watching, so the effort has been well worth it.
We are gearing up for the live calls now and there’s still time for you to book if you go to https://www.santacalls.online/booking and you can buy the book of stories on Amazon.
It has been an amazing experience so far, and I’m looking forward to bringing a little Christmas magic to all the boys and girls (and non-binaries!) I will meet online over the next few weeks.
So, a Merry Christmas to you all and a big Ho! Ho! Ho! to all the team at the LSF for bringing us such a wonderful way to fill our lives with something magical in these strange times.
See you soon,
Santa (aka Michael van Koetsveld)