EXCLUSIVE: Jeni Ross And Jason F. Wright Talk Christmas Jars, A Possible Movie Sequel, & More
Imagine finding a glass Christmas jar on your doorstep. As you pick it up, you notice that it’s addressed to you and filled with cash and coins. There’s no note to tell you who it’s from, but as you go inside to open it up and count the money, you realize that it’s the exact amount that you need to buy those groceries you couldn’t afford. Or maybe it’s just enough to cover the rent that you’ve been stressed out about all week.
It sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? But believe it or not, stories like this one are quite real, and it’s all thanks to Jason F. Wright’s best-selling book, Christmas Jars, which not only sparked a huge movement, but has also been made into a new holiday movie starring Jeni Ross.
It all began with Jason’s family, who gifted their first jar to a family in need as an act of charity. The experience was so life-changing that it inspired Jason to write a fictional story, which centers on a reporter named Hope, in 2005. Now, over 14 years later, Fathom Events and BYUtv has partnered with Muse Entertainment to present the highly-anticipated film adaptation, which will be hitting theaters on November 4.
Mommyish was lucky enough to chat with the author and actress about the new holiday film, the impact of the Christmas Jars movement, and the possibility of a film sequel.
To start off, can you share what Christmas Jars is about?
Jason: “The book is about a young girl who is born to a single mom and who knows she cannot raise her, and so she leaves her in a diner. She leaves a note and the baby in a car seat in the diner. She’s discovered by a waitress who’s working that night who says ‘well obviously I’m supposed to raise this kid,’ so she raises this little girl, gives her a really wonderful life, and pretty early on, Hope, the main character, decides she wants to be a journalist.”
“Early in the book, her adoptive mother gets sick and passes away. With no siblings, no aunts, no uncles, no family, she finds herself, a 20-something, on her own. Someone breaks into her place, ransacks her apartment and that night, she discovers a Christmas jar at her doorstep while she’s talking to the police. And that is the incident that pulls the rest of the story forward.”
Is there a villain in the story?
Jason: “There’s no bad guy, this is a question that we get a lot, like ‘Who’s the antagonist?’ Well, Hope is. Because she makes some pretty terrible decisions along the way. You’ll understand why she makes those decisions, but she grows up in front of the whole world and has to learn how to balance her heart and her head.”
What makes this movie stand out, compared to other holiday films?
Jason: “Other Christmas movies tend to have the main story be the romance. We’ll see a woman going through life and the romance drives everything. In this, the romance does not…”
Jeni: “It’s more like a consequence of everything.”
Jason: “Yeah, it’s a beautiful consequence.”
Jeni, how did you relate to Hope’s character in the film?
Jeni: “We’re in different careers, she’s a reporter and I’m an actress, but in my career I found that sort of in-between of you doing it, but it doesn’t always feel as though you’re being recognized or it’s not necessarily gratifying. Like, being taken seriously in that position, that’s just a small part of her character that found I did relate to. But what’s rare for coming into a movie is having source material to study, and actually getting to read the book and to have a character in a script and in a book and being able to speak with Jason about the story, because it’s been around a lot longer than I was aware of.”
What were your thoughts when you saw the impact of your book? Did you expect it to inspire such a huge movement?
Jason: “We had proof of the concept in our family because it worked. The first jar we made, I can’t talk about it without getting emotional because it changed our whole family’s approach to the holiday. There’s been a Christmas jar, uninterrupted, on my counter in my kitchen, since the morning after that first jar. My kids have grown up, this is all they know. I mean when I get home from a trip and I have change in my pocket, I walk in the door and it goes in the Christmas jar. My youngest, if he finds a quarter on the playground, it goes in his pocket, he comes home, and it goes in the Christmas jar.”
“So we hoped people would have that kind of experience, and I had some confidence that people would just try. That first year, when I was meeting with reporters, the publisher got angry with me because I’d say, ‘I don’t even care if you read the book, just go put a jar on your counter and give it away, and then email me or call me. I gave out my cell phone number and said call me and tell me your story.”
Speaking of stories that were inspired by the book, which one has been the most memorable for you?
Jason: “I share the same one a lot, but I want to do something a little bit different and share one that just came in a few days ago. This is from Anne, it says: ‘Some time ago, I left an abusive husband in October of that year. I had very little money and had only recently started a new job. It was a very emotional time. One evening I came home from work to find a jar on my stoop. There was a note attached. The person said they didn’t know me but were led to give me the jar. There was $75.00 in bills and change in that jar. The giver had no idea that my electricity was about to be disconnected and that money allowed me to pay the bill without having to worry which other bill I was going to have to leave unpaid to take care of it. My heart was filled with love and I have prayed for this person many times in the years since this incident.’ I get thousands of those.”
Was there a meaningful scene from the book’s film that stood out for both of you?
Jason: “There’s a scene at the end that’s really emotional and powerful, it’s the payoff of the whole film and you’ll know when you see it. As soon as you see it you’ll go ‘oh, that’s what they mean.’ I drove down to see her perform this scene, and I’ll let her take it from here but it is cinematic gold.”
Jeni: “Yeah, it was really special. I was anticipating that day because there’s a lot of pressure, and it really had to be good. I felt that pressure for sure but, this is just a side note: I’m a super emotional person. So the whole day leading up to shooting that scene, I was crying a lot and just talking with the crew about it and when it finally got time to shoot it, we shot it in one take. We didn’t need more, it just came so naturally and it was near the end of shooting as well. It just felt really real and I think you can tell.”
Doing it all in one take is pretty impressive! Do you have any fun behind the scenes stories or memories from the set?
Jeni: “One of my favorite stories to tell is the first day of shooting. We were filming on the canal, the ice skating scene, outdoors, in snow. And I don’t skate. I cannot skate. And it’s the first day of filming and meeting most of the cast, and I’m supposed to be a skater [in the movie]. So the night before, I was stuck training for the skating rink, learning how to skate. But my call time was 3am and that was just a crazy day. We were having insane wind storms that day, so there was props flying everywhere and background actors getting blown over, and we were on skates all day outside so that was definitely a way to start the movie. It was just such a funny day but it really did bond me with everyone very quickly.”
If you could describe this movie in one word, what would it be?
Jeni: “I would say heart. I think that applies to a few different aspects of it, just the overall feeling I think you get when you watch, but also the different storylines that go on.”
Jason: “I like the word change, because it means a lot in the context of the film. I think people will feel changed when they see the movie. They’ll certainly witness change when they see the movie.”
What’s the one thing you’re hoping that people will take away from the film adaptation?
Jason: “We want people to join the movement, to believe in the magic of one jar, believe that you can change somebody’s life with a jar. It doesn’t matter your faith, your race, where you live in the world, you can make a difference with a single jar.
Jeni: I think the world needs more empathy and what I love about this story is that it lets you see others as a person. It really brings to me what I think the holidays are supposed to be about.”
There’s a book sequel called Christmas Jars Reunion, which continues to follow Hope two years after the end of Christmas Jars. Have you guys thought about doing a movie sequel?
Jason: “Heck yes. I’m really, really hopeful, we already have some ideas for what that could look like, involving a Christmas wedding. I think the beauty of Hope is that she is always her own worst enemy, and she just, sometimes, can’t get out of her own way. In the sequel, there are more opportunities for her to keep learning and making mistakes. I think another film would be fantastic.
Jeni: “Yes, very fun!”
What would you want to see for Hope’s character if a movie sequel does happen?
Jeni: “I haven’t thought too much of the sequel, but it does set up the first film, it sets up quite a lot. I think it opens the opportunity for a lot of different relationships in her life to grow, and near the end of the film we introduce some new characters that we don’t really get to know well, and there’s a lot of potential there for her to develop these new relationships.”
Christmas Jars will be a one-night movie event and will hit theaters nationwide on November 4 at 7 p.m. local time. You can get your tickets here, and if you’re feeling inspired to give someone else a Christmas Jar, you can read more about how to do it here.