Otoja Abit is a prolific writer, director, and actor who has finished filming for his new movie, ‘A New York Christmas Wedding’. We caught up with him to discuss his film and what inspired him to make it.
The Knockturnal: What inspired you to make this film?
Otoja Abit: A New York Christmas Wedding was inspired by the success of my short film, Jitters. Conglomerate Media, a production company, saw Jitters and knew there was a need for holiday films with a similar tone. The idea to take the short and expand it into a full-length feature film was an exciting challenge. I jumped at the opportunity. I took what stood out from Jitters: a same-sex wedding in a church and the urban grit of New York City. I’m a born and raised New Yorker who loves Christmas, so it was exciting to add my personal touch to the holiday genre.
The Knockturnal: Can you tell me about the experience you had working on this film?
Otoja Abit: When making an indie with a limited budget, and it being my first, it had its own set of complications. But as I look back, it was such a tremendous opportunity to have friends, family, and artists I admire support me every step of the way. We shot this film in fourteen days with several locations and a film dealing with time travel—ambition is all I know. To mix that with a Christmas love story, the foresight of doing something original that hasn’t been seen is what kept me going when debilitating thoughts arose.
The Knockturnal: How did it feel to work alongside Nia Fairweather and Adriana DeMeo?
Otoja Abit: To work with Nia and Adriana was an absolute delight. I’ve known them both for years and have always been a fan of their individual work. When putting together this cast, it started with the Jennifer and Gabrielle love story. There weren’t two other leads I wanted to encounter this journey with. The great part of having prior relationships with them is that we could talk freely and build characters truthfully months in advance of filming. The passion, commitment, and elevation of truth Nia and Adriana brought were exciting to see played out in real-time. Our editor, Ian Phillips, and I were lucky enough to capture their amazing performances to relive for months on months during post-production.
The Knockturnal: I love the camera work that’s been utilized in this movie. What we
re the shots you felt were most difficult to frame?
Otoja Abit: Our Director of Photography, Eythan Maidhof, is innately talented and a bonafide workhorse when it comes to “getting it done.” A New York Christmas Wedding was the first feature for us both. We teamed on Jitters, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else on this journey behind the camera but him. We have a real shorthand that I’ve learned is extremely rare from working on multiple projects over time. There are so many beautiful images, especially in the church, that I still am in awe we captured. One of the film’s most challenging shots was when Jennifer and Azrael interact in the hallway during the reception. It was unconventional. The hallway was tight and narrow, and we were splitting realities and POVs all within the same sequence. Even in the script, that scene seemed so emotionally visual rather than a textbook design. Eythan knew from our past experiences what I was going for, and he visually translated that and brought truth and clarity to it. I mean, filming an indie Christmas film during the sweltering summer in the streets of New York City? Difficult, yes, but Eythan and I concisely framed shots to eliminate green trees, summer looks. We were sure to have our production designer, Alex Mastoon, throw in a Christmas tree here and there to enhance the seasonal story subliminally.
The Knockturnal: Would you do another Christmas movie in this style?
Otoja Abit: With A New York a Christmas Wedding being my first feature film, if there’s an opportunity for another Christmas movie, the style would most definitely be different. As each day goes on, I’ve learned that it’s essential to keep growing and challenging oneself artistically. As I grow in life and in my art, I’m leaning on not redoing things.
The Knockturnal: Could you describe your work as the assistant director on “That Champion Season”?
Otoja Abit: Working on “That Championship Season” was a dream of a lifetime. An absolute masterclass to be surrounded by five legendary Hollywood actors under the guidance of a Tony-winning director, Gregory Mosher while working on a classic text. My job was to assist Mr. Mosher and help with production to make the days run smoothly. That encompassing responsibility and experience is the true source of strength to artistic credibility to this day. Cementing (for myself) that I belong “in the room.”
The Knockturnal: Can you describe your experience working on Jitters?
Otoja Abit: Jitters was definitely an opportunity where everything came together, and the attention to detail and personal storytelling resulted on screen. It was my first time directing a film, leading a working crew, and producing something. Luckily my producing partner, Ian Phillips, guided me through the process. Together, our shorthand continues to grow and evolve as our similar tastes in style is the perfect blend for our success.
The Knockturnal: What would be the theater production you want to write and direct the most?
Otoja Abit: I would want to challenge myself to write & direct a musical. I’m writing non-musical theater pieces now, but I think a musical production would be innovative as a future goal. It’s exciting to think that I might be able to bring an authentic point of view to that genre.
The Knockturnal: How did you feel working alongside Al Pacino and Barry Levinson on The Humbling?
Otoja Abit: Working with Mr. Levinson and Mr. Pacino was a dream come true. In any career, you expect to learn from the best by “being in the room.” I remember how in awe I was to experience how Mr. Levinson ran a set. It felt so much like real life. It was inspiring—no yelling amongst crew workers during shot changes. Everyone on set respected the space given for each crew and talent member’s craft. Now…Mr. Pacino? I know this may sound “out there,” but I don’t remember that experience, honestly. His presence and talent are so captivating that while filming our scene, I was so in the moment, and whatever happened in between “action” & “cut” was caught and left on camera. That’s the brilliance of both of those legends. A high level of capturing truth in a redundant film production process, and I was grateful to be a part of it. Truly.
The Knockturnal: Are you about to start production on another film?
Otoja Abit: Right now, our production company, Willful Productions, is gearing up to release a pair of music videos for the artist Kelsey Madsen, a major talent that we’re excited to develop while I continue writing new scripts. We are also currently going to market with our slate of projects. So it’s best to say, Willful Productions is open for business!