Father Christmas has called upon two Shetland ponies and their merry gang of friends to help make his deliveries this year.
The tale unfolds in Devon-based trainer and film-maker Emma Massingale’s latest video, in partnership with NAF, starring everyone’s favourite actors, Albert and Ernie. When Dalmatian Nancy takes an important call from Father Christmas, she rounds up Albert and Ernie, and the group can be seen boarding a double-decker bus as they head off on their latest mission. The film also features Comet the Connemara, donkey Charlie, Douglas the Hungarian vizsla, Siamese cat Louis, part-bred percheron Max, and puppies Pippin and Luna, a miniature dachshund and a labrador.
Emma Massingale, who is known for her heart-warming Christmas films, said coming up with this year’s idea was a bit harder than in some years.
“There’s been a lot of doom and gloom on the news and a lot of the Christmas adverts on the television have gone down the more political route. I thought, ‘What are we going to do to make something a bit different when it’s not feeling very Christmassy yet?’” Emma told H&H.
“I decided just to tell a story and when you come up with a story you can put the different components in. I started with a skeleton idea, and then I started thinking about the different tricks I might like to do. You’re trying to include as many tricks as you can, but at the same time make it look natural and there has to be a bit of humour too.”
And it is not just the actors Emma has to think about, it is props too. While trying to stay warm one of the ponies turns on the outdoor heater, causing a Christmas tree to dry up and lose its pine needles. Meanwhile the other pony goes off to seek out their best Christmas jumpers. The gang help gather the presents for Father Christmas and he can be seen heading off to start his deliveries.
“I spent about four hours plucking a Christmas tree, and then I had the needles in my oven for six hours trying to get them the right colour. Everything we ate for days afterwards tasted of pine needles!,” said Emma.
“We also have to consider the locations, for example doors need to be right for the ponies opening them. We don’t get to practise at the location before filming so I do all the training at home, and then we go and film. But we always joke that Albert and Ernie are the masters of one-take wonders, they know their job so well. The dogs are definitely a newer thing for me, but it’s great – they can do different things from the horses, so it ties in really well when telling a story.”
The video was filmed at Powderham Castle, a remote cottage on Bodmin Moor, and South Devon railway station.
“It’s really nice to be at Powderham Castle, I used to event there when it held horse trials and it’s a great location,” said Emma.
“It was quite funny getting to the cottage on the moor; it has no drive and you could only get to it by an off-road Land Rover. My fiancé Jeremy took the Land Rover with the filming equipment, and I had to tread across the moor with two ponies and four dogs.
“A man checking his cows spotted me and rode across on horseback to check I wasn’t dumping the ponies there, but he took one look at them in their lycra suits to keep them clean and said ‘Perhaps not!’”.
Emma, who has a busy 2023 planned including filming a TV advert, said she enjoys making people smile with her films.
“I just love it when you see something and it makes you smile, or inspires you in some way. I think that’s the joy of Christmas.”
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