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‘Make a Better Hanukkah Movie Than ‘Eight Crazy Nights’ — I Dare You’

Seth Kearsley, director of the oft-maligned animated holiday comedy, is still pinching himself that he had the opportunity to work with the legendary Adam Sandler — and still adamant that the final product is far better than it’s given credit for

In just about every way, Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights is a different kind of holiday movie. It was never meant to be a saccharine, heartfelt film like Miracle on 34th Street, nor was it intended as some sing-songy kids story like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Instead, it was meant to be an Adam Sandler movie for teens and young adults full of shit jokes and silly voices, and by golly, that’s exactly what it is.

It’s also become a holiday classic in an entirely unique way. The movie was panned by critics, and the box-office returns weren’t great, either. And in the years since, it’s not as though the public has realized that Eight Crazy Nights is some underappreciated gem — it’s still seen as largely mediocre. Regardless, every holiday season, Eight Crazy Nights bubbles back up to the surface and becomes part of the conversation around holiday movies once again. Some regard it as a guilty pleasure, while others seem to bring it up just to shit on it. But no matter what they say, the movie never goes away. 

Part of that, no doubt, is Sandler’s continued cultural relevance, but there’s one other thing the movie has going for it — nearly 20 years after its release, Eight Crazy Nights is still the only major Hollywood movie about Hanukkah. Why that is, is a matter of speculation, but director Seth Kearsley — who isn’t even Jewish — is grateful that the film holds that distinction. It was his first feature film, and he still enjoys discussing it, which is why he was happy to talk about how he landed the gig and his struggles with it both during and after production. 

But no matter the ups and downs, it’s a movie he’s still very proud of, even if he would have rather cut the joke where a bunch of deer lick human shit off an old man.


I was always a big Adam Sandler fan. I remember the theater I saw Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore in. I just loved those movies, so when I heard about Eight Crazy Nights, I began bugging people about getting a meeting on it. At the time, I was at Sony Animation on the TV side as the supervising director on Dilbert, but I really wanted to do a feature. Unfortunately, even though the supervising producer of Dilbert had gotten himself attached to the movie, he didn’t want me on it — maybe I could be a sequence director, but not the director. 

This was in 2000, and Eight Crazy Nights had started in late 1999 when Adam Sandler was recording the album Stan and Judy’s Kid. From what I heard, Sandler and his friends were in a mixing room on the Sony lot when [film producer] Amy Pascal came by. They played her the track “Whitey,” which is about a four-foot-tall basketball coach who everyone in town picks on. She thought it was hilarious, and asked if they were going to do something more with it. They said they thought they could do an animated movie, and she greenlit the film right there. 

Anyway, after they wrote a screenplay, they were looking for a director. I was asking about it, but they hired this other guy on a Friday and asked him to do some boards over the weekend. But on Monday, he hadn’t done anything, and he began asking for time off for his wedding. They fired that guy, and suddenly my name was on the table. 

When I first met Adam, I went to his house in Bel-Air. I was really nervous, and when I knocked, no one came to the door. Then I tried ringing the doorbell, and still nothing. Suddenly, from off to the side, I hear, “Helloooooo!” in Adam Sandler’s voice. He told me that no one uses the front door, and that everyone just comes through the kitchen.

That was my first interaction with him, and he was goofy and super cool. It was me, him and his producers, who were all his friends. They were all really nice, and they quickly pulled me into the friend group. I was still nervous, but it was going well. Soon after, they handed me a first draft of the script and asked me to read it right there. I remember that the whole place had this frat-house vibe, and I went to go sit on this giant U-shaped couch, which was clearly intended for all of your friends to come over and watch the game. There was also a full-size Colonel Sanders — like one you’d see in front of a restaurant — right in the living room.

After I finished the script, Adam asked me if I smoked cigars. I don’t, but I said I did, and he gave me one. I thought, “Am I supposed to smoke this whole thing?” As I began to get sick from the cigar, they started asking me what I thought about the script. It needed a lot of work, but I wasn’t going to say, “This is horrible,” so I treaded very lightly on notes. Maybe I could have said more, but then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten the job. 

After me, they interviewed a few more people, but I think I got it because Sandler liked that I was younger than he was. Honestly, I think the fact that I was wearing Timberlands tipped the scales in my direction.

Eight Crazy Months

The script went through a lot of changes from that first draft. It was always going to be that Davey, the Adam Sandler character, was going to be the town drunk, and that Whitey was a referee who got no respect from the town — they were these two misfits. That stayed the same, but originally, Davey was going to be more of a dick all the way through. There was this whole plotline where the town thinks he stole all this money, but it had actually been stolen by the mayor for his wife’s boob job. So a lot of it changed in rewrites.

For the look of the movie, they wanted a classic, old-school look. We were taking inspiration from things like 101 Dalmations. For the character designs, after some other designs didn’t work, animation supervisor Stephan Franck — who was the supervising animator on The Iron Giant — redesigned them, which is why they began to have an Iron Giant kind of feel to them. Sadly, we kind of benefited from the demise of 2D animation around this time. All of these studios were shutting down, and we grabbed up talent that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get.

I hadn’t done a lot of voice recording before Eight Crazy Nights so, after Adam would run through a bunch of lines, I’d say, “Uh, great, can you do it again?” I didn’t know what to say! I was also recording guys like Rob Schneider, Kevin Nealon and Jon Lovitz, and even though he wasn’t in the movie, Norm MacDonald stopped by a few times. That was my cast of SNL, so I was pretty nervous around them. 

In addition to that, Kathy Bates was going to be Eleanore for a while, so I got to sit in a room with her and Adam Sandler as they were riffing their characters back and forth. I’m supposed to give notes on that? No way. I was just trying not to fanboy over them.

Dustin Hoffman was also there one day. His 12-year-old daughter was the voice of young Jennifer in the movie, and he came in with this giant book and told me, “Don’t mind me, I’m just going to sit in the corner.” The first movie I ever actually owned was Tootsie, and I’m going to pretend he wasn’t there? I was unbelievably nervous, especially considering I was giving his daughter notes right in front of him. 

With rewrites and everything, voice recording took awhile, but I got through it. Adam works very fast, so when we had to change up scenes and things like that, it wasn’t too bad. The hard part was the animation. 

The movie took two years from start to finish for me, but most of the movie was made in these tightly packed eight months of production. Our crew shirts even ended up saying, “Eight Crazy Months” instead of “Eight Crazy Nights” because of this. Half the animation was done in Culver City, while the other half was spread out to Phoenix, Orlando, Toronto, Denmark, Greece, London, Korea and Japan. I did calls with me on one side and 30 people on the other. I also had to visit those studios, so I was in London for two days, then Denmark for a couple of days, then Orlando and Phoenix and then back to L.A. It was crazy.

I had a marriage fall apart during the movie as well, and then 9/11 happened — the studio was next to this mosque that repeatedly got bomb threats. Lots of things made the production very difficult, but it was also a lot of fun. It was my first feature, and I delivered it on time and under budget.

Still the Only Hanukkah Movie

There was so much stink on it when it came out — they made it out like it was a bomb. Eight Crazy Nights was number five on its opening weekend, but Treasure Planet only beat us because they were on a thousand more screens. At the theaters where both played, Eight Crazy Nights won. On that weekend, there was also a new Harry Potter movie, a new Bond movie and Santa Clause 2

As for the critics, one guy from the Los Angeles Times got what we were doing, but it was rough. Unfortunately, I read every single thing that came out and took it all really personally. I had a hard time separating myself from the movie. Then I had some opportunities that should have happened, but didn’t happen because of Eight Crazy Nights

I know all the sticking points people have with the movie, and some of them I agree with. A lot of people complain about Whitey’s voice, but I’ll say that it was originally a lot more annoying — also, a lot of people like those voices, so you can’t please everyone. People also complain about the product placement, which I truly don’t understand. Much of the movie takes place in a mall, where you’re obviously going to see Foot Locker and Panda Express

Then there’s the poop-eating deer, which, I’ll be honest, aren’t my favorite either — I wasn’t a fan of that. I will tell you though, it was me making that sound when the deer smiles with poop in his teeth. Even Sandler thought that sound was gross, but he wanted to use it. So, yeah, I didn’t love that scene either, but I know that a lot of people love it. 

It’s not perfect, but I’m really proud of Eight Crazy Nights. I got to make a movie with a comedy legend before my 30th birthday, which is a pretty amazing thing to say. And, of course, to this day, there really hasn’t been another Hanukkah movie. A lot of people like to hate on Eight Crazy Nights, and to them I say, if you want to bury the movie, that’s fine — make your own Hanukkah movie. Make the Hanukkah movie that people love so much that they never watch Eight Crazy Nights again. Go for it.