CHICO — Chicoan and filmmaker Shaun Piccinino struck gold with his Netflix original movie “A California Christmas.”
The film was released in December 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and shot to No. 1 on the streaming platform. It was so successful that Piccanino decided to make a sequel, entitled “A California Christmas: City Lights” that will be available on Netflix beginning Thursday, Dec. 16.
“We wanted to make a fun Christmas movie and were shocked that it did so well,” Piccinino said. “I was getting Instagram messages from people in India and Australia. ‘I was like, whaaaat?’”
Piccinino’s producing partner, Ali Afshar, had the idea to make the first film a Christmas movie. He suggested it during the pandemic and he and Piccinino decided to take a risk and make the movie.
Piccinino said that he is “knocking on wood” that the sequel does well so that he can make a third movie.
“I’m excited for these characters and want to see where they’ll go,” he said. “How can you not like these characters?”
The first film centers around a mother stricken with cancer and her two daughters, the hardworking, tough Callie and young Hannah, who live on a ranch in Petaluma. They are in a massive amount of debt, and have had an offer from a real estate tycoon to buy their property so they can pay off their debt and pay their bills. The real estate tycoon’s son, Joseph, heads to the ranch to talk to Callie about selling her ranch but gets mistaken for a ranch hand named Manny when Callie is helping a cow give birth, and decides to stick around the ranch impersonating Manny and trying to win Callie’s trust. Meanwhile, Joseph and his butler, Leo (played by Afshar) pay the real Manny, who shows up later, not to come to the ranch, and Manny and Leo stay hidden in an short term rental home, enjoying wine and pampering themselves.
The film stars Lauren and Josh Swickard, who are a married couple in real life and met on the set of another Piccinino film, “Roped.” The sequel is a continuation of Callie and Joseph’s story and takes place in San Francisco, where Piccinino and his team were excited to be able to film at the famed Fairmont Hotel. Amanda Detmer, who also grew up in Chico, plays the mother, Wendy.
Lauren Swickward wrote and helped produce the movie.
“She’s amazing, an unstoppable force of positive energy,” Piccinino said. “The whole team is that way, from the production designer to the costumer, everyone down to craft services made that movie possible.”
Piccinino grew up influenced by his adopted father, Barry Piccinino, who was a theater professor at Butte College and head of the drama department.
Piccinino performed in local theater, starting with “Oliver Twist” at the age of five. He said his father and mother, Cindy, are extremely supportive of his career. Piccinino graduated from Pleasant Valley High School and then took film classes at Butte College and became enchanted with filmmaking while taking a history of film class. He wrote, directed and starred in commercials in Chico such as car insurance commercials and ads for the now-closed record store Underground. He also performed during Chico Heat games, during which he would do backflips in the dugout and arranged theme nights like 1950s nights.
“You couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing me,” Piccinino said.
After Piccinino met his wife, Jody, in San Diego, where they were both living and working, she gave him the push to move to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker and they moved to Los Angeles in 2001.
“She gave me a kick in the pants in the right direction,” Piccinino said.
Piccinino got a job as a production assistant in Los Angeles and was off and running from there. He has now won awards in filmmaking and directing and has worked in all aspects of filmmaking. He worked for Lucas Film at one point. Afshar grew up in the Petaluma area and “A California Christmas” was filmed at his ranch located there.
Piccinino is proud of his career. He remembers vividly working on “The Drew Carey Show” in which he worked as the lead visual effects person and became a green screen consultant. He said he always strives to help any project any way he can and make it better and didn’t care if he was the coffee runner. He volunteered for everything.
“I loved the process of creating these stories,” Piccinino said.
Piccinino loves Christmas, which helped influence him in making a Christmas movie.
“It’s always been one of my favorite times of year and holidays. Just the whole idea of being around family and celebrating the love we have for each other is something special,” Piccinino said.
Piccinino has a film coming out in July called “That’s Amor” which centers around a romance developed in a Spanish cooking class.
Detmer loved playing the part of Wendy Bernet in “A California Christmas.”
The actress still lives in Chico and her whole family is from the area.
“Lauren and I had such a great chemistry that you don’t always find,” Detmer said. “The mother and daughter relationship is really strong.”
Detmer was also surprised by the reaction the movie received.
“People loved it,” she said. “Those are the kinds of movie people like to watch, something that makes you feel good. The message is pure.”
Detmer calls Piccinino “one of the nicest, coolest people on earth.”
“He has no ego,” she said.
She also loved working with the the Swickards.
“Lauren and Josh are a relection of the movie. They sent positivity out into the world,” she said.
Detmer has racked up quite an impressive resume on the Internet Movie Data Base. Her first movie was a movie called “Stolen” starring Tracey Gold of “Growing Pains” fame.
Detmer said she is grateful for having worked with some of the greatest actors, such as Jim Carrey, whom she starred with in “The Majestic.”
She said he made her laugh by doing a George Bush impression.
“I thought it was so funny,” she said. “He thought I looked like Barbara Bush too. He made everything fun and easy. I was in awe of the cast of the Majestic.”
Detmer said she’s proud of her career thus far. “I’m most proud of staying in the game and staying positive. It’s important to stay humble and persistent. Believing in yourself is important and knowing that you have something worthwhile to offer,” she said.
Detmer, who is a fourth generation member of her family from Chico, attended Chico High, graduated from Chico State and went on to attend New York University, where she said she was homesick for Chico, but stuck it out and ended up receiving a master of fine arts degree.
Her brother is also an actor and she said she worshipped him and wanted to do everything he did. She starred in plays for the Butcher Shop, an outdoor theater festival in Chico that performs during Labor Day weekend.
Detmer has been married for a year and has a son that she is raising in Chico.
“He’ll go to Chico High whether he likes it or not,” she said.