The comedy, based on John Grisham's novel "Skipping Christmas," is about what happens when the Kranks (Allen and Curtis) decide to go to the Caribbean for the holidays and opt out of the neighborhood decoration mania.
"It was definitely the biggest set I've ever built," observes Stover ("While You Were Sleeping," "13 Going on 30"). His extensive research gave him a clear idea of what he wanted -- an older neighborhood with a timeless feel -- and frustrated him when he couldn't find it on location. "I also had to take into consideration that it might snow when we didn't want it to snow or not snow when we wanted snow," Stover explains. "The other problem was the three or four weeks to prep and the five weeks to shoot, and that time period would have been over Easter and Passover, not a good time to ask people to leave their homes."
Existing back lot streets wouldn't work either. "They looked 3/4 size, there were no front yards, and the streets were completely flat. They looked two-dimensional to me," Stover dismisses. "I needed the street to look like it was real, and had been there for 80 years."
The decision to build it from scratch posed another problem: finding a suitable asphalt parking lot at least 400 by 700 feet. "Not a dirt lot because if it rained, we'd be screwed. It would be better to bring in the dirt that we needed," explains Stover. "We narrowed it down to two locations. I really liked Santa Anita racetrack, because it had a lot of trees around it, but we were going to be making a lot of noise and probably working around the clock. They were worried that we'd hurt a horse or a horse would freak out and we'd be held responsible."
The Downey location offered advantages logistical and financial-Stover was allowed to tear down four adjacent buildings, "and they ultimately gave us the best deal."