It’s that time of year when melodic Christmas carols begin to play on the radio and the comforting scent of mulling spices and fresh-baked pumpkin pie wafts through our homes. Whether your traditions are secular in nature or rooted in your religious faith, the holidays bring us all together to reflect on the year, express gratitude, and spend time with those we love.
And Christmas movies do exactly that. There have never been more holiday-themed movies hitting the market as there are this year. So if the crackling fireplace and falling snow inspire you to write your own Christmas movie, by all means, let the holiday muse take you wherever she wants to go.
I’ve written three Christmas movies, and they have all been quite different. My first, 12 Days of Giving premiered three years ago on UPtv and I was lucky enough to have directed it as well. It was a small, indie production about a man that finds himself struggling in all aspects of his personal life until he wins $50,000 and uses the money to help people in his small Nebraska town. His philanthropy leads him to teaching a fatherless young boy how to play hockey, and he falls in love with the boy’s mother.
It had everything I wanted a Christmas movie to have—a message of hope and happiness, a nod to the nostalgia of my own family holiday gatherings as a child, and a little humor here in there. After having written more than 70 movies, it is still one of the films I’m most proud to have made.
My other two Christmas movies, both of which premiere this season on Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries are a bit different. They follow the TV-movie structure that Hallmark has made famous – fun, light-hearted rom-coms set at Christmastime. They won’t make you cry the way 12 Days of Giving may, but if you’re looking to pop some popcorn and settle in for a movie that your 80-year-old grandmother can enjoy as much as your 8-year-old kid, they’re right up your alley.
As different as Christmas movies are, there are a few things I’ve learned that they all need to have…
· More visually detailed description than non-holiday scripts. Producers, network execs, and studios want to feel ‘Christmas’ in every scene. The best way to do that is constantly remind them of Christmas by weaving descriptions into your narrative that evoke feelings of coziness and nostalgia. Instead of writing ‘Middle-class homes line the street of a quiet suburban neighborhood’ like you might in a drama, try ‘Silent snowflakes drift over the suburban homes, disappearing in the warm light that emanates from the windows’ or ‘Christmas lights send pools of red and green over the glistening snow.’
· Themes are important. You could argue that a theme is important in any story, but doubly so for holiday scripts. Even if you’re writing a horror or thriller set during the holidays, like Gremlins, or a holiday drama like The Family Stone, there needs to be a clear message that you want the audience to take away.
· Overall, there tends to be less conflict in Christmas movies now than there used to be. The current trend is that Christmas movies should be ‘escape’ movies—simple stories of hope and peace and love are what’s selling most often. Compared to classics like It’s a Wonderful Life which touched on issues of suicide and The Little Princess which centers around a little girl who is mistreated at an orphanage after learning her father has been killed in the war, current Christmas movies have lower stakes. Common current themes include: saving Christmas, getting home for Christmas, and learning to become more thankful, philanthropic, etc.
Regardless of the genre (rom-com, thriller, drama, animated children’s, etc.) and the platform (streaming service, TV, theatrical, etc.), Christmas movies are in demand. As long as people hold on to their holiday traditions and view Christmas as a time to spend with families, sitting in front of the fire and watching meaningful stories, I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.
Want to learn more? Check out Christine’s one-hour ‘Writing the Christmas Movie’ live webinar on Dec. 5, 2020. Early bird pricing available. 12 Days of Giving is available on Amazon, and don’t miss On the 12th Date of Christmas airing this season on Hallmark Channel as well as A Little Christmas Charm airing on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.