Kelly has a thing for the Christmas movies that play on the Hallmark channel this time of year. She recognizes their level of cheesiness, but she enjoys them anyway. As I am often beside her while she watches these movies, I’ve absorbed a great deal about them. If there are any screenwriters out there whose ambition is to write a Christmas movie for the Hallmark Channel, I have some steps for success.
1. The plot should involve forcing a city-person out of their native environment and into a small town. Or vice versa.
2. The characters must include a mean boss. This comes straight out of Dickens’ rulebook and is virtually inviolate in these films.
3. There should be one character who no else believes, but whose story no one can explain either. The person might be one of Santa’s elves, or a Christmas angel, or even a time traveler.
4. There must be a tree that for some reason, is forsaken, and no longer decorated.
5. The small town/big city must be populated with the kind of people who you never meet in real life.
6. A love triangle must exist somewhere in the plot. Typically the male or female lead starts off with the wrong person, and must find their way to the right person. Because Christmas is the time for messing with relationships.
7. For kicks, the setting can be in a place that gets no snow. Christmas in Hawaii. Or Christmas in the Bahamas. And yet—Christmas miracle—there will be snow on Christmas day.
8. The main character has to overcome three or four obstacles between each set of commercial breaks.
9. Most of those obstacles involve getting to a particular destination on Christmas Eve, or before Christmas Day.
10. Be sure your casting director identifies two or three 80s sitcom favorites to star in your movie. Candice Cameron-Bure always seems up-to-the task.
These are not my type of Christmas movies, as you might have guessed. I don’t know why the Hallmark Channel has to make lots of bad Christmas movies when there are so many good ones they could broadcast instead.
My favorite Christmas movie is White Christmas. From a more recent vintage, I enjoy The Polar Express. It is one of those movies for which I have watched every scene, but not all at once. A Christmas Story is a must-see at least once during the week of Christmas. I can tolerate Love, Actually because it is one of Kelly’s favorite movies. Home Alone is funny, but I can’t stand the sequels. When I was a kid, I enjoyed the original Babes in Toyland, and George C. Scott in A Christmas Carol (although I always confused his Scrooge for Patton).
Still, if you have your heart set on selling a screenplay to Hallmark, the ten steps I’ve outlined above should get you off to a good start. Just don’t ask me to read what you’ve written—or to watch it once it is produced.