The massive success of holiday movies has become evident in 2018 as more outlets pop up to tap into TV audiences’ insatiable desire to go all-in on Christmas, well beyond December. PassionFlix is a new streaming service created to serve the romcom crowd with fare that’s a little more mature, and beginning Saturday, you can catch the brand new film Mr. 365, adapted by Gary Goldstein from Ruth Clampett‘s novel. We caught up with them over e-mail this week to chat about the project.
Mr. 365 stars Chelsea Hobbs as a reality TV producer who begins working on a Christmas-themed special about a man (Christopher Russell) who celebrates the holiday every day of the year and soon the lines between professional and personal start to blur. Interestingly, both actors appeared in the reality-themed UnREAL. Frequent Hallmark director Christie Will Wolf directs the film.
Goldstein discovered the book through a mutual friend who recommended he and Clampett meet so he could gauge the potential adaptability of one of her novels. “We met and she gave me a copy of Mr. 365 as maybe the likeliest book-to-film candidate. I read it, loved the characters and story, and felt it not only had great Christmas movie potential but that its reality TV angle made it unique from a lot of the other [Christmas] romcoms out there,” he explains. “So I optioned the book and began the process of finding a production entity for it.”
Clampett is all-in on Christmas in her own life, and her book was a natural evolution of the joy she gets from the season. “My parents made a big deal over Christmas and once I was out on my own, I wanted to recreate the fun and festive celebration that I’d grown up with,” she shares.
“Then after my daughter was born I ramped up my efforts and became a bit of a Christmas nut. We have an expansive miniature Christmas village, a number of Christmas trees, holiday dishes, and an elaborately decorated yard and so on. Meanwhile I’d been writing romance for a few years when my daughter became obsessed with reality TV.”
“I had friends that had worked in that business and told me how ‘unreal’ reality TV really was. Then one day my daughter and I were watching a show on people who went overboard with Christmas and I immediately got the idea for a very different kind of Christmas story. Needless to say, I had lots of inspiration to work from, and I had a great time writing Mr. 365.”
Mr. 365 isn’t Goldstein’s first novel adaptation, but this project was unique. “One of the differences in adapting [the book] was that I worked more closely with the book author than usual. That’s not only because Ruth also lives in L.A. and I had already established a relationship with her–plus I genuinely like her and respect her talent and ideas–but because PassionFlix is very author-oriented and Ruth’s input was key,” he says.
“I first created a script outline based on all of the elements in the novel that I felt would work best for a film. The book had a great setup, immediate fun conflict, vivid characters who took a significant emotional journey and, of course, the holiday season to draw from. From there it took some compression and restructuring to tell the story a bit more cinematically. I then got input from Ruth and our executive producers, reworked a few more story and character points, then went to script.”
“My goal was to stay as true as I could to the book’s theme, tone, general story arc, and characters to satisfy the book’s many fans yet also create the best film version of the novel I could. It’s a delicate balance but I think we really succeeded. We had a terrific working relationship and definitely want to collaborate again.”
“[From] the beginning I always felt that Gary and I were in sync. He really got the story and characters, so when he suggested things to add or change, I agreed more often than not because I could see that he was writing a script that the fans of the book would love,” adds Clampett.
“PassionFlix built their brand around popular contemporary romance books, so they created a business plan that had the authors involved in the development process. I know published authors who have been told that once you option your book to just walk away or you risk your sanity. Happily, I can report that with this project I had a collaborative experience that was fantastic.”
“From the start, Gary, our producer Laurence [Braun] and I got along extremely well and had like minds as we developed [the film] for production. There were inspiring story and script meetings, and then once Gary had done his final polish on the script I was involved in casting, locations and art direction, and promotion.”
Goldstein explains how the film became a perfect fit for PassionFlix. “The reality TV aspect of the story felt different. There was also a more ‘passionate’ dynamic between the romantic leads than in the typical Christmas movie. I thought the idea of a guy celebrating Christmas every day was really unique, especially once we learn why he does so and how he so deeply connects to the holiday,” he says.
“I was fortunate enough to meet Laurence Braun, a fantastic executive at a production company called Reel One Entertainment, who was looking for a film project to take to PassionFlix. When he told me the streaming service looked to adapt popular romance novels that had a more ‘passionate’ bent, I said, ‘I have just the book!’ That and the book’s Christmas angle turned out to be the perfect match and we found our home.”
“[Mr. 365] has a bit more ‘steam’ than your average Christmas romcom. I think it’s a fun, funny and sexy ride with two super leads that’s definitely worth signing up to see; of course, I’m biased (and totally humble!). Oh, and PassionFlix rates their programming on a 1-5 ‘Barometer of Naughtiness,’ so there’s that!”
This is Clampett’s first adapted project, and she enjoyed the inclusiveness throughout, and loves the finished film. “I was part of a phone conference with the director, Christie Will Wolf, where we went over the whole script and I was able to share my thoughts from small details to the broad strokes. The sexier scenes were key to discuss since those scenes typically weren’t in romance Christmas movies,” she explains.
“Later, I spent two days on set with her in Vancouver and got to meet the cast and crew. It was a terrific visit and I left feeling confident that this was going to be a fun, sweet, and sexy story that romance fans would love.”
“Once the initial rough cut was in PassionFlix’s hands, [Passionflix Founder and CEO] Tosca Musk graciously invited me to see the cut with her and her editor and give notes. Then later I was able to see their cut and I actually cried happy tears because they had done such a great job.”
“I’ve watched the movie a number of times because I love the performances and writing so much…there is great chemistry, humor, charm, and enough drama to keep us captivated. I know that there are a lot of ways a film can go south, so I feel very lucky that this worked out so well.”
“I’m very grateful to Gary for believing in this story and for writing such a smart and dynamic script. This movie wouldn’t have happened without his determination. I’m also appreciative of Laurence and the team at Reel One, and Tosca and her PassionFlix team for allowing me to be a collaborator with a group of talented people who made the whole experience very positive.”
Mr. 365 will be available on PassionFlix Saturday. Here’s a sneak peek.
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