[Warning: General spoilers ahead].
As networks widen their net for new programming in light of the production interruption that stopped the entertainment industry cold for several months, we’re getting opportunities to round back on films we might have missed. This holiday season, Lifetime is making a legitimate run at Hallmark for original holiday programming, and this weekend, they’re premiering Forever Christmas with Christopher Russell and Chelsea Hobbs; it was previously a PassionFlix exclusive called Mr. 365.
The film follows reality TV producer Sophia (Hobbs), who begins working on a Christmas-themed special about Will (Russell), a man who celebrates the holiday every day of the year. She’s all business until she finds the subject more personally appealing than professional.
It was the first pairing of Russell with director Christie Will Wolf, with whom he’s gone on to work with on four subsequent projects (Love Unleashed, Love in the Forecast, and the upcoming Wind Song and Chasing Waterfalls). Donna Benedicto also stars, and this was her first of three projects (Love Unleashed and Love in the Forecast) with Will Wolf.
We recently caught up with writer Gary Goldstein in an e-mail Q & A about bringing the film to a new and expanded audience. “The movie fits right into the fun, romantic, bantery and hopeful “It’s a Wonderful Lifetime” holiday lineup. We’re honored to be part of such a great group of films.,” he shares.
Initially released in 2018. Goldstein says the subject matter is perhaps even more relevant now. “I think it’s fair to say that reality TV shows are as popular as ever (it seems like there’s an explosion of them on Netflix alone!) and the power of social media continues to increase big time,” he points out
“So this certainly makes it even harder for people like Will in Forever Christmas, who might prefer to guard their privacy, to stay out of the limelight. At the same time, his one-of-a-kind ‘celebrate Christmas every day’ approach might make him an even more desirable reality TV character now as those shows have become even nichier and more fragmented. Needless to say, today Will would be doing Zoom interviews to promote his show!”
Goldstein is proud that his script kicked off the Will Wolf and Russell partnserhip. “It was auspicious! Christie did such a great job capturing the charm, beauty and warmth of both Chris and Chelsea [so] it’s no wonder they’ve reteamed so often,” he says. “She and the actors really found the humor in the script as well. I’m happy that [this] was the vehicle that brought [them] together.”
There are well over 100 new holiday films a year now between the broadcast networks and the streaming services, and Goldstein says there are certain things that can help prevent that cookie cutter fatigue of so many titles. “Given the wealth of holiday movies that have been made over the last few years alone, it’s hard to come up with something that may seem completely new,” he explains.
“But there are always variations on the themes—settings, set pieces, character dynamics, goals—that can make a Christmas movie feel fresh. It’s why I optioned Ruth Clampett’s novel “Mr. 365” when I did, because I thought it was a holiday story I hadn’t yet seen on screen (and beyond its incarnation [here in this film], still haven’t!). The greater push for diversity in these movies we’re seeing is also fantastic and can help make a traditional holiday plot feel new and exciting.”
Goldstein is also a screenwriting instructor, shepherding the next generation, and he says the old rules still apply, even in this location-agnostic new normal. “Industry access for newer writers is always an issue (it’s the top question in any screenwriting seminar I’ve conducted),” he points out. “But, at least for much of the pandemic, it’s seemed as if producers and executives have had a bit more bandwidth to read and pay attention to more incoming material, so that can be a good thing, especially for writers without representation.”
“But as a wise person once told me, ‘You don’t need representation—you need a representable project.’ So my advice to newer writers always is to write the very best script you can, really do your homework, and good work will usually find its place. This is especially true in the Christmas movie world where so many films are being made. A strong, completed holiday script can be a really valuable commodity.”
Goldstein says the pandemic hasn’t yet changed how and what he writes. “I’ve just been writing and pitching stories set in a non-COVID (pre-COVID? post-COVID?) world. But, who knows, that could change the longer this goes on and demands shift. It’s a pretty common question and concern among writers these days,” he says.
“I’ve been pitching ideas to producers and networks for Christmas 2021 movies, so I’m hoping one or more of those click. I also recently finished writing a dark comedy pilot about a cable TV news foreign correspondent that I’m beginning to show around. And a few months ago I finished my first novel, which I’m really excited about, an L.A.-set romantic dramedy called “It’s Me, Are You There?” So it’s been a pretty productive time, despite—or maybe because of—the pandemic!”
Forever Christmas premieres Sunday at 8 pm/7c on Lifetime Television and will repeat throughout the holidays. Here’s a sneak peek.
Photos Courtesy of Lifetime Television and Gary Goldstein; Video Courtesy of Reel One.
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