[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
Saturday night on Hallmark Channel, Kimberley Sustad and John Brotherton co-star in Lights, Camera, Christmas! In the holiday romcom, Kerry (Sustad) is a dress shop owner and clothing designer who lands a costume designer gig on a Christmas movie shooting in her hometown and befriends Brad Barton (Brotherton), the movie’s famous and charismatic leading man who has his own designs (sorry/not sorry) on switching up his career.
Laura Soltis, Veronica Long, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Leila Harrison, and Kallie Hu co-star as Kerry’s mom, Nancy; Brad’s co-star Mariah; the film’s producer/directing pair and ex-spouses, Caleb and Jill; and their assistant and mediator, Jamie. David Weaver directs a script by Gary Goldstein, and I caught up with Goldstein this week to talk about the film.
“I think I may have come up with the title of the movie first. I love titles and I often come up with titles out of the blue and then realize I like that title, maybe there’s a story attached to it. Then I realized what we could do with Lights, Camera, Christmas! I don’t think I had ever seen a Christmas film about the making of a Christmas movie, the movie within a movie kind of thing,” he explains.
“Having been to so many of these Q and As with the cast and crew after a screening, they’re really entertaining and they have their own sort of vibe to them. And I thought it’d be fun to transfer that to this movie. The audience asks questions, we flash back to the story within the story and in relatively chronological order, are able to get everybody’s perspective and what really happened during filming. It was a really fun, unique framing device.”
In the film, Kerry and Brad are in fairly set stages of their lives, but meeting each other propels them to explore the paths they haven’t taken. “What’s important in this story and most of the stories you tell, is if you catch people at the moment in their life that they’re ready to change, and somebody comes into their life who is also ready to change, whether they realize it or not, they can help each other change and move forward and then also get together,” Goldstein shares.
“I think there comes a point in everybody’s life, like with the Kerry character, and sometimes it happens sooner, sometimes it happens later, where you’re ready to move on and maybe even ready to move on for a while, but you don’t quite know how. There’s a comfort level to being where you’ve always been and living with the people you’ve always lived with and all of that. Especially when you have parents or family, friends, people you love, it’s very hard to extricate yourself and move away from all of that. And yet, for some people, ultimately it becomes a necessity, to move on with their life.”
“We catch Kerry at the moment where she’s closer to actually making a change in her life than she realizes. And when this completely unexpected thing happens to her, and having that experience and having her horizons broaden so dramatically in such a short time and being honored for it and to succeed at it, it really opens her eyes with the possibilities and the fact that yes, she can do it…giving her the confidence that she needs to really move on and follow her dream, within the world of what she expected, but completely different. And her mother is ready to move on with her life, too. They both need some independence from each other.”
“Brad is somebody who’s been working in the Christmas movie business for a very, very long time and been very successful. And that’s great, but what else do you want to do? Are you happy staying out in one lane or do you want to expand your horizons?”
“And he’s wanted to, but really hasn’t had the confidence and the ability, the wherewithal, the opportunity to work different parts of his acting chops. With the encouragement of Kerry, who comes into his life and realizes that there’s more to him than meets the eye, he’s able to make this change. It comes down to catching people at the right time.”
I always say you can come of age at any age. My first novel, “The Last Birthday Party,” was about a man who turns 50 and completely changes his life the day afterward. I call that a ‘coming of age at any age’ story. And I think it’s a very similar process. You come of age [when] you become ready to make the change. You exercise your independence, your strength, your happiness at various points. And everybody reaches that at a different point in their life. And sometimes people reinvent themselves, too, which is what happens in this movie. I think it’s just a very natural personal timing thing.”
The ensemble aspect of the story was also appealing for Goldstein, especially the story of Caleb and Jill. “I’m always very interested, whether it’s in real life or in writing, what brings people together romantically and what splits them apart. I’m always fascinated by that and I love exploring that. And I think what happens in relationships so often is that the things that bring you together are also the things that split you apart,” he points out.
“With Caleb and Jill, the strength that they had as a filmmaking team became competitive, and the upsides became the downsides for them. They had to go back and remember what it was that made them such a great team, both creatively and romantically. I do love that part of the film because it is definitely a second chance story within the story.”
Goldstein’s foray into writing novels began with a Tweet. “I’ve been a big reader my whole life. I love books and I’m always in the middle of reading one book or another. I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but between screenwriting and TV writing and all the work that I’ve done over the years, there’s just not always the time to really hunker down and write a novel when I’m doing everything else,” he says.
“If I write a screenplay or a TV pilot, or a TV movie on spec, I know what to do with it. I know where to go with it. I have [that] access to get it seen. But [I didn’t with] a book. [I thought], ‘I’m gonna write a book, and then what am I gonna do with it?’”
“I read this thing on Twitter at the end of 2019, a screenwriter that I follow said, if you were a screenwriter and you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but you feel like you don’t have the time, look at it this way–if you wrote one page a day, starting January 1st, by the end of the year, you’d have the first draft of your novel. And no pun intended, [I thought], ‘That’s not such a novel idea.’ But it just spoke to me.”
“I realized I could break this down into the most manageable parts. There was a story that I had wanted to tell, I just didn’t know what the venue would be for this thing. [The idea of what happens] when somebody’s life is turned upside down over the course of 24 hours and how they make their life work even better than ever as a result of it. So I said, ‘I’m gonna do this.’”
“I didn’t really have an outline, but I did know who my main character was gonna be and what was gonna happen to him. And so I just started writing. I wrote a few pages a day. I never missed a day. And by July, I had the first draft of this novel. The upside of that period from a work point of view was that the business had shut down quite a bit [because of the pandemic].”
“I wasn’t in the middle of any particular project at the time. So it was a perfect time to write a book and just explore the process of writing. There’s a learning curve to it, too. For as much as I’ve written, writing a novel was a little bit different. And so it worked out really well.”
“I was ultimately signed to a publisher by the end of that year. At which point my screenwriting work had picked up again, so I had a little less time to write, but I learned so much from writing the first book that I said, ‘I have to amortize this for a second book, immediately.’”
“In January 2021, I started another idea which became “The Mother I Never Had,” which just came out. And that was based on a real tiny seed of an idea that I’ve had with me for years and years, which is the loss of a parent. and what happens if you find yourself, as an adult, with a parent in your life that you never knew? How do you deal with that in life? How do you integrate and manage this? What is your future gonna be like?”
Goldstein explains that the main character in his book loses his father at 30, the same age he was when he lost his mother. “We were very close and it was a real loss for me and my sister. I’d be sitting in my car and I’d see women around my mother’s age crossing the street and [I’d muse], ‘What if she was back?’ I just missed her so much that I always felt she was with me,” he shares.
“I really missed that maternal relationship. I thought], ‘What if there was another mother out there for me?’ It’s just something that I thought about. And then it just faded away as life went on. But I always kept that idea of what if a mother shows up in your life that you never knew was actually your mother at a point where nobody is there to tell you the truth.”
“[In the book, Nate’s] father died and he finds out that he has a mother that was not who he was told was his mother his entire life. So he’s juggling the pain and anger toward his father, who he loves so much, and the suspicion and just general curiosity about this person who says that they’re actually his mother and wants to be in his life, but does he want her in his life after these secrets and lies that have brought her to this moment? It’s a complicated family story. But it was just something that hit me to tell. So I wrote it last year.”
Lights, Camera, Christmas! Premieres Saturday at 8 pm/7c on Hallmark Channel in the United States and W Network in Canada. Here’s a sneak peek. “The Last Birthday Party” and “The Mother I Never Had” are out now.
Photos courtesy of Hallmark Media and Gary Goldstein. Video courtesy of Hallmark Media.
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