Have a Hallmark Train Wreck Christmas!

Returning to writing screenplays is a significant adjustment after writing nothing but prose for the past four years. Reading quality screenplays and watching good movies with an eye toward dialog, character, and plot has helped me get back on track. On the other hand, there’s value in coming at it from the other direction.

It’s a truism that we should learn from our mistakes. To disagree with that adage would be foolhardy, but there’s a better way: Learn from others’ mistakes. That way, you can avoid some of those mistakes in the first place and still come out fully informed. That’s the rationale behind watching bad movies. And when you talk about bad movies, this is the best time of year for them.

No, I’m not talking about wonderful holiday films such as “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I’m talking about a relatively recently created genre: The Hallmark Christmas romance movie.* There is a long list of immutable truths about these denizens of the holiday airwaves:

  1. Though there are dozens of them, all are minor variants of about three distinct plots. (Lest we sit too high on our horse, the same can be said of most superhero movies.)
  2. There is an ensemble of (usually) Canadian actors who take turns playing the leads.
  3. There’s a cute kid… who can’t act.
  4. Each features at least one washed-up sitcom star in a minor role.
  5. Although there is lots of talk about faith, belief, and fate, there is exactly zero reference to any of the spiritual aspects of the season. None. Nada. Zilch. Ever.
  6. If any of the protagonists spent any time being honest with each other, the movie would end after 15 minutes because all the misunderstandings would be resolved.
  7. The Kiss, which is always delayed until the final two minutes of the movie and is preceded by multiple near misses, is 100% antiseptic, and is performed with less passion than your average oil change.
  8. As with a train wreck, however, I can’t keep my eyes off them.

Re that last item, I confess it’s true. I watch a dozen or more every year. My expectations, which couldn’t be any lower, are rarely met, never mind exceeded.

Why do I put myself through this? They have all the suspense of a game of tic-tac-toe, the ending of which, like the Hallmark movies, is set in stone from the first move. There is almost never a new plot.

(Example template: Successful woman comes from the “Big City” in an attempt to convert a beloved local establishment into an impersonal commercial development, until some colorful local characters resist her, causing her to give up not only the project, but her home and career to marry her childhood sweetheart, an amiable fellow in a flannel shirt with a permanent three day growth of facial hair with whom she’d had a misunderstanding after the Big Game in high school, but not before a last minute appearance by the woman’s fiancé, who arrives from said “Big City” wearing a Brooks Brothers suit worth more than the other guy’s pickup truck and almost puts the kibosh on the burgeoning romance.)

Three reasons I watch these things almost against my will:

  1. Most of them are graphic lessons in how not to write a screenplay.
  2. I’m an incurable romantic and hope springs eternal (some of the time) that one of them will actually be… well, romantic.
  3. Occasionally, very rarely, one will rise above the dreck and actually be pretty good. In those few cases, I don’t have to waste another half hour of my life bemoaning the fact that I just wasted an hour and a half of my life.

The truly embarrassing reason I watch them, one I hesitate to admit, is that I want to write one.

Yes, it’s true! I would love to write the movie that rises above the miasma of the typical holiday romance porn. In fact, I’m doing it now. In truth, I’m rewriting one of my general romantic comedies to align it with the genre.

Yes, I’m a Christmas mercenary. So be it. At least I’m a romantic mercenary. ❤


* Other networks have noticed the popularity of these movies and have joined Hallmark in this orgy of quasi-romantic, quasi-Christmas tales. Ion and Lifetime are cranking them out almost as plentifully, often with better quality.

Making lemonade

PastedGraphicTagline-1With ten screenplays written and none sold or produced, you might think I’d be frustrated and angry. You’d be half right: It sure is frustrating. But angry? No point to that. Anger is a masking emotion and I’ve got nothing to mask. Most of the scripts I’ve written were more like learning experiences than realistic attempts to “break in.” I’ve learned a ton, thus improving my scripts and advancing my skills.

So what do I do with all those lemons? Make lemonade. And you can have a sip.

For the second time, I’m staging a reading of one of my screenplays. It’s not just for marketing purposes or ego gratification. This event will be a fundraiser for two causes, one near and dear to my heart – Haiti – and the other very near my brain but very far from my heart: MS.

The first time I held one of these readings, also a learning experience and also a fundraiser, we raised almost $700 to serve as a micro-loan to a young entrepreneur in Haiti. The actual reading is on line in two parts. If you’re interested in watching the reading, the first part is here. I leave finding the second half as an exercise to the viewer.

The full official announcement for this event can be found here, but most of the details are below:

On Saturday night, April 18, at 7 PM, at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, there will be a “staged reading” of my original PG-rated romantic comedy, “Me for You”. The cost is only $10 and includes chances to win cool movie-related door prizes. Snacks will be available for sale.

Staged readings are common in the film development process as a way to promote unproduced screenplays. This script will be read live by actors in the intimate setting of the CCA Cabaret Cafe. You get a fun evening at the “movies”, help two great causes, and, if the script ever gets produced, get bragging rights as previewers.


If that’s not enough to get your philanthropic blood pumping, here are two more opportunities to help support Haiti and fight MS:

Servants for Haiti Trivia Night and Silent Auction

TriviaNightLogoSmallThis year marks the 6th annual edition of this exciting event. The trivia is a blast – with yours truly (truly!) as the trivia jockey – and the silent auction is a collection of incredible buys, some one-of-a-kind. Funds raised this evening will benefit SFH‘s Biznis Pam program, which trains Haitian woman how to start and maintain their own businesses. Then they provide micro-loans to get the budding entrepreneurs going.

This is a great program that deserves our help. Join me on Friday April 10, 2015, at 7 PM. For complete details, click here.

Bike MS: Ride the Vineyard 2015

MSMVThis is a combination of three of my favorite things: Martha’s Vineyard, cycling, and raising money to crush MS. You can be part of this event by donating money to my ride or to my team.

To donate to my ride, click here.

To support my whole team, click here.

If you want to go further in your commitment, you can ride with us. Register and join our team: The Vineyard Square Wheelers. Ride on!