Photo: John Brotherton, Kimberley Sustad Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: Brendan Meadows

Exclusive Interview: Gary Goldstein On Hallmark’s ‘Lights, Camera, Christmas!’

Exclusives, Hallmark Channel, News

Hallmark movie fans come to the feel-good network for good storytelling. Multi-talented screenwriter Gary Goldstein is an author, journalist, and screenwriter for Hallmark’s upcoming holiday movie, Lights, Camera, Christmas! This movie stars John Brotherton (Fuller House, A Christmas Contest), and Kimberley Sustad (Christmas By Starlight, North To Home).

In this exclusive interview with TV Shows Ace, Gary Goldstein talks about his upcoming Hallmark movie, working with a director, and writing holiday movies and mysteries, including two Flower Shop Mystery films starring Brooke Shields (A Castle For Christmas, The Middle), and Brennan Elliott (The Perfect Pairing, Open By Christmas).

For those aspiring writers, he also discusses his writing habit, as well as sage advice on writing a Hallmark Christmas movie. This is a good inspiration for those who want to pen their own fabulous holiday story.

Goldstein has spent several decades in Hollywood and has sold comedy pilots to both NBC and Warner Brothers Television. Several of his plays have been produced for the stage.

Next, Gary is a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, writing movie reviews for the prestigious publication.

In addition, Gary is an award-winning novelist, with two novels published, including his recent book, The Mother I Never Had.

Photo: John Brotherton, Kimberley Sustad Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: Brendan Meadows
Lights, Camera, Christmas Photo: John Brotherton, Kimberley Sustad Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: Brendan Meadows

Gary Goldstein On Hallmark’s Lights, Camera, Christmas!

You wrote the upcoming Hallmark Christmas movie Lights, Camera, Christmas! You have two Hallmark favorites starring in this–Kimberley Sustad and John Brotherton.

Tell us how you came up with this fun idea. You have experience writing comedy in the past. Were you able to infuse a lot of comedy into this script, or did the stars do a little ad-libbing?

I may have come up with the title first, that sometimes happens. Then I realized I’d never seen a film about the making of a Christmas movie–a kind of movie-within-a-movie idea–and thought it’d be the perfect setting for a Christmas rom-com.

The setup made for plenty of inherent, organic comedy so it was a particularly fun script to write and then see come to life.

Most of the comic moments were scripted but the humor the actors themselves brought to their characters and the situations really made it next level.

Photo: Kimberley Sustad, John Brotherton Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Astorga
Photo: Kimberley Sustad, John Brotherton Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Astorga

Shoutouts to producer Kevin Leeson and director David Weaver, who were instrumental as well.

Gary Goldstein's Hitched For The Holidays, Marilu Henner, Emily Hampshire, Joey Lawrence, used with Hallmark Media's permission
Gary Goldstein’s Hitched For The Holidays, Marilu Henner, Emily Hampshire, Joey Lawrence, used with Hallmark Media’s permission

How Did Gary Goldstein Start Writing Holiday Movies?

You have written a cornucopia of Christmas movies. How did you get started doing this? What skills do you possess that have helped you succeed?

Well, I’m a screenwriter first so I’ve written all kinds of film scripts throughout my career. At one point, I found myself leaning into the romantic comedy space which led me to start working in that genre for Hallmark and elsewhere. Holiday films are just a natural extension of that.

My first Christmas movie was Hitched for the Holidays which premiered on Hallmark about ten years ago. It was based on a spec screenplay I’d previously written that turned out to be a great fit for the Hallmark holiday canon, which has expanded greatly since then. It’s still one of my favorite scripts and I’m grateful that the film has so many enduring fans.

Photo: Jennifer Finnigan, Jonathan Scarfe Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Marcel Williams
Gary Goldstein’s Angel Of Christmas, Photo: Jennifer Finnigan, Jonathan Scarfe Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Marcel Williams

Gary Goldstein Talks About Hallmark’s Angel Of Christmas

Angel of Christmas is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. You adapted that from the Jane Maas novel, The Christmas Angel (Available to stream on Hallmark Movies Now). Did you know you created something very special when you wrote this script? Is it easier or harder to adapt a book into a holiday movie?

I knew the book itself was special when I first read it, such a beautiful and charming holiday story set over the course of several generations. There were so many unique and resonant elements to the book that it laid the groundwork for a really special film.

And even though I had to reconfigure the story in parts to structure it more cinematically, I hope it retained the wonder and romance of the novel. And I have to give a special kudos to that film’s stars, Jennifer Finnigan and Jonathan Scarfe, who were both so terrific in it.

I’ve adapted several Christmas-themed books into movies, including Mr. 365  by author Ruth Clampett (it premiered on streaming under that title and later on Lifetime as Forever Christmas).

The process isn’t that different from adapting a non-holiday novel for the screen except for maybe focusing as much on the Christmas elements as possible. But it remains a matter of how to transfer the best of the novel to a script as cinematically as you can.

Gary Goldstein's Angel Of Christmas Photo: Jonathan Scarfe, Jennifer Finnigan Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Marcel Williams
Gary Goldstein’s Angel Of Christmas, Photo: Jonathan Scarfe, Jennifer Finnigan Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Marcel Williams

How Close Does Screenwriter Work With Director?

Ron Oliver directed Angel of Christmas. How closely do you work with the director after you write your script?

I’d say it depends on the director, the film and the timing, but I’m always happy to rework anything based on any practical, creative or cast needs that may arise before or during shooting. Movies are a team effort, for sure.

Photo: Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Marcel Williams
Photo: Credit: Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Marcel Williams

Gary Goldstein Wrote Two Flower Shop Mystery Movies

In addition to holiday movies, you also wrote two of the three Flower Shop Mystery movies starring Brooke Shields and Brennan Elliott. These were also adapted. How is writing a Hallmark mystery different from writing a romantic movie?

I’d say structurally the scripts aren’t that dissimilar but the plotting in a mystery is inherently twistier, with more precarious obstacles than in a rom-com. Which isn’t to say a rom-com doesn’t have its share of complications, setbacks and unexpected turns. But the stakes and goals, as well as tone, are a bit different.

Speaking for the Flower Shop movies, humor and fun banter were definitely a key part of those, and there was a romantic spark between the leads as well, so there were some ‘rom-com’ elements.

Flower Shop Mystery Photo: Brennan Elliott, Brooke Shields Credit: Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Shane Mahood
Flower Shop Mystery Photo: Brennan Elliott, Brooke Shields Credit: Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Shane Mahood

How Has Writing For Television Changed?

You have been in the television writing business for several decades now. How has it changed?

Good question. Well, one big change is the reduced need for mainstream theatrical screenplays, or at least the kinds of scripts that used to be such a big part of moviegoing: romantic comedies, family comedies, high-concept comedies. Those movies are few and far between on the big screen these days in favor of tentpole and other ‘event’ films.

Fortunately, a place has evolved for rom-coms and such on cable and streaming so the opportunities for writers in that genre have expanded. And certainly, the proliferation of holiday films across cable, streaming and even network TV have opened or expanded new opportunities for screenwriters.

Still, I will always maintain that a great screenplay of any kind can find its place, it just may take a long time.

Gary Goldstein, photo by David A. Lee, used with permission
Gary Goldstein, photo by David A. Lee, used with permission

Gary Goldstein Writes For Los Angeles Times

You are also a journalist and have been an arts and film reviewer for the Los Angeles Times. How does this experience change how you write your scripts?

Every writing discipline feeds and informs the other for the better. I’d say the need for both brevity and precision in journalism has shown up a bit more over time in my script work, though it’s probably more outwardly evident in my novel writing.

Gary Goldstein On New Novel, The Mother I Never Had

Congratulations! You have just published your second novel. Please tell us about your new book, The Mother I Never Had.

The Mother I Never Had  is a departure from most other things I’ve written in that it’s a full-on family drama about a profound, life-altering situation. It’s the story of Nate, a 30-year-old landscape designer whose father, who raised him alone since birth, dies, leaving behind a secret that upends Nate’s life–and everything he’s ever thought about the ‘perfect’ dad he idolized. It’s a deeply emotional book that seems to affect readers in unique ways based on their own family histories and relationships. I’m enormously proud of it and honored by the amazing reaction to it so far.

Gary Goldstein used with permission
Gary Goldstein used with permission

Gary Goldstein On Award-Winning Novel The Last Birthday Party

Your first novel  The Last Birthday Party was an award-winning book. That is amazing! Had you always wanted to write a novel?

In theory, yes. I love books and have been a big reader ever since I was a kid. To this day, I’m always in the middle of one book or other.

But for most of my career, writing scripts and stage plays, as well as my journalism work, has consumed most of my writing space. But right before the Pandemic I came up with an idea for a novel I wanted to write and just jumped in.

I wrote at least a few pages every day and in about six months finished the first draft. It just took some extra discipline, but it was such a joyful process that I always enjoyed getting back to it.

When I realized I had, at least in my mind, a viable novel, I started getting it out there, and, well, it was published in the summer of 2021. I learned so much from the experience that I had to do it again–which I did.

Gary Goldstein used with permission
Gary Goldstein used with permission

Gary Goldstein On His Writing Habit, Process

What are your writing process and habits like? Because you write in different genres, do you do a bit every day, or do you have one day as a reviewer, and another day as a scriptwriter?

There’s no set pattern except working consistently, pretty much every day. It sounds basic, but as a writer, like most professions, if you don’t do the work, it doesn’t get done.

Deadlines are the best motivator so when someone is waiting for something–a script draft, book chapters, an article–the adrenalin takes over and you make it happen.

Sure, sometimes it’s easier than others, but somehow you finish and, hopefully, it works!

Gary Goldstein’s Advice On Writing Christmas Movie

What is the best advice for someone who wants to be a professional writer, or maybe even try to write a Christmas movie?

If you want to write a script, for a Christmas movie or anything else, just do it. Give it a shot. They say that anything on the page is better than nothing and, for starters, that’s kind of true; at least you have something to work off of. But you have to stick with it, maybe give yourself a schedule or timetable, try to find a way to squeeze it in with your other work and obligations. Commit.

And if you’re a new or emerging writer, do your homework, read lots of scripts and screenwriting books, take classes, watch movies, be clear on structure, format and general writing techniques. And don’t be afraid to ask more seasoned writers for help–one well-answered question can often save you loads of time and effort.

Be confident. You can do this!

Photo: John Brotherton, Kimberley Sustad Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Astorga
Photo: John Brotherton, Kimberley Sustad Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Astorga

Does Gary Goldstein Still Have Any Passion Projects?

You have done so many things in your writing career. Is there anything more that you would like to delve into?

Oh, definitely. There’s so much more I’d like to write, so many passion projects I’ve been working to get off the ground, so many more pitches I’d like to move forward and stories I’d like to tell. If I can see even a few of them come to life, I’d be thrilled.

Photo: Leila Harrison, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Veronica Long, John Brotherton, Kimberley Sustad Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Astorga
Gary Goldstein’s Lights, Camera, Christmas! Photo: Leila Harrison, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Veronica Long, John Brotherton, Kimberley Sustad Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: David Astorga

Why Do Viewers Love Hallmark Movies?

Why do you think people love these romantic movies?

They’re just so hopeful and wish-fulfilling, the characters so relatable and rootworthy. Rom-coms and Christmas movies can be a wonderful escape and we all need some of that in our life!

Photo: John Brotherton Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: Brendan Meadows
Photo: John Brotherton Credit: ©2022 Hallmark Media/Photographer: Brendan Meadows

What is next for Gary Goldstein?

I’m currently writing a new Christmas movie that will hopefully be made for next year. I also have an idea for a new novel that I hope to get going soon.

Beyond that, I have several older film and TV scripts plus a few stage plays I’m trying to find homes for, including a ‘What if?’-type reimagining of the last few hours of Natalie Wood’s life (before she went back onto the boat) called  Dinner at the Harbor Reef.

Be sure to follow Gary on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

The premiere of Lights, Cameras, Christmas! is on Saturday, November 5, at 8 p.m., Eastern, on the Hallmark Channel. This is part of the 2022 Countdown To Christmas movies.

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