Lifetime has snagged the rights to a movie based on a book by Ruth Clampett, titled Mr. 365.
As part of their It's a Wonderful Lifetime celebration, Forever Christmas airs on Sunday, October 25 at 8/7c.
My friend, Gary Goldstein, optioned Ruth's book for adaptation, and he jumped on the phone with me to chat about getting the word out for more people to check out his delightful, feel-good film.
Like most everybody else in the industry, Gary has seen some of his work shrivel up, but he's not necessarily complaining. He's had time to catch up on television, a pleasure that, with his busy schedule, isn't always an option.
Gary is also taking comfort in the fact that the business aspect of the TV movie business is back in action. "My work life is not so incredibly different. It's just the interaction part of it is different. Certainly in the film and TV world, production is down, so that has really impacted so much of selling things and pitching things and things getting made.
"They're shooting a lot of Christmas movies in Canada and a lot of other stuff up there, and here, too. It's just the whole process is so much more different. They have to quarantine for two weeks. It's just really tough. But yeah, little by little, they're finding ways."
Still, he feels the world may not ever return to normal. "They're finding ways to make things happen as if this is how it's going to be for a long time, which is not that encouraging."
Using his time wisely isn't a problem for Gary, who got busy writing with all of the free time he discovered. "It's been a really productive time, weirdly. I wrote a novel actually. I wrote my first novel.
"I've been writing for a long time, and I've always wanted to write a novel. And I've never had the time. I've never wanted to take the time. And I just decided to do it. And I actually started it before the pandemic. I started it right after the first of the year and finished it in like July. And that was a great process. I really enjoyed doing it."
He's also got a lot of other irons in the fire.
"I wrote a new half hour TV pilot, like a single camera very dark comedy called Correspondent about a foreign correspondent that I'm trying to get out there now. And I've been pitching a lot of stuff.
"I've been pitching through producers a bunch of different Christmas movies for Hallmark and Lifetime and elsewhere. They're still dealing with Christmas 2020, but they're all taking pitches and trying to put a slate together for 2021 because these Christmas movies have really become a priority for these networks and other networks."
There is no doubt that Christmas movies are a booming business, and that suits Gary just fine, as he's a big fan of writing them.
"It's been interesting, even in the Christmas movie world, to see how that has expanded over the years that I've been writing them and how much more a part of the universe they are and how much more respected they are. They're not a guilty pleasure. They're a pleasure."
"And that's changed. And then to see how it's been proven a good business model. And so, once again, just as Hallmark, Lifetime, etc., have branched into streaming, the holiday movie business model has also gone to Netflix in a serious way.
"I don't know if Amazon does any. I don't think they do, but I'm sure eventually they will, HBO Max I'm sure will. I mean, all these places that need programming and want to try to broaden their programming will get involved."
As they say this time of year, the more the merrier!
"Also on the Christmas front," Gary said, "I did this very interesting Christmas movie seminar, webinar actually, at the end of May with about six other Christmas TV movie writers. I moderated this webinar, and we had a lot of response to it, and it was really fun.
"It was really all about how you write these movies, what the market is for the movies, where the ideas come from, the evolution of them. The whole thing was very, very interesting. It was actually recorded. The person who put the whole thing together recorded it. It was a Zoom thing.
"They recorded it, and ultimately have made it available for sale, and it's gotten a lot of nice attention. And I've heard from so many people who saw the webinar with followup questions about Christmas movies. It was another way of you just see the interest in it. We probably had 500 or so RSVPs for this webinar."
Gary finds the building interest in Christmas movies quite interesting, in addition to being a benefit to his livlihood. "Now people watch a lot of them, and Christmas is something that so many people relate to, have been through in one way or another.
"It becomes something that people, particularly first-time writers say, 'Well, I'm going to take a crack at this because I want to write something. I know how to write something, and I want something that I think there's a market for.'
"So, this webinar that we did, I was kind of surprised at the popularity of it. I knew it would be fun, but I didn't realize it would be as popular as it was. And hopefully, we'll do it again, but there's a tremendous amount of interest in the whole topic, which obviously is reflected in the fact that there are hundreds of them made every year."
Speaking of Christmas movies, we're promoting Forever Christmas in the hopes that you'll take a peek when it airs tonight on Lifetime. It's the story of a man who lives Christmas year around and the woman who wants to put him on TV.
Originally, the movie aired on PassionFlix, a streaming service marketed to women as Mr. 365. At the time, Gary said, "I thought it was a really fun story with great characters, but I especially liked the whole reality TV aspect, which was an arena I’d never seen in a Christmas movie.
"I felt that element, along with the Christmas-every-day idea, could make it a different kind of holiday movie, yet it still had all the charming, romantic, Christmassy things that make these films work."
Renaming it Forever Christmas for Lifetime was easy since it was originally marketed to the international audience under that name.
The book that Ruth Clampett wrote is, as Gary puts it, "a little steamier than your typical Christmas movie." making it a good fit for Lifetime.
"There's definitely a little more going on there than there usually is and with these two very attractive stars. Chelsea Hobbs is the lead, and Chris Russell is her co-star in it. They really were perfect for the parts."
"Then when they did the version for international TV, I think it was maybe ... It's the version that's being shown on Lifetime. It's maybe a couple of minutes shorter just for the time slot, but otherwise it's pretty much the same."
When I originally spoke with Gary about the film he had this to say about working with Russell and Hobbs. "They were great choices: perfectly cast and really talented. They’re also both super attractive but, I think, in a very real and accessible way.
"So, as much as viewers may be drawn to them, it’s also totally believable that the characters would be so into each other. Much of that also has to do with Chris and Chelsea’s kind of natural chemistry. That’s not always the case in these movies. We were lucky."
While is has aired previously around the world, Gary is thrilled for his film to become a part of It's a Wonderful Lifetime.
"What's exciting about it is that really way more people are going to be able to see it now or be exposed to it. It's a fun movie, and I think it's become even more timely now. It's all about reality TV.
"And as popular as that was when the book it was based on was written and then when Mr. 365 was first made two years ago, reality got bigger after the Tiger King and all this stuff. It just seems even more in the zeitgeist than it was then. So yeah, I was exited to see that they did it, and I'm just trying to help get the word out on it and get more eyeballs for it."
So what do you say, TV Fanatics? Does a steamier Christmas romance sound good to you?
If you're interested in purchasing the webinar on how to write Christmas movies for $24, please email me, and I'll share the details with you.
Until then, be sure you tune into Lifetime tonight at 8/9c to watch Forever Christmas.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.