Thursday, January 27, 2022

Interview: Christmas Romance/Hallmark/Ion Movie Writer Joany Kane - Hear About her Inspirations, On Writing Christmas Movies Before they Were Popular and Her Advice for all Aspiring Christmas Movie Writers

 By Suzanne Ordas Curry

As I am HUGE fan of Christmas movies, I had a lot of questions for prolific writer Joany Kane, whom I met after she gave a presentation at Christmas Con (by That's 4 Entertainment)  a few years back. I ask her about how she got started, about her very popular movie The Christmas Card and how she keeps churning out scripts that we all love to watch. I was fascinated to get inside her head to see what gets her going and after reading her memoir, I got to learn how she landed where she is now. And I must add that it was quite a joy to get to know her, it's no surprise that someone who writes movies with happy endings has a positive, rosy outlook on living life and was a joy to interview.

Suzee: We all love Christmas movies!! Tell me how you got started writing Christmas movies. 

Joany Kane: The very first Christmas script I ever wrote was Twas The Night and I wrote it back in the mid 1990s long before there was a Hallmark Channel or a Christmas movie craze. (The Hallmark Channel started in 2001.) I stumbled my way through writing the script because back then there wasn’t even Google to easily look things up. 

Twas The Night is about a family of 4 that gets trapped in a magical timeless Vermont village on Christmas Eve – the village is home to Santa Claus. During the evening the mom & dad rediscover their romantic love for each other and the teenage daughter discovers first love. It was a quintessential story of busy harried city folk rediscovering the true meaning of Christmas/Christmas romance thanks to a quaint country setting; the trope-iest of Hallmark storylines more than a decade before it became a trope. :)  I’ve optioned the script a bunch of times but it hasn’t been turned into a movie yet.

Suzee: What kind of experience/training did you have? Do you consider yourself a "romance writer?"  

I stumbled into screenwriting. I had an idea for a movie and then set out to teach myself how to write in script style and format. I try to devour everything I can on how to write screenplays (via craft books purchased through Amazon and online websites dedicated to helping screenwriters like Stage 32 and Inktip.) Everything I write has a romance in it and I’ve written scripts in most every genre; comedy, mystery, adventure, holiday, western, horror, etc.  The label that I strive to be would be – enchantment conjurer. :) 

Suzee: What was the pivotal moment in your career, or the first time that a script you wrote was turned in to a movie? 

Joany Kane: The first screenplay I ever wrote was a comedy script “86 Management.” (A Mel Brooks styled slapstick comedy.) I wrote it around 1994. This was before the internet and emails so I had to snail mail pitches. I snail mailed a pitch for the script to Bette Midler (I thought she’d have a lot of fun with the villain in the story.) She asked to read the script. 

While she did pass on it, she was very encouraging and saw potential in me.  (She also told me to lay off the Jimmy Buffett. :) (I wrote a whole bunch of Jimmy Buffett songs into the script.) Editor's Note: We need Jimmy Buffet in everything.

My first screenplay sale and movie made was for The Christmas Card. I wrote the screenplay in 1999, 2 years before there was a Hallmark Channel.  The script sold to Hallmark in 2003. The movie premiered on December 2, 2006.

Joany Kane with Logger Honey and Santa - their first Christmas 

Suzee: Tell me about how your Logger Honey inspired your first movie and your upcoming novel. 

Joany Kane: I met Logger Honey the first Friday of January 1999, when I was in the midst of trying to figure out the story/script for The Christmas Card.  I had to take a part-time job at the time to supplement my fledgling Hollywood screenwriting career. So I started an office job the week of Christmas 1998 at a lumber yard. 

While working on the script for The Christmas Card over the 1998 holiday season I knew four things about the script.  knew I wanted to honor my dad who had been a medic in World War II having served in the European Campaign. I knew I wanted to honor my mom who mailed out hundreds of Christmas cards every holiday season. The title of the movie is in her honor. 

knew that the romance would be between a young woman who sends a Christmas card to a serviceman and he, inspired by the sentiment in the card, sets out to meet her. knew that I wanted to write a holiday romance because I really wanted to see holiday romances on the screen. In the late 1990s there weren’t really many new holiday movies, let alone holiday romances, to watch on any screens. (Cable was still in its infancy and there weren’t any streamers.) 

Other than those four “knews,” I had nothing. Over the 1998 holiday season I pondered and percolated on filling in the details for the screenplay but nothing clicked.  Even though I was frustrated by the feeling that the story was not yet within reach, I had such a strong gut feeling about this story. It lived with me night and day, tickling my heart and soul, nudging me that it needed to be written whether it found an audience or not, that having all of the story elements click was just within reach.

Suzee: Romance novels frequently rely on love at first sight- tell me how it IS real.

Joany Kane: And then I met Logger Honey - and fell head over Keds sneakers in love the very moment I laid eyes on him. It was the kind of love at first sight you read about in romance novels. It was, and still is, the kind of romance you watch on the Hallmark Channel.  The first moment our eyes locked I was warp speed blown away. The feeling startled the dickens out of me because at that point in time, at the age of 34, I was a happy spinster. 

But then my eyes met his. At noontime. On January 8th, the first Friday of the year 1999. And my entire life changed in a single heartbeat. That may sound a tad Harlequin, but holy wow, true it was.  It was that first meeting with Logger Honey that helped inspire the writing of The Christmas Card which I detail in my memoir “Romancing Christmas.” Now, near 23 years later (at this writing in 2022,) when Logger Honey smiles at me, it’s exactly like that love at first sight moment.  It was not only love at first sight the first moment I saw Logger Honey, it’s been love at first sight every single moment since. 

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Suzee: TWO new movies in 2021. WOW! Tell me about the inspiration for these movies. 

Joany Kane: This is a fantastic example of never give up on a dream, hope or goal. I wrote a couple of Christmas scripts, Dial S For Santa and Holiday Hideout well over 10 years ago. But because Holiday Hideout had a crime element and Dial S For Santa had a relationship between the female lead and her young nephew that was of equal importance as the romantic relationship, the two scripts weren’t a fit for Hallmark. 

Hallmark was really the only game in town for Christmas content back then and they were really leaning into their formula (an already successful woman without love finds it at Christmastime, often in a small town or hometown while helping to save a business or save Christmas, and becomes even more successful and fulfilled by the end of the movie.)  I was able to sell the 2 scripts to ION in 2021 because they were looking for stories with a bit of a crime angle to fit their marketing campaign of “It’s the most wonderful crime of the year.” My two older scripts became the movies The Christmas Thief and A Christmas Witness. (I didn’t choose the titles, once a producer and/or distributor buys the project they can change whatever they want.)

Suzee: What do you think is the most important part of a Christmas/romance movie? Is it likeable, empathetic characters? Name actors? A good story? A fantastic setting? Please prioritize.  

Joany Kane: Casting is crucial but it doesn’t necessarily have to be name actors; they just need to be right for the characters and the lead couple has to have chemistry.  The movie needs to make me feel; to feel nostalgia, romance, love, joy, hope. I don’t really care if they save the candle store, and we all know the couple is going to get together at the end, so it’s the journey the filmmakers take me on that matters most. 

It’s the designing of the individual scenes and the feelings the scenes inspire and that is thanks to how the filmmaker paints the picture via a mix of music, visuals, location, and most importantly character connection. I love the scene in The Holiday between Kate Winslet and Jack Black when they’re at his place seated at the keyboard and Jack’s character shares with Kate’s character the tune he wrote for her; that’s such a beautifully crafted scene with the character connection the heart & soul of the scene. The Holiday is a good example of a movie loaded with touching moments beautifully crafted.

Suzee: Tell me about the writing process. Where do you go? Do you have a special place or desk? Do you have notebooks full of ideas? Do you write for hours at a time? How long does it take you to write a full screenplay? 

Joany Kane: I’m still old school where I start the stories in actual notebooks, plotting them and outlining them with a pad and a pen. For the romance scripts I try to come up with between at least 6-12 “moments” that I think will be memorable; if it’s a Hallmark/Lifetime/TV movie with act breaks I like to have at least 1 memorable moment per act. (Hallmark movies are broken up into 9 acts and an act happens between commercial breaks.) 

I find walking in the woods or around my small town helps get the internal thought process ignited and I always take a small pad and pen with me on my walks. I compose the actual screenplays in a software program called Final Draft. I’m usually sitting on my bed with my TV on while I tickle the keyboard on my Mac laptop transcribing my hand-notes into my laptop. Some stories grab such a hold of me and won’t let go until I crank out a first draft, others I can work on a bit here and there. 

With The Christmas Card I had the first initial idea for it at the time I was writing Twas The Night in 1994 but it had to percolate inside of me until the holiday season of 1998 and then I could think of nothing else but the script. Until I met Logger Honey and then from the time I started writing it Christmas-New Year’s week of 1998-1999 until I finished the first draft in March of 1999 (3 months basically) I pretty much thought of nothing else but the script and Logger Honey. I was falling deeper in love with him at the very time I wrote The Christmas Card.

What is the best part about seeing your work on television? 

Joany Kane: I used to love to watch my movies with my mom. We’d spend premiere night together and have a slumber party at her house (which was my old childhood home.) To see how excited she’d get when she saw my name in the credits was such a joy. I miss her so much. The best part was who I was with when I watched my movies.

From the set of Moonlight and Mistletoe    Courtesy Joany Kane

Suzee: Are you on set? Any good production stories?

Joany Kane: The only time I was on set was for Moonlight & Mistletoe, Candace Cameron Bure’s first Hallmark movie. It was shot in Vermont not too far from where I live in Massachusetts. I stayed in the same B&B as actress Barbara Niven. Barbara is a radiant delight, such a beautiful person inside and out. She treated everyone on set with joyful kindness.

Suzee: Was there ever a movie you did that did not end up looking like you had envisioned it - either negatively or positively? 

Joany Kane: I wrote an ode to the Beauty & The Beast fable titled Christmas Belle. It ended up on ION. The original script leaned into the Gothic romance and vibe of the fable while the movie ended up being more of a standard holiday rom com. There was one scene I wrote that I loved. It was between the female lead and the male lead’s little dog. The female lead looks out the kitchen window and sees the male lead (“the beast”) chopping firewood, and it’s this moment that she first feels an attraction to him. She looks at the little dog and they exchange a knowing grin like “yeah, he’s kinda hot.” That scene was changed (not by me) to the female lead sitting on the front porch and when the male lead returns from jogging (and he’s not wearing a shirt) she comments on him being shirtless.  

Suzee: I love the term "romancing Christmas". Tell us about your new website. 

Joany Kane:At the tail end of 2021 I launched so I could have my memoir “Romancing Christmas” available for a pdf download.  I had released a children’s picture book “My Unicorn Adventure With Mom” (that I created with an actress from “The Christmas Card,” Glorinda Marie) via Amazon and that book has gotten lost in the behemoth of Amazon, plus Amazon takes a pretty big chunk of the profits.  

So I thought I’d go the independent route with the memoir and have it available just from the website to start, see how well it’s received and if it inspires anyone. If the initial readers spark to it I’ll see about going wider with it. “Romancing Christmas” is my love story with Logger Honey, with my mom, and with my Hollywood dreams. How The Christmas Card came to be is a romance worthy of a Hallmark movie. 

Suzee: What advice can you give to an aspiring romance writer?  

Joany Kane: Read, watch and write.  Repeat repeatedly. Read as many scripts as you can (you can find a ton online,) read up on the industry (via sites like Deadline, Hollywood Reporter.) Read the classics and bestsellers, read books, short stories, blogs from genres that interest you. Read craft articles and books (a ton online, on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble.) Watch anything you can, especially content that is similar to what you want to write. 

Take notes as you watch to pay attention to what happens when and how. I try to watch at least one episode of every show that premieres on cable and on the streamers; I pay attention to who writes them, directs them and produces them. If the show is similar to something I’m working on I’ll research everything I can on the show and watch every episode and write a report on it. 

Write every day, even if it’s just jotting ideas, a scene, notes in a journal.  One thing I write in every single day is my gratitude journal, I’ll write what I’m thankful for that happened that day. Even if it was a crappy discouraging day, I’ll find something to be grateful for from a bird song to a hug from Logger Honey.

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Suzee: What projects do you have in the works of foresee in the future? 

Joany Kane: I have a few Christmas romances that I hope are going into production in 2022: The Christmas Garden, A Christmas Yarn and Somewhere in Christmastime.  The project I’m most excited about is A Merry Scary Christmas Tale. I’m producing that one and hope to be one of the directors (it’s an anthology holiday movie.) 

Back in the days of Victorian England telling scary stories around the fireside at Christmastime was a beloved holiday tradition. Telling scary stories at Christmastime was to the British what Hallmark holiday romance movies are to us. That’s how the world got Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” He wrote that to be read aloud as part of the scary storytelling tradition. 

My goal is to launch a brand of content and to expand it to include “A Merry Scary Halloween Tale” and provide fun, festive (and frightening) content in the BER season (September, October, November, December.) But fun frightening, like old school Vincent Price movies, Gothic Jane Eyre-esque romances and “Hocus Pocus.”


Top 5 Holiday Movies (not yours)

The Bishop’s Wife

White Christmas

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the original, Boris Karloff)

The Holiday

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Honorable mention: Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas

Shows You are Binging on

I just finished binging Archive81 on Netflix and I was so enthralled with it I pretty much pulled an all nighter to binge all 8 episodes.  There’s a bit of a love story at the heart of that series.  

Something You Can't Live Without

Logger Honey hugs.

(Tab used to be my caffeine drink of choice but Coca Cola discontinued it in 2020; prior to the discontinue, every script I wrote was fueled by Tab.)

Mantra You Live By

From my mom - “Keep the faith.”

And from Mr. Rogers - “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”

Idea of a Perfect Day

Starts with a Logger Honey hug and ends with a Logger Honey hug.

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