How to make a perfect Hallmark Christmas movie, according to an Austin writer
This summer, there are inns that need saving and sprigs of mistletoe waiting to host a kiss.
Starting this weekend, the Hallmark Channel will present a “Christmas in July” marathon of its made-for-TV cinematic holiday confections, beloved (and perhaps sometimes reviled) for their embrace of kitsch and the tropiest of tropes. Premiering as part of the series at 8 p.m. Saturday: “Crashing Through the Snow,” starring Amy Acker (known best for TV roles on “Angel” and “Person of Interest”) and written by Austin resident Tamar Laddy.
Laddy, a lecturer in the University of Texas’ Department of Radio-Television-Film, is a TV writers room pro. She cut her teeth on soap operas like “General Hospital” and has racked up credits including “Hart of Dixie,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Lying Game.”
“Crashing Through the Snow” is her first Hallmark Christmas movie, though she’s no newbie to the genre.
“I have watched so many,” she says. “And not just the Hallmark ones — I tend to get sucked into the Netflix ones. They really have my number.”
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Laddy first met with the Hallmark team in February 2020. She spent last year writing the screenplay for “Crashing Through the Snow,” and it was greenlit for production early this year. The film is set in Austin and Aspen, but it was shot in Winnipeg and Banff in Canada “to catch the snow,” Laddy says.
In the film, a single Austin mom named Maggie (played by Acker) is closely co-parenting with her ex-husband (played by Kristian Bruun), and they’re used to still sharing holidays together. When Jeff starts dating a woman named Kate (played by Brooke Nevin), they decide to bring the kids along to Colorado to celebrate Christmas with her family. Maggie ends up crashing Christmas — there it is — and yes, there’s romance to be found in the snow.
"It was really actually quite nice, during the dark depths of the pandemic, to be writing a Christmas movie that was full of joy and comedy and fun,” Laddy says.
So, put away your red, white and blue décor if you haven’t already. Let’s skip to December. We caught up with Laddy last week to talk about conjuring Christmas magic from deep in the heart of Texas, as well as what makes for a perfect Hallmark holiday movie. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
American-Statesman: What made you want to bring a little bit of Austin to this Hallmark Christmas movie?
Tamar Laddy: I felt very much a part of the place and wanted to spotlight it. I haven't seen everything that (Hallmark has) done, but I hadn't seen too many that were set here. I think that Texas looms really large in popular culture. People have all sorts of ideas about Texas and what it is, and I just thought it'd be nice to give a slice of life here.
What were some of the threads of inspiration you pulled on to come up with this story?
The inspiration was really my sister-in-law — not that anything happened for her like this, but she is a single mom. I just watched her throughout the years, her Herculean efforts to make her son's life as wonderful and magical as possible, despite the circumstances of not always being able to be with him for the holidays.
That's something a lot of people will probably relate to.
I mean, (when) I grew up, my parents were divorced and remarried, so we definitely dealt with blended family dynamics. I think that there can be some challenges.
Hallmark movies have some of the same romantic elements as soap operas. They're not serialized, but the stakes are often heightened, let's say. They have really become a cultural institution. I know this is the first Hallmark Christmas movie you’ve written, but what do you think makes a good one?
I think a lot of it is about grounded emotion, and the characters. So, characters going through something really relatable. And also, I think there's certainly been a trend in recent years ... you used to watch them, and the women would be uprooting their lives at the end of the movie. ... I’d turn to my husband and say, “Oh no, by the end of this movie, she's going to be giving up her career to move to this different city with a man she just met.” Because inevitably with these Christmas movies, you've got people coming from different places and meeting somewhere. There's going to have to be some rejiggering of what the vision of their lives is going to be after.
I think that that's totally shifted, and shifting. I think the best ones are, like I said, grounded more in real emotion. They're always going to have some sort of fun fantasy element to them, and there will always be the ones about the woman who needs to marry the prince. But for me, the ones that I respond to the most are the ones just about people and their lives, who have something extraordinary happen.
There has been some talk about Hallmark Christmas movies, in particular, making strides to represent more diverse stories. Last year in particular, they had their first gay romance, and they have produced more Black stories. What do you think about that seismic shift in this very traditional TV fare?
I think that it's moving in the right direction, for sure, and the more representation we can have, the better, because all kinds of people fall in love, and all kinds of people watch and love these movies and should see themselves represented in them. I should say that my movie, “Crashing,” it doesn't have that element or component in it, but I've certainly worked on, or am working, to pitch them more stories that do.
Why do you think these kinds of made-for-TV holiday movies have carved out such a niche over the past few years?
Oh, it's all about the happy ending. During the very beginning of the pandemic, Hallmark did a Christmas marathon. It was all about just, you know, this is what we need in this moment — some positivity and some Christmas in our lives. I think that people yearn for that. We think about Christmas, we think about tradition, and family and heart. It sort of evokes a lot of that for people. But I do think it's about the happy ending, it's about the fact that these movies end in a moment where things are resolved.
Which is really different for me from series television. I teach series TV at UT … where you're really trying to come up with storylines that are very messy at the end, and you don't want to wrap everything up in a neat bow, because you need something to talk about next week, like ongoing conflicts. So it was a real different experience writing this and approaching what was going to be a close-ended storyline.
It's so funny, because (these movies) used to be my guilty pleasure. I would just sit down and watch these sometimes with my 7-year-old son. ... The more people I talk to, the more people just come out and say, “Oh yes, I love those movies.” And I think it's because they are really uplifting. I don't think that there's any need for them to be a dirty little secret.