It seems that in my undying quest to shed light on the industrious people behind the scenes, I have encountered a variety of writers, and Gary Goldstein is one of those abundantly adept talents with whom I have recently become acquainted (as in yesterday). I had no idea how many Hallmark films Gary had written, and just marveling at his credits was enough to ensure that interviewing Gary would be a genuine treat. Evidently, he was of the same mindset as he quickly answered a few questions concerning his career, with specific focus on the new Hallmark film, Summer in the City, premiering August 13!
RH: Why did you decide to become a television writer as opposed to a writer for a different medium?
GG: I’ve actually written for TV (episodic and movies), feature films and the stage. But the business shifts over time, so you have to shift with it. TV movies have offered a wealth of opportunities since I started writing for them, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work steadily in the medium. They’re also very satisfying and enjoyable to write.
As you have written numerous scripts for Hallmark, how did you first get involved with the network? What do you like about the network?
I sold my first script to them in 2009, a feature film spec I wrote called The Wish List. I then adapted it for the Hallmark brand. The movie came out really well and was a success for the network, so thankfully the work continued! The network is very supportive of their writers and really encourages the kind of humor, warmth and creativity you see on screen. It also provides a regular and very valuable outlet for the kinds of character-driven comedies and dramas that have largely vanished in the studio feature world.
What are the various steps in the process of bringing a script to life on the screen? How long do these scripts usually take?
Every film is different; some may take longer than others depending on the readiness of the material and scheduling needs. But, in general, we start with a pitch or story idea, then turn it into a full outline that tracks the events and characters of the entire movie. When that’s approved, we’ll go to script. There’s input along the way from execs, producers, and sometimes a star or director, based on what stage the script is at. The stories can often evolve over the course of each script draft until everyone feels it’s ready to be shot. Enter your casting director!
While I’m sure you love them all, do you have one or two that are your favorites or have special stories associated with them?
I do love them all; each one becomes such a part of you. But if forced to choose, I’d say I have an extra special affinity for The Wish List, since that started my journey at Hallmark, as well as two other films: Hitched for the Holidays and This Magic Moment, both terrific movies based on original screenplays that were very important to me. Oh, and I also really love–okay, I’ll stop!
The movie’s executive producer, Meyer Shwarzstein, had pitched the initial idea to Hallmark and they then paired him with me to develop it into a full story. We worked on the outlines and scripts over the course of maybe a year or so until cameras rolled.
What is the overall message or theme of Summer in the City?
Kind of a cross between “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!” and “Be yourself.” Also, “Don’t give up your dreams.” That last one applies to the three lead characters: Taylor, Philip and Alyssa, just in different ways.
As this is the second film you’ve written for the Hallmark Channel’s “Summer Nights,” what was the time frame on your other one For Love and Honor? Where did the inspiration come for that story?
I worked on that one between phases of writing Summer in the City. James Denton, who starred, suggested doing a movie with a military theme. So I came up with the idea of setting a story at a military academy, where his character could come in as the new commandant and butt heads with the new (female) dean of academics. It took off from there. Also, a shout-out to Mark Amato, who co-wrote.
As you appear to be one who easily transitions between genres, do you find one easier to write in than others or is each genre about the same level of easiness/difficulty?
Every script you write is a bit like a puzzle, putting all the right story pieces together till everything fits. Each one is its own kind of challenge, whatever the genre. That said, if the characters, story and theme are strong, it makes the process go more smoothly. A solid foundation is really important.
Do you find adapting books more challenging than original stories? Why or why not?
Ultimately, it probably works out to be about the same effort. Adapting a book can at least give you the framework of a story to start with. But that story is not always told cinematically, or it may not have the kind of central relationship you need to drive that story on film, and so on. So, based on the book, there may be less to work with than you need–which requires augmenting and reconfiguring what’s there. I always try to honor the original author and not throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, but in the end, it’s about what will make the best movie.
On the other hand, starting off with an original story is a blank canvas which can be very liberating and inspiring. You can build the script from the ground up and discover all kinds of great things along the way. But you also don’t have the safety net of the basic character and story events that are laid out for you in a book, even if you have to alter them.
Do you have any other upcoming works you can mention?
A stage play I wrote and am very proud of called April, May & June will premiere at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, CA next March as part of the theatre’s 2016-2017 subscription season. It’s about three adult sisters–named April, May and June–and the surprise they discover as they’re cleaning out their late mother’s house, which was also where they grew up. Any readers visiting L.A. next Spring: please check it out!
I’ve also optioned two books I’m trying to set up as movies. One is a comedy called Mr. 365 by Ruth Clampett about a guy who celebrates Christmas every day of the year and the reality TV producer who falls for him as she’s shooting his story for a series. It’d make a great TV movie.
The other book is Rescuing Riley, which is the true story of Zachary Anderegg, an ex-Marine who goes on a very difficult mission to save a dog who’s been abandoned in a desert canyon. It’s an amazingly deep and powerful book which I’m hoping to adapt as a feature film. Fingers crossed!
Is there a genre or type of writing you hope to write one day?
I’d love to write a novel one day; it’s always on my radar. I just need a good solid stretch of time to do so. Till then, I’m really happy writing screenplays and stage plays.
What would we do without gifted writers who persevere in creating such heartfelt and inspiring stories that are also family-friendly? Like Gary mentioned, it seems like sometimes Hallmark is the only network still crafting these kinds of films, and we viewers can rest assured that Gary will continue to write stories about that which he is passionate. Moreover, he adds just the right amount of genially spicy humor to make these stories entertaining, spunky, and even captivating. Hallmark has made a wise decision in having this man pen so many of its hits, and we can be fully confident that this Saturday’s offering will be just as delectable a watch as his others–maybe even more so. Be certain that you tune into the Hallmark Channel on Saturday, August 13, and catch the début of the fourth installment in this series of “Summer Nights” films, Summer in the City. Furthermore, as awesome Hallmark fans that we are, be sure you check out and follow all the links below so that you will be aware of Gary’s upcoming, present, and even past works. With proficiency such as his, you don’t want to be out of the loop for even a second!