Being somewhat of a Hallmark “SuperFan,” I do tend to lend my categorical support in an immense way to their projects, and it just so happens that Chesapeake Shores, which is incidentally Hallmark’s currently most popular series, is a project about which I have no problem promoting. In fact, it is a joy and an honor to have the opportunity to advocate for this show in very tangible ways. From the first murmurings about whether the show would be family-friendly to the now inconceivable backing the show has received from its fans and critics alike, it is pure bliss to discover each and every person involved (or at least those who can find the time to connect with me) to be featured on my blog. And Kirsten Hansen is one such individual. She has been involved with the writing aspects of the show on various levels, and I was overjoyed when she agreed to answer a few questions about her career in general with a prominent spotlight on Chesapeake Shores.
RH: Why did you become a writer? Why specifically did you get involved with TV/film writing?
KH: Ever since I was young, writing has been my creative outlet. I started writing in my journal in kindergarten, then poems, songs, short stories, short films, and eventually screenplays and my blog, all which helped me to find my voice, as they say. I didn’t immediately know I was a “writer” though. I tend to write from my heart rather than an intellectual place, and for the longest time, before building my foundation in screenwriting, I didn’t think that constituted being a writer: AKA, I didn’t believe in myself. Creatives, writers, actors, artists, we put our whole heart and soul into what we do, leaving our guts out on display, often drawing from a personal place or experience. It’s a profession that requires a will to persevere that’s stronger than criticism. And it took me a while to get to that place of confidence. But then eventually I realized, writing, for me, is as necessary as breathing. It’s my “why.” I love making people feel something and it’s a fulfilling way of helping make the world a brighter place to be. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. Other than directing, which is another form of storytelling… and that leads to how I got to where I am now.
I went into film with the intention of becoming a director (still not believing in myself as a writer), and was very fortunate to start my professional career in 2001 with Air Bud Entertainment, mentored by company principals Robert Vince and Anna McRoberts. They provided the landscape for me to learn the craft of filmmaking and build my foundations in screenwriting, story/script development, and script supervising. For thirteen years, I ran their development department, developing ideas/concepts, writing outlines, treatments, and eventually their scripts, as well as script supervising their films in production. It was a very collaborative environment and the perfect balance of development and production. I am so grateful to all those years with my Air Bud family, which felt like film school, and taught me to believe in myself as a writer.
Growing up, I was obsessed with the Sweet Valley High book series. Books have a way of creating a world that you want to escape to and be a part of, and whether I knew it consciously, this is why I wanted to tell stories. A few years ago, after realizing how much I was obsessed with my favorite TV shows, I decided TV was the place for me. A TV series is similar to a book series – the story continues on. You follow these characters over the years and seasons, and it gives you time to get to know them as people, and there is so much potential for the audience to grow along with them. Last summer, I left my post as VP of Development at Air Bud Entertainment to become a freelance writer with my goal of writing in TV. It’s been a whirlwind, life-changing, and very exciting year.
I have worked on over a dozen films as a script supervisor, so it can definitely appear that way, but funny enough, for over fifteen years, I had been working steadily in story development: the ongoing development of ideas, stories, whether original or adaptations, and unless they get made and go into production, they can stay in the world of development for years. Pup Star, a film I co-wrote with Air Bud Entertainment and was just released in theatres and Digital HD, is a perfect example. We spent six years developing that film, crafting the best story, before the timing was right for it to be filmed.
In 2001, I became a script supervisor because it’s the one position on set where you get to work next to and with the director all day long. The duties include: logging and keeping track of everything that has been shot for the editors, knowing what is still owing for the director and AD department, as well as working with the actors, the camera department, and overseeing the overall continuity of the project. It’s a very busy job and requires a focused brain, an eye for detail, and an awareness of the bigger picture… At Air Bud, I was lucky to first help develop the projects, and then be there throughout production as the script supervisor, ensuring that the story we envisioned was the same one we were creating on screen.
In addition to your Hallmark work, you’ve worked on a lot of animal-themed movies. Would you consider an animal lover?
Who isn’t?! LOL. Yes, I definitely am an animal lover. I grew up on a hobby farm with horses, rabbits, dogs, cats, chickens, cows, llamas, pheasants, pigs, you name it. So it’s a blessing and probably not a coincidence that I worked on so many animal films. I loved making family films because they’re a lot of fun to make, we shoot in amazing locations with a great cast of characters (Spymate we filmed partially in Jamaica, the California desert, and snowcapped mountains in Canada, all with a chimpanzee), the stories have a lot of heart, and there are always adorable animals around. It’s the best of both worlds.
If I am correct, your first Hallmark work was Unleashing Mr. Darcy. I’ve interviewed many of the cast, but from a crew member’s perspective, what was this experience like? How did you get involved with Hallmark?
Yes, it was my first time working with Hallmark and I loved it! I was just finishing up filming Pup Star, and I got a call from the production manager of Unleashing Mr. Darcy. My name was recommended to him as I had a lot of experience working as a script supervisor on animal-friendly films, and as you know, Unleashing Mr. Darcy was centered around dog shows so, luckily, I was the perfect fit.
I had a great experience on that film, and have actually just finished working with the same producers and Cindy Busby again on Hailey Dean Mysteries, another project for Hallmark. You may remember that Cindy played the lead, Elizabeth, in Unleashing Mr. Darcy. We had a blast on set. She is hilarious. And I’m sure people will be familiar with Kellie Martin, who plays Hailey Dean. I remember growing up watching her on Life Goes On, so it was a huge pleasure to get to work with her. She is so kind and lovely and can memorize eight pages of dialogue in minutes!
What I love about Hallmark is, much like Air Bud Entertainment, it’s a very family-friendly environment. Their mandate is to entertain people with stories that are relatable, fun, wholesome, and heartwarming. And that’s my mandate as well.
What was the first film/show where you got to do some writing? Please tell us about how that writing job came along and how you got that job.
From 2006-2008, while I was working as a creative executive at Brightlight Pictures, I was fortunate to develop and work on really cool films and TV series such as the half-hour comedy About A Girl for The N Network/Global. One project was a book that I loved called OLD SOULS, and is based on a true story. The author, Tom Shroder, was an editor at the Washington Post Magazine, and as a curious but skeptical man, convinced the acclaimed psychologist, Dr. Ian Stevenson, to allow him access on his journey through India and Lebanon, meeting various case studies of children who could remember and recount details about their past lives that would be completely impossible for them to know otherwise. Over the course of the journey and his book, Tom went from skeptic to believer.
I found the material fascinating, and was so passionate about the book that I convinced Tom, via his agent, to allow Brightlight Pictures to option his book, and then I convinced Brightlight to let me write the adaptation. The development was funded by Telefilm Canada and CHUM. This was the first time I was hired as a writer, and it was a huge turning point in my career, so I am very grateful to Brightlight Pictures for that experience. I started with the treatment, and then Tom and I continued to work together for the next five years, writing the screenplay and making efforts to attach talent and a director. We came close many times. The story of reincarnation is a sensitive subject matter, and I’ve learned to trust the timing. I’d still like to make Old Souls into a film one day…. We’ll see!
Recently, you did some writing for Chesapeake Shores. How did you get selected to do that? How many episodes did you write or contribute to?
Yes! Working on Chesapeake Shores with showrunner John Tinker and the whole cast and crew has been a dream come true for me. First off, I love this show. I come from a family of divorced parents and I’m the middle child of three sisters, so I relate to Abby, Bree (especially being a writer myself), and Jess so much. I saw a lot of my own family in the O’Briens, and it felt so natural to write for these characters.
Chesapeake Shores was my first professional foray into writing for TV, and I loved every minute of it. I was actually hired by producer Matt Drake and John Tinker to be the script coordinator on the show, managing all the script revisions, as that was another job I had done while at Air Bud. However, within a few weeks of working closely with John, he asked me to write Episode 1006 (which will be the seventh episode to air). John comes from the mindset of offering opportunities, having been given them himself when he was first starting out, and I know that I wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for him. He saw something in me and my writing, and I am forever grateful to him for that. John was, and continues to be, so incredibly supportive of me. He’s been an incredible teacher.
Since we were moving at such a fast pace, and there were only three of us in the writing department, including Nancey Silvers, who also wrote the two-hour pilot, I wanted to help John steer the ship to success in any way I could be of service and that included brainstorming character/season arcs and offering suggestions, ideas, notes, dialogue, and doughnuts, as needed on other episodes. Fun fact: John loves old-fashioned sugar doughnuts, but don’t tell him I said that. Ah, what does it matter? I usually ate more than him anyway. We (meaning mostly me) ate enough mini doughnuts this summer to last a lifetime. Be sure to ask executive producer/director Martin Wood about that. LOL.
Was this the first time you had adapted a book to TV/film? If not, please tell us your first. What are the benefits/challenges of adapting a book to the medium of TV?
Old Souls was my first time professionally adapting material for the screen. Adapting can present its challenges by wanting to remain true to the author and source material and not disappoint anyone, but it’s also a very rewarding experience. There is a reason you choose the original material because that is what inspired you to want to make it into a film/series in the first place. Film/TV are very different mediums to books. There seems to be an infinite amount of time in a book to tell a story, whereas in film, you have ninety minutes and in television, you have less than one hour.
With Chesapeake Shores, Sherryl Woods built such a beloved world. John Tinker was very mindful of doing justice to the source material and honoring the fans while also knowing in order to make a TV show, we needed to prolong certain storylines or take slight detours in order to stay in this world a little bit longer. John is so gifted as a writer and also great at adapting to TV. And we’ve all been so thankful to Sherryl for letting us play in her world.
We move very fast in TV. I wrote the outline for episode 1006 in two to three days, the first draft in another three days, and after notes from John, I did my second pass over the weekend. Things are constantly evolving. We keep rewriting and making things better until the last possible second. I tried to be on set as much as I could, which wasn’t always easy since we were rewriting and prepping the final two episodes at the same time. But I wanted to be there to watch director Anne Wheeler work her magic with the material, and the very talented cast, bring the words to life. It was such an honor.
As writers, it is very beneficial to us as well as the cast/crew to be around as much as possible because it’s such a creative and collaborative process. For example, Diane Ladd, who is a legend and an Oscar nominee, pulled me aside one day with ideas for her character Nell. That conversation sparked inspiration for some of what she experiences in Episode 1006.
I was very fortunate to work with such a talented and creative cast and crew. A huge highlight for me was shadowing Martin Wood as he directed the final two episodes. He is a very gifted director; visually, pragmatically, and also as a leader on set, so it was extremely humbling and exciting to learn from him. All in all, we really felt like a family by the end of the season, on and off screen, and I hope we get a shot at season two, if not for the doughnuts alone. I’m kidding… We are as committed and devoted to these characters and their stories as the fans.
This has been such a fun interview, Ruth. I just want to say thank you for asking such thoughtful questions. I appreciate your commitment to bringing awareness to Hallmark’s projects, including and especially Chesapeake Shores. Your support has been really felt and appreciated, so thank you. (And no, I didn’t pay her to say that–I considered removing this as a matter of fact lest it seem braggadocious on my part, but I chose to let it remain because it was so heartfelt, sincere, and inspiring.)
And yes, I do have my own projects in the works. One is an original TV pilot for a one-hour dramatic mystery series I wrote, and the other is a feature film/MOW romantic comedy I wrote and will be directing. Both are in various stages of moving forward and I can’t wait to be able to share more… hopefully soon.
If you could adapt any book to screen, what book would you choose and who would you cast in the leads?
There are a few that I’ve loved over the years and have considered adapting in addition to Old Souls, but I’m focusing my energy on Chesapeake Shores and my two other projects at present.
Absolutely! My goal is to one day run my own TV series like John Tinker has been doing so gracefully on Chesapeake Shores. I’m hoping that my original pilot/TV series will allow me the opportunity to do that someday. And in addition to the three family films I’ve written with Air Bud Entertainment—Russell Madness, Monkey Up and Pup Star–I definitely hope to make more films.
I’ve been very fortunate for all the opportunities bestowed upon me, but it’s taken a lot of continued hard work, determination, and dedication for many years. I’ve always felt I have a purpose on this planet to heal, uplift, and inspire people to better know and love themselves and to me, film and TV are the perfect medium, and outlet for creative expression. And with the internet and social media, the planet doesn’t feel as huge as it did when I was growing up. We are able to connect with people all over the world and tell stories people can relate to and see themselves reflected back on screen.
And live tweeting with the fans of Chesapeake Shores has been surreal and so much fun. We have such an enthusiastic fanbase already (Hey #Chesapeeps and #Chessies!)… and it’s all thanks to author Sherryl Woods, executive producers Dan Paulson, John Tinker, Martin Wood, and Nancey Silvers, directors Peter DeLuise and Anne Wheeler, the entire cast and crew, and Bill Abbott, Michelle Vicary and everyone at the Hallmark Channel, for creating and bringing this series to life. Thanks again, Ruth, and thanks to everyone for reading and watching! Until next Sunday…Go #TeamChesapeake!
When I have the good fortune of interviewing fellow writers, almost nothing makes me happier. Being a writer myself, I can instantly relate to the feelings, thoughts, and so much more that they share. In the case of Kirsten, her responses have so completely flabbergasted me (in a good way) that I find myself impressed on countless levels with her and her prfound talents, ambitions, and dreams. In this interview, she did exactly what she says she always does–she shared her heart. As one who is sometimes castigated for sharing too much of myself, I found a special solace in the fact that Kirsten essentially does the same thing. Kirsten’s passion is writing–every aspect of writing as a matter of fact. And her fierce devotion to her purpose in life causes me unimaginable ecstasy. While she only personally penned one of the episodes, her handiwork is inscribed on every facet of Chesapeake Shores as much as any of the other cast and crew. The fact that she sincerely thanked me as she did (and that was totally unbidden and unforeseen) only causes me to respect her more than I already did. I don’t know about you, but I greatly anticipate the episode she wrote (and it’s coming up soon), and I can hardly wait to see her take on the family and its intricate and realistic storylines. While her preference will probably always be to remain on the sidelines and not dazzle and entertain in front of the camera, without people who possess her phenomenal skill and giftedness, no actor would be employed on screen to bring the stories to life. Thus, she is a part of a group that is as vital (if not more so) as the very actors themselves. I invite everyone to watch Chesapeake Shores on the Hallmark Channel every Sunday night (check local listings), and watch especially for episode 1006. Additionally, be good Hallmark fans and follow her at the various links below so that you won’t miss any of her works whether Hallmark or elsewhere.