As one who believes in highlighting all talent in TV and movies (and especially when it comes to Hallmark, my favorite network), I was immensely grateful to get the chance to ask Nina Weinman a few questions about her work behind-the-scenes. She has penned such beloved films as Backyard Wedding, Stop the Wedding, Operation Christmas, and so many more, and since I am a writer myself, I consistently relish the opportunity to get a perspective on the creative forces who give us such amazing stories year in and year out. She detailed a little about how she got started as a writer, why she loves the Hallmark network, and even hinted at her future pursuits.
RH: Why did you decide to become a writer, and specifically a screenwriter? What kind of training have you had for writing?
NW: I’ve always been a storyteller from a young age. Every childhood game was actually a performance or “putting on a show.” I did a lot of theater and dance when I was younger and had (and still have) a strong passion for the arts. I knew I wanted to end up in Hollywood (I grew up in Silicon Valley), but I wasn’t entirely sure in what capacity. I studied journalism, but wasn’t passionate about it; however it was a great training ground for being a screenwriter. Upon moving to LA, I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to be an actress, but it wasn’t until I wrote a play–so I’d have something to act in–that I realized my ultimate path was behind the scenes. The first time you watch people saying your words on screen is like nothing else. That feeling of “I created something that’s going to outlast me” is incredibly powerful.
What was your earliest work? What was that experience like and how was it received?
As I said above, my first professional production was a play called BOY CAUGHT, about three girlfriends boycotting Valentine’s day… until it all falls apart. At first, it was a device, so I could perform since the acting jobs weren’t coming. I’ve always believed we must create our own opportunities, but I didn’t realize at the time that it was such a pivotal moment in setting me on my path. I didn’t know yet that I was meant to be a writer, though it kept being revealed to me. Finally, after that experience, I listened, changed my focus and started channeling my creativity onto the page.
What was the first screenplay you wrote for Hallmark? How did that come about? How long did the whole process take from first draft through production?
I had known Liz Yost, VP of Programming at Hallmark, for years when I was working as an assistant in the movie department at Lifetime Television and she was climbing the Hallmark ladder. She’s always been a good friend and a huge champion of my work, so when she informed me that they were going to be doing wedding movies, I buckled down and wrote a wedding script. This was in 2009. I had left Lifetime a year or so earlier to focus on writing and was about to get married, so that was my job, day and night. Write and write and write and create a strong body of work. I sent the finished script to Hallmark and luckily they bought it. It was called BACKYARD WEDDING and it starred Alicia Witt, Teddy Sears, Markie Post and Frances Fisher. Timelines vary, but from script to screen on BACKYARD WEDDING was about nine months. I know this specifically because the day I found out they were buying the script was the same day I learned I was pregnant with my daughter. And when I visited the set, everyone was afraid I was going to go into labor right there! My daughter was born five days later.
I know this experience makes it sound like everything happened very easily for me, but I want to be clear that the whole time I had my “day job” at Lifetime – seven years – I was writing up a storm and submitting movie and television scripts to agents and studios and shows. While the feedback was generally very positive, I got rejection after rejection after rejection. But rather than allow it to deter me, I let every “no” fuel me until, in 2009, I FINALLY got my first “yes.” In this business, perseverance is almost as important as talent.
In the past couple years, you have done a lot of writing for Hallmark. What do you like about writing for this network?
The greatest thing about Hallmark is it really is like a big family. Everyone – from the executives, to the stars, to the writers, to the producers – knows each other and truly loves the collaboration. You see the same faces and names over and over because they’ve given people like me a home to do what we love. At a time when everyone in TV is trying to be so edgy, they’ve been true to their brand and cornered the family-friendly market. I love that my kids, who are four and six, can watch my movies with me. And they love it, too. I can’t even count how many times they’ve seen PUMPKIN PIE WARS. I feel very thankful to have been welcomed into the Hallmark fold and will continue to write for them as long as they’ll have me.
Once you write the screenplay and it is approved, what is your role? Do you ever get to visit the set? Do they ask you to make revisions during filming ?
A script is never truly finished; you just stop rewriting it. There are always changes and revisions that happen, sometimes while the cameras are rolling. I make myself available on every project to do spur-of-the-moment rewrites since I like to see a project through from beginning to end. One example of things that come up: On STOP THE WEDDING, I received a call from the producer, Jack Grossbart, that he was worried the movie was going to come in short. They time a movie as they shoot it and it’s better to have scenes to cut than come up short. In that moment, Jack had two actors on set, Alan Thicke and Niall Matter, so I quickly wrote a sweet father/son scene for the two of them and fifteen minutes later, they shot it. It actually became one of my favorite Alan Thicke moments in the movie. He was a complete pro, not to mention hilarious, so I was very sad to hear of his untimely passing.
I try to visit the set of every one of my movies, but sometimes it’s just not possible with work and kids and life, since I’m in LA and most of my movies shoot in Canada. But I’ve done twelve now and I think I’ve only missed two set visits.
You have written three very well-received films for Hallmark this year (Stop the Wedding, Pumpkin Pie Wars, and Operation Christmas). Please tell us your inspiration behind these films and anything that stood out to you in the development/writing of them.
Every movie has a different genesis and trajectory and I’m always pitching new ideas, but here’s the path of these three:
STOP THE WEDDING was based on a book by Stephanie Bond and I was hired to adapt it after it had been sold to the network. I had written something else for the producers, Jack Grossbart and Lisa Demberg, that was never made, and they were happy with my work so they hired me again.
For PUMPKIN PIE WARS, I received a call from Bart Fisher, VP development at Hallmark, that they needed a harvest movie, so I was talking to my husband and he said “What about a pumpkin pie contest?” That sparked the idea for me. I called Bart and he responded to it right away.
OPERATION CHRISTMAS had a much longer journey to the screen. I got a call from Craig Anderson, the producer, that Hallmark wanted a military reunion story, so I came up with the idea for OPERATION CHRISTMAS – Single mom falls in love with a soldier, isn’t sure if she can live that life, sees how wonderful the military families are and decides to give them a special Christmas. That didn’t change, however, it was initially a romantic comedy for the Hallmark Channel (Dramas go on the Movies and Mysteries Channel to distinguish the two networks from each other). But my romantic comedy version wasn’t properly serving the subject matter, so after many drafts, the decision was made to move it to Hallmark Movies & Mysteries and rewrite it as a drama. They brought on Donald Martin, a wonderful dramatic writer, and it was absolutely the right thing to do. I’m very proud of the finished product and honored to share credit with two such distinguished writers as Donald Martin and Ron Oliver (a third writer who contributed). So, as you can see, they all have different paths from concept to air.
Any other upcoming works you can mention ?
I am in the process of writing three Hallmark movies for 2017. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, but I can tell you there’s a wedding movie, a Christmas movie and another movie that I sold with two super fun Hallmark stars (a male and a female) who haven’t ever worked together before. We’re hoping that one will air in the summer so it won’t be too long before it’s announced. But, so far, it’s been really fun developing with on-screen talent. And, as I said, I’m always pitching new ideas. I live by the philosophy that there is no such thing as too much work!
Any plans to be involved in other aspects of the industry?
I think I’m one of the few writers who has no desire to direct, but I have produced before and would like to continue down that road. Several seasoned producers that I’m working with have been mentoring me–showing me the ropes. It’s definitely a challenge, but I like learning how all of the production puzzle pieces fit together.
Also, I love the theater, so my dream is to get my newest play produced. I did a reading of it in May, starring Josh Gad, Rachel Boston, Wendie Malick and Dan Lauria and it was an incredible experience. It needs a rewrite so I hope to get to it soon, when I’m between movies. I’d love to get a production off the ground in the next year or two.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m a mom and a full-time writer, so spare time is scarce, but what time I do have is spent with my family. I’m very involved in my kids’ school and spend a lot of time volunteering there. We also just bought a new house, which is a fixer-upper and, while my husband seems to think we are Chip and Joanna Gaines, I think we are more like Tom Hanks in THE MONEY PIT. So we spend our weekends working on the house, hoping we’re not ruining anything, and teaching our kids how to keep a garden alive. It’s amazing what you can learn on the internet.
What is your advice to other aspiring screenwriters?
As I said above, perseverance is key to success in Hollywood. You have to have a thick skin and allow the rejection to roll off your back and drive you to work even harder. It happens to everyone, even the very well-established. Additionally, the great thing about being a writer is you don’t have to be invited to write. You can always be working on your next project. Have a strong body of work that reflects your voice and/or the voice of whatever genre you’re trying to break into. A writer writes, no matter what, so always be writing even if you’re not getting paid for it. It’s important to learn the business side of the industry and how to be a professional. The best way to do that is through an internship or entry-level job at a network, agency or studio. It’s an invaluable education. Talk to people, learn about what they do and how they got their start. And ALWAYS treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s how you get asked back on the next job.
Nina is one who rarely seems to have any downtime in her life or career, and her dedication is much cherished by the Hallmark network and its viewers alike. We can always rest assured that her stories will deliver the best of the best in a family-friendly setting that will warm our hearts and transport us to a world in which everything works out as it should and restores our faith in the positivity and good in this world as well as renewing our hope that our best days are yet to come. In this busy world where doom, gloom, darkness, and disaster is the standard for almost everything on television, it’s nice to have a writer who consistently supplies us with tales that allow our minds to drift to a simpler, less chaotic time filled with love, joy, faith, and hope. I am forever indebted to Nina for her commitment to these treasured stories as well as her zeal that perpetually raises the bar (instead of settling for substandard writing that some “family-friendly” writers permit to infiltrate their writing). It’s easy to take shortcuts and not give forth your best at all times, but Nina always puts forth her most superlative efforts and is never satisfied with meting out mere mediocre, monotonous sagas. Therefore, I would urge all of my readers to check her out at the following links and follow her on social media so that you will be the amongst the first to know of her future endeavors.
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