Interview With Screenwriter Rickie Castaneda

By Ruth on December 31, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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Sometimes I find an industry professional as if by happenstance, and in the case of Rickie Castaneda, that is exactly what happened. I took a moment to check my Twitter home feed one evening during Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas programming, and Rickie had tweeted about one of the Christmas movies. I thought, “Who on earth is this Rickie Castaneda?” So being the good little researcher that I am, I investigated. Once I saw the words “Hallmark” and “screenwriter”, I immediately contacted her for an interview, and finally, I have the opportunity to share it right before we bid adieu to the holiday season and 2017!

RH: Rickie, it is so nice to get to talk with you today.

RC: Nice to talk with you too, Ruth.

Honestly, I happened to find your account almost by accident. I’m always trying to keep up with writers and other crew members–especially those connected with Hallmark–but I wasn’t even aware of you until Twitter decided I should find you. I was just going through my tweets, and there you were. I looked you up and discovered that you were someone I should contact. You’ve worked on quite a few Hallmark movies.

Yes, and IMDB doesn’t have everything listed because I’ve also done some ghostwriting on some projects. You probably have seen more of my works than you realize.

I’m sure that’s true. There’s always things like that happening behind-the-scenes. 

Exactly. Even if my name is not there, I can watch these movies and think, “Yeah, I helped write that one.”

How did you get started as a screenwriter?

I went to school for it and did the whole thing of coming out to LA, and I was just working in film production. I met Dominique Telson, who does a lot of producing of Hallmark movies, but at the time, she was at Showtime. She came in and became a kind of mentor for me in film production and producing, and I talked to her about writing stuff. We ended up producing a horror film, if you can believe it…a Hallmark writer who started in horror. We produced this low-budget horror film together and became good friends.

Shortly after that, she went to work for a production company called Chesler/Perlmutter productions that specializes in TV movies, especially for Hallmark and Lifetime. Since she was working for them, I told her, “I really want to be a writer. That’s where my heart is. So if you need someone to write a paragraph, just let me know. I’m there for you.” For a while there, that’s what I did. I wrote treatments and paragraphs. I was almost like an intern.

Mistletoe Over Manhattan

One day, they called me and said, “We have this movie. It’s called Mistletoe Over Miami. It cannot be placed in Miami. We’re doing this for Hallmark, and we need a quick turnaround. Can you make it happen in Manhattan?” I read the script, and I was like, “Wow!” It was about how Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus had gotten into a marital fight. It was not anything like a regular Christmas movie. You know, if there’s one couple in the world that needs to stick it out, it’s got to be Mrs. Claus and Santa Claus. So I pitched them the idea of Mrs. Claus going to find Christmas spirit along with another couple that might be getting a divorce, and they loved it. So they said, “Great. Can you write it in two weeks?” So I did, and that became Mistletoe Over Manhattan, which was my first film.

Then they said they had another one, and it’s about Santa suing people, and it’s called The Santa Suit. I thought, “Well, Santa can’t sue people. There’s just no way.” So there’s another one we flipped around, and that became The Case For Christmas.

Christmas Magic

Then we did it one more time that same year with Christmas Magic. At first, I wasn’t supposed to be getting any credit on that one; I was coming in as a rewriter. But I was just so ecstatic to have something to work on with that network. They decided they really liked it, and they gave me credit on that one. And that was my way in as far as writing for Hallmark. That was back when they were doing maybe ten movies per Christmas, and now they do like thirty-three. So I really feel like I got in on the ground floor, and this juggernaut they have now have of Christmas movies is fantastic. I’ve really seen it grow at rapid speed over the years.

Mistletoe Over Manhattan

I knew I recognized Mistletoe Over Manhattan, but until you mentioned the gist of the story, I didn’t remember. Then it dawned on me.

Yes, Tricia Helfer was the lead in that.

I thought that was a cute movie.

Well, thank you. I think it always holds a special place for me because it was my first one that was ever on TV. It was the first time I ever saw my name on a script. It was the first one working with the network. It was a lot of fun to write.

I’ve also seen The Case For Christmas. Without looking up that one, I remember the story and that Dean Cain was in it. I was proud that I remembered because I watch so many movies. 

I understand. And they can easily run together. It’s hard because “Christmas” is in the title of most of them, and Mistletoe Over Manhattan is one of the only few that doesn’t have Christmas in the title.

As I was looking over the credits that are listed on IMDB for you, I think I’ve seen every one of those holiday movies. So were you always interested in writing?

Yeah, definitely, writing was something I was always interested in from all the way back in high school. I was in a TV production program. I also grew up in Florida, so there’s always a shoutout to Florida in all my scripts. Even in Magical Christmas Ornaments, that’s where Nate’s from. In high school, we did a lot of work with Universal Studios down there in Florida.

Naughty Or Nice

Have you been able to visit any of the sets of your movies?

The only one I went to was Naughty Or Nice because that one filmed in Los Angeles. The others were filmed in Canada. So I haven’t gone up to visit the sets in Canada. You know, it’s weird, I work a lot with the East Coast. Even with Hallmark, this year we worked with the Hallmark New York office. So whenever they would do a conference call, I always had to ask what time on the West Coast. I was like the only one on the West Coast!

It was so great to go to the set of Naughty Or Nice. They shot it here in Los Angeles, and it was September and very warm out. {laughs} And they played it well.

I just recently watched Naughty Or Nice again. I honestly had forgotten how good that one was. I love the Hallmark

Naughty or Nice

Christmas movies, but I like it when they put in something just a little bit different. 

I understand. For me, Hilarie Burton was such a good actress in that movie. I think out of all the movies, she was one that whenever I was writing it and imagining Krissy Kringle, she really embodied everything that I had imagined. When you are sitting there and the first time you see somebody pull off one of your lines, and you’re like, “Yes! They got it exactly right!” She is so incredibly talented. I wish she was in more Hallmark movies.

Naughty Or Nice

I agree completely. She should be in more of them. 

She’s married to Jeffrey Dean Morgan. That would be a dream to have both of them in a Hallmark movie together.

Well, you know, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. 

Gosh, I love them as a couple, so it would be a dream, and I guess you’re right. You never know. I know they shoot these films in about two weeks. They have the craziest schedules I’ve ever seen. I have filmmaker friends out here who whine about having only two months to make a movie. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you guys have no idea!” I don’t know if those filmmakers would make it working for Hallmark. {laughs}

Well, Hallmark has really been turning them out quickly this year. 

Oh yeah, Magical Christmas Ornaments was filming in October, and it was released the first weekend of December. I mean, they were just lightning fast on it. Unbelievable. We were working on the script all summer.

I notice IMDB may not have a complete list of your credits, so can you fill us in?

Last year I did Sound of Christmas.

Oh, that was a nice one!

I was a ghostwriter on that one. It came to me at the last minute. I had thought about taking a break last Christmas because things can get a little crazy. And after Merry Matrimony, I felt a little depleted. At the time, Hallmark was starting to branch out and do other holiday movies like for Valentine’s Day and Spring. I feel like they’ve made this massive leap in like one or two years.

Actually, I feel kind of the same way. 

I felt like I wanted to wait and try to write something for a different season, and then they called me at the last minute and said, “We really need you. We’ve got this script Sound of Christmas, and we need someone to polish it a bit. Can you come in and help us out?” So I ended up working on that one, but I didn’t get any credit for it. And then this year, it was Magical Christmas Ornaments.

Well, I’m sure you helped both of those movies. Because both of those movies were just a little bit different from the typical story. 

I prefer getting to add something in that is just a little bit different. Sometimes it’s hard to think outside the box. I understand that you really want to give the audience what they want. Sometimes if you go too far out, they get very upset about it. So I get it. But I think we were able to move just a little bit away with some of these and not have everything so formulaic.

One of the things I appreciate about Hallmark is that you don’t have to worry about seeing something that is not family-friendly. I don’t mind if Hallmark pushes the boundaries a bit, as long as they don’t go too far. I’m glad they don’t show anything that is inappropriate. My mom and I especially love getting to watch those films that are just a little bit different from the norm. Having some surprises is always nice. 

I think it’s personally more fun to write things just a little bit out of the box.

I know that even if people don’t know your name, they’re going to recognize your movies. Some are still favorites among Hallmark fans. In addition to the ones already mentioned, we’ve got Catch a Christmas StarOne Starry Christmas, and Merry Matrimony–that one has grown on me, but I admit I was not a big fan of that one. Though I know people liked it. 

I understand. Not every movie is for everyone. But I am glad that people can share all these Christmas movies at Christmastime. I’m always amazed at how diverse the audience really is. A lot of people think there’s only a certain type of person who watches Hallmark Christmas movies, but it’s really not true.

Oh, I’ve learned that too. 

When we were doing Magical Christmas Ornaments this year, there was a point where we made mention of Lord of the Rings because of the dog’s name in the movie. There was a concern that was raised about whether the audience would catch that reference between Samwise and Lord of the Rings. Maybe Hallmark fans hadn’t seen that movie. And I was like, “You gotta be kidding me, right?” The audience is that wide that there’s really not an issue. Hallmark has a big universe just like Lord of the Rings.  It is a super wide audience. I’ve met people from all ages, all backgrounds, all religions…it’s really anybody and everybody who watches Hallmark. But I’m still surprised at just how diverse the viewership is.

I understand that even amongst young people who used to mock the idea of watching Hallmark, it’s no longer a taboo thing to take a Friday or Saturday night and watch a Hallmark movie. It’s not uncool. I think people want to get away from all the political stuff and all that negative stuff on the news. 

Every story on Hallmark is universal. People just want to have a nice holiday or they want to be in love. They want to do something good for someone else. You always feel good after watching a Hallmark movie, even if they’re not your favorite movie or whatever.

Sometimes the movies I didn’t particularly care for become total fan favorites and I find out I’m in the minority. But as I often say, I’d rather watch a Hallmark movie any day over something on the news, or some of the other garbage the media tries to throw at us.

Hallmark started off as such a small thing and look at how much they have grown. And the budgets have grown with them. It is amazing to see the success of this network.

Do you have other works coming up that you can mention?

I don’t have all the details, but I’ll probably be writing for another Christmas movie. We haven’t decided on the exact premise yet. I’ve also submitted several treatments for a spring movie. I’m really hoping to move into doing a spring movie. There are some fun things to explore, and you don’t have to have ice skating or other winter events. We can talk about baseball or renovating or anything that’s not going to take place in the snow.

Well, if they’re filming in Vancouver and spring is late, though, you might still have to account for the snow. That happened unexpectedly this past spring when they were filming in February and March and there was still snow.

I remember when they shot One Starry Christmas–I do get to watch the dailies since I can’t go to set–and boy, they were freezing in that one. It was really cold for that movie. When you see their lips quivering in that movie, that was for real!

Do you have plans to do other writing that’s not screenwriting?

I would love one day to work on a TV show, to actually be a part of creating a TV show; that’s sort of the long-term goal. But in the meantime, this is a great job. I really love the fast-paced nature of TV. A lot of filmmakers don’t like that because it frustrates them. I’ve worked on film and TV both, and I prefer TV. It’s so nice to write something and then see the finished product within a few months.

As with any artist, it’s nice to be able to write things in many different styles and genres. You need to have a balance and not write in just one genre. The break between A Merry Matrimony and Sound of Christmas, I was able to work with my writing partner on some television pilots that are so far away from Hallmark that when people read it, they’re like, “You do Hallmark movies?!” {laughs}

I know that sometimes people think that Hallmark movies are for actors who can’t make it anywhere else. I sometimes wonder where those people get that idea.

Something people don’t realize sometimes is that since these films are filmed in like two or three weeks, some don’t realize how much dialogue is done in one day. On an average movie, they may shoot two pages of the script in a day, and that’s like a busy day. On Hallmark movies, they’re shooting ten pages a day. You need to have an actor who is professional, who knows their lines, who can get there and convey the emotion. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s really not for the weak. You have to be really strong at your craft to do it. And let me tell you. I think there are a lot more actors that are trying to get into the Hallmark world. They would love to have Candace Cameron Bure’s career right now. There are a lot of people who are starting to come in who maybe wouldn’t have thought about it a couple of years ago. But it’s like anything else. As soon as something becomes popular, everybody likes it. It’s like, “Oh yeah, we’re on that train.” But really they weren’t five years ago. Nobody wants you until somebody’s got you.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do in your free time?

You know, I’m an introvert. I’ve lived in LA now for almost twenty years, so I’ve done all of the stuff you do in LA. Now I live in Burbank, and Burbank is kind of a quiet suburb of LA. I spend time with my dogs. I have some close friends and we’ll hang out. We’ll have game nights or we’ll just watch a movie. A lot of my friends are in the industry so we’re always talking about what’s on TV and the movies. That’s the heartbeat of this city. Occasionally I’ll go to events or screenings, but I’m pretty low-key. I’m more into spending a quiet night at home or maybe going out for a coffee.

I can’t thank you enough for sharing so openly with us today, Rickie. I feel I learned so much from you, and it was nice to chat about your work and experience with Hallmark.

Ruth, it was my pleasure. Thank you to you and to all the Hallmark fans for the wonderful support.

In so many ways, Rickie and I have a similar outlook on the entertainment world, and I think that made our chat an instantly enjoyable connection. She writes the kind of stories I absolutely adore, and she doesn’t care about the fact that she’s not famous. In fact, I believe she prefers it that way, and I can’t say that I blame her. She sees the big picture and always brings a fresh perspective to every screenplay she writes. Without people like her in the business, I believe our Hallmark movies would be incessantly conventional and vapid. She is one who consistently breathes new life into these scripts, and there is no doubt that she never underestimates her audience. She is not afraid of shifting the boundaries (within reason) when appropriate, but at the end of the day, she is fully aware of what Hallmark and their viewers expect, and she derives great pleasure from relating tales of romance, humor, family, and the holidays. My sincerest hope is that 2018 is the year she is permitted to sample the other holidays available, for although her Christmas movies are stellar, I know her boundless creativity would appreciate the chance to develop.

Therefore, if you have not checked out Rickie’s wealth of Christmas films, I am not certain if you will be able to do so “on demand”, but I know that you can check out Hallmark Now, as they have all those beloved Christmas films and more from years past. But maybe your provider will still be offering those films throughout this week. If not, Christmas in July is just around the corner, and perhaps Rickie will have her spring movie in the works before too long. In the interim, be sure to check out all her links below and consider following her where applicable. As Hallmark seeks to increase their output every year while still maintaining the quality and wholesomeness of their brand, I can only hope that they will consider inviting the talented, vivacious, and pragmatic Rickie to pen a spring movie or maybe even a summer one. And personally, I believe it is the loyal industry professionals like Rickie that deserve the occasion to pursue some of their hopes and dreams on projects that will extend their skillset beyond snow, Santa Claus, and ice skating, and I am entirely convinced that Rickie is equipped to tackle this challenge with all the enthusiasm she can muster and then some!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

7 Comments

  1. Kathy Helms January 2, 2018 Reply

    She has been involved in some of my very FAVORITE Christmas movies….who knew! Thank you for the interview and raising my awareness, you have done an amazing job!

    • Author
      Ruth January 2, 2018 Reply

      I’m so glad Kathy! Thank you always for your support!

  2. Julianna January 2, 2018 Reply

    Rickie has a great eye for writing, editing and producing films. I’ve had the honor of watching her career flourish almost since the day she arrived in Hollywood to make her mark. Hallmark seems a good place for her talents to shine. Her story lines, her characters and her underlying messages are always top notch.

    • Author
      Ruth January 2, 2018 Reply

      Juliana, thank you for the lovely comment! I made sure Rickie saw it too!

  3. Hugh and Leila Mathews January 2, 2018 Reply

    So happy for you and enjoy your work!

  4. denise January 6, 2018 Reply

    Wow! I’ve seen almost all of her Christmas movies!

    • Author
      Ruth January 6, 2018 Reply

      Me too–it’s amazing!

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