Interview With Writer/Director Peter Sullivan, “Sharing Christmas”

By Ruth on December 10, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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Summer of 2016, I connected with one of the most prolific screenwriters in the TV world today, Peter Sullivan. In addition to his impeccable writing, he is a consummate director and producer. Just this past week, I had the opportunity to talk with him about his upcoming Christmas premieres as well as a few past favorites, current works, and a brief glance into the future. 

RH: Hello, Peter, so nice to talk with you.

PS: Yes, same here, Ruth. I think this is the first time we’ve actually talked.

Yes, last time we did email, so this is great.

I feel like we go way back.

I know what you mean. I feel like that too. I look at all your credits, and it seems like I’ve seen almost all of them. I’m still catching up on the stuff this year.

I understand. There’s so much content out there.

So let’s start with Sharing Christmas since that premieres Sunday. Has that movie changed names?

Yes, it used to be called The Christmas Shop.

Oh, now I understand! I think I had that title on an old guide of mine.

That has happened to a lot of these films. 12 Gifts was originally called The Christmas Gifter.  And at one point, Christmas Under Wraps was called Dr. Holiday.

I think the last time we did an interview it was right around the time of My Summer Prince. And you’ve done a lot since then.

You know, it feels just like yesterday. It goes by so fast. I think My Summer Prince was a year and a half ago. But it literally does feel like it was yesterday.

Well, that one is still a very much-loved one. People still come and read my interview with the star, Jack TurnerIt’s still a very popular interview. But back to Sharing Christmas, you wrote the story and directed it and produced it?

from Broadcasting Christmas

Yes, the whole idea started back when we were doing Broadcasting Christmas last year. I had gone to the city, and I saw this little Christmas store in this big high-rise right in the middle of Manhattan. I thought to myself, “Mmm, this might be an interesting story about a tiny little Christmas store in the middle of the big city.” I remember that I immediately took a picture of it and I sent it to one of the executive producers, saying, “I don’t have a story yet, but I think there’s something here.” He agreed, and Hallmark agreed. And here we are.

Copyright 2015 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

I came up with a story, and then we hired Jay Cipriani to write the script. He had worked with us on Christmas Land. He also worked on one of our upcoming films, A Christmas Cruise. He also did a movie for us called A Husband For Christmas last year. So he wrote the script, and I did a production polish once we figured out where the location was gonna be.

I don’t know how you keep all your Christmas movies straight. Honestly, I look at the titles and I get lost sometimes. 

I understand. It can be a challenge to try to remember which one is Hallmark and Lifetime and even Ion.

So with Sharing Christmas, there was a fan question. Can you tell us what your favorite scene is from that film?

There is one that does stand out just because I thought it was so sweet. Even when I was shooting it, it was like I couldn’t wait to see this scene in the movie because it’s so cool. There’s a scene in the film where one of the characters get a letter from one of the store’s customers, and they start reading it. And as they read it, the sender takes over and starts telling this really heartfelt story. We cut to him actually writing the letter, and there’s a backstory. It’s just a really sweet moment, and that’s probably one of my favorite things period. But certainly one of my favorites in that film.

We’ll be sure to watch for that scene. What do you hope viewers will take away from this particular movie? 

For me, it’s about connecting to that Christmas magic even when it’s not Christmas. The movie is about a store that specializes in Christmas. So 365 days a year, they are selling Christmas stuff. While they do have some diversity and recognize other holidays, Christmas is their focus. There are stores like that, and I used to love them when I was a kid. It’s funny. There’s another writer friend of mine–he and I are both from Massachusetts. We would have conversations about this one Christmas shop that we both remembered from years past. Whenever I was in the area, I had to beg my parents, “Please, please, please, can we go?” No matter what time of year it was because there was just something about being in that environment that is magical. That Christmas joy is always there. It’s the lights and the smells and the music. When I came up with this idea, I really wanted to capture that and put that into the movie, the same way that I felt whenever I went into this store. I think that one from my childhood closed, but I still think there’s a couple at least throughout New England, and they’re just wonderful places.

In fact, there’s a very funny story about when we were filming this one. We built the shop from scratch. It was just a concrete room, and we built the store and we stocked it.  Everything was brought in by the art team; they did such an amazing job. If we weren’t paying attention while we were shooting, people would come in. Several times I would look up and be like, “Wait, who’s that?” And these people are just browsing the shelves. And I’d go up to them and say, “Hi, how are you doing? This isn’t real. This is the set.’ {laughs} People are drawn to it, so they would come in and then be disappointed to find out that it wasn’t a real store because it does have that quality.

Was this film shot recently?

Yes, we shot it in November.

I do not know how on earth you guys are able to make these movies in such a short time. It seems like there used to be a few months for you to get them ready, but this year especially,  they have been turning out these movies like crazy. 

Behind the Scenes
Wrapped Up in Christmas

We actually have both scenarios. We shot Wrapped Up in Christmas in August, I think. And this one was October/November. It varies. When we did Christmas Under Wraps, I think that one was August/September. I think 12 Gifts was somewhere around that same time period. But when we did Christmas Land, that was right up to Thanksgiving. And it aired that year. It runs the gamut.

I do realize the films sometimes sit around, but with Hallmark this year they have been turning out these films so quickly. Actors will tell me how they’ve just wrapped on a film, and suddenly, the premiere is already here. 

I think the one that Ron Oliver is doing called Romance At Reindeer Lodge is one they just shot. I was surprised they were working on that one so late. I know he was still working on the script for it, and when I heard about it, I didn’t think it would be for this year, but I guess it is.

I know exactly what you mean. I thought the same thing. Now, I know you’ve done some other Christmas movies this year. 

There’s the Lifetime one Wrapped Up In Christmas. In fact, with that one, they did something interesting that I hadn’t had happen before. Then ran a director’s cut a few days after the premiere which had an additional ten minutes of scenes in it. So it has extra subplots which the movie didn’t initially have. They’re doing that with all their movies this year too. They’re not all airing the following Monday, but I think every movie that is premiering this year on Lifetime has a longer cut that will air at some point.

Wow, I hadn’t even realized that! I also noticed there were some mini-movies or shorts on Lifetime this year too.

Yes, and that’s kind of interesting too, because it’s an opportunity to explore cute stories that might not fill an entire two hours of film time. But they’re still fun stories and worthy of being told.

I did just see The Ugly Christmas Sweater. That was a nice, cute story that was fun to watch. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of these short films, but I really like them.

My Christmas Prince

The Ugly Christmas Sweater was directed by Brendan Fehr, who was also the male lead of Wrapped Up in ChristmasMy Christmas Prince premiered last weekend on Lifetime. I shot that one almost simultaneously with Sharing Christmas. So I didn’t get to go to set ’cause I was working on my film. But we did do one really fun dinner one night where the cast and crew from both films got together and had dinner together. Which was a really nice experience. Delivering Christmas was a short that also premiered last weekend. It is a really cute story. It is an interpretation of the twelve days of Christmas. My Christmas Grandpa is another short film that has premiered on Lifetime recently.

Actually, this weekend is going to be interesting. We have three different premieres going on the same night. We have Sharing Christmas on Hallmark. We also have the Lifetime premiere of A Christmas Reunion. That one premiered on Ion a couple of years ago. This is the cable premiere. And then we have Royal Christmas Ball on Ion.

Please tell me more about Royal Christmas Ball.

It’s a script we’ve been working on for a while. It’s about a woman played by Tara Reid, who when she was younger, had a relationship with a young man who is now king. So they have a teenage girl who is unaware that her biological father is royalty. We filmed this one a few months back.

After this weekend, what other movies do you have coming up?

A Christmas Cruise premieres December 16th on Ion. I believe that is the last of their originals this season. It’s a lot of fun. We shot it on the Queen Mary, which is a great, historical ship based out of Long Beach here in Southern California. It’s an interesting idea. We have Vivica A. Fox playing a businesswoman who really needs some time off. Her friend invites her to go on this cruise for Christmastime. She falls in love with the handsome cruise director. It’s a nontraditional setting, but it’s still very much a holiday romance. Once in a while, it’s good to do something just a little bit different. I know that growing up back east, where it was very cold every Christmas…I would see pictures of people spending their Christmas in Florida and on a beach. I couldn’t get over how warm it seemed down there, and back then, I didn’t get it. But then you get tired of that weather and you want a little break. It’s an interesting approach.

That sounds intriguing. Well, all of your films do. But actually, one of my favorites of yours is not a Hallmark film. It’s a Lifetime one. The Flight Before Christmas. It’s become a tradition that I have to watch that one every Christmas. I love the fact that the story is so different, and you have a Jew and a someone who celebrates Christmas. I would call it a really unique story.

That was actually written by Jennifer Notas Shapiro, who did Christmas Under Wraps. It was sort of like getting our team back together. We’ve done a number of films with her. She was actually the writer on Wrapped Up in Christmas. It’s always great to get to work with her. It was a great idea with a lot of fun. The idea came because we had seen this airplane set, and we thought, “What kind of Christmas movie can we do with that set?” So it was like, “They’re on a plane. Maybe they hit bad weather, and they have to land somewhere. They have to stay and they don’t like each other. Maybe at a cute small town.” And it grew from there.

And having been a fan of Family Matters when I was growing up, it was so nice to see that couple back together. 

And they’re so wonderful really. The two of them were such a delight and had such great chemistry together. Such fun to work with. I have been so blessed with some really wonderful casts.

This year, with Wrapped Up in Christmas, there is such nostalgia with the cast we assembled. From Tatyana Ali, Kim Fields, Mindy Sterling, Dan Lauria, Jackée Harry, Jasmine Guy…we got Joseph Marcell, who played Geoffrey on Fresh Prince of Bel Air. It’s like the 90’s all in a movie. {laughs} Everyone was so wonderful and they had such a great chemistry. I’m really thrilled about how that one came out.

When you’re working with all these iconic actors, in effect, you kind of pinch yourself when you walk onto a set and think, “I am working with my childhood.” {laughs} All in the same place! I look around the room and it’s like, “Oh my gosh, it’s every show ever.”

And some of these old shows are getting a new following. The new generation knows about those same shows I grew up on.

I think back to when I was younger and I Love Lucy would come on Nick at Nite.  Now you turn on Nick at Nite, and it’s the stuff I grew up on. And I take a deep breath and say, “I am not that old.”

Once we get past the Christmas stuff, do you have anything else upcoming you can mention?

Yes, I do, and one I’m very proud of. So excited for it. On January 6th, Lifetime will be premiering a film I co-wrote and produced called A Tale of Two Coreys. It’s based on the true story of the rise and fall of the 80s’ iconic actors Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. In fact, Corey Feldman is one of the executive producers. We had terrific writers on this project, and we brought on a wonderufl director. I’m just so proud to be bringing this film to the viewers.

Why do you feel so strongly about bringing this to TV? What is the significance of this project in your opinion?

I felt that it was a story that needed to be told, one that, tragically, has become more timely than ever. Growing up with the Coreys’ films, I was certainly aware of their fame, but not the dark side of what they experienced. As we’re learning in this post-Weinstein world, the industry has its fair share of predators. I wanted to make sure that the story was told with honesty and integrity, to properly honor the memory of Corey Haim without ever sensationalizing the events.

In addition to this film, I’m working on a couple of thrillers and hopefully a horror movie. I had The Sandman this past year, which was on the SyFy Channel. We are talking about doing another one this year–not a sequel, but another film.

I enjoy balancing the different genres. We do a couple of Christmas movies, but then it’s time to do something a bit different.

the cast and crew of My Summer Prince

I understand. I love Hallmark, but I do watch other things besides Hallmark; I think most of their fans do. I think it’s good to change things up a bit.

Even My Summer Prince. Just the idea of doing a romantic comedy that wasn’t Christmas. And it was great because we didn’t have to hide the mountains because they didn’t have snow on them. It was so liberating. Such a beautiful movie. Such vast scenery and we didn’t have to worry about fake snow.

It sounds like you get ideas for your stories from everywhere. Almost anything for you seems to spark an idea. You see something in your daily life, and you can get an idea for a film.

Yes, that picture of the Christmas shop for Sharing Christmas is a perfect example. Or the airplane set for The Flight Before Christmas. Or another one from a very different genre–The Dog That Saved Summer. It literally came from, “Hey, what if we did the The Karate Kid with dogs?” And that is exactly what the movie is. It’s got cast members from The Karate Kid in it. It was such a fun experience based on a “what if.”

So how are you going to celebrate the holidays this year?

I don’t have any plans at the moment. I’m actually decorating the house now. It’s weird. It feels like Christmas should have come and gone a long time ago. And it hasn’t actually come yet. Now it’s not a set; it’s actually my own house. Which is often the case. You lose track of the holidays. In the summer, we were doing one movie which ran right into the next movie. Then you’re like, “Wait a minute, it’s not summer anymore.” And then, “Wait a minute, it’s not fall anymore.” Halloween was just a blur. I feel oftentimes that’s the way it goes. I’m just hoping Christmas is quiet and relaxing. And believe it or not, we’re already putting together stuff for Christmas of 2018.

I absolutely believe it. I noticed that Hallmark is already getting things ready for 2018 too. 

You know, those Countdowns to Christmas are terrifying for me. They remind me how we’re running out of time and we have to finish this thing. Summer of 2014…when I hadn’t directed a movie for Hallmark yet, and I knew Christmas Under Wraps was coming. They were doing Christmas in July. So I decided to sit down and watch a bunch of these and get a handle on Hallmark Christmas movies. I was watching one, and on the bottom of the screen comes up an ad saying Christmas Under Wraps starring Candace Cameron Bure coming this Christmas. And I hadn’t even made the movie yet!! {laughs} I took a picture of it and was like, “Wow! There’s something very surreal about this.”

Christmas Under Wraps is still a huge fan favorite.

And the film is still the top one for the network. No pressure there either because the first film out, I scored big time. I hit the grand slam on my first time at bat. Now it seems that I should hit one every time I go up to bat. It’s still one of my favorite projects. It’s so surreal when it did become so successful. When you’re in the process of making one of these things, you can’t see the forest for the trees. The time the trailer sunk into the mud. And the time it poured rain for three days and my crew got sick. Then all of a sudden, it’s this top movie, and it’s glamorous. And then you go, “Wow, you mean people actually watched that thing?”

Candace is just so fantastic. I had a great time working with her. I’m so happy for her that she’s become sort of the Hallmark queen. I love all of my actors, but there is something special and unique about her. Then to experience it on set and see how it translates onto the screen when you’re done is such a great thing.

I think we’ve covered quite a bit, Peter, and it was great talking to you. I feel like I’ve been playing catch-up this season since I went to the When Calls the Heart fan convention back in October. I loved that experience, but I think I’m just starting to catch up now.

You know, funny thing about that series. I was in church one day and one of the church members had gotten up and said, “Well, you know, I’m gonna be leaving for a little bit. I’ve got a series that might get picked up by Hallmark. I hope it all works.” And that was it. That was Robin Bernheim {showrunner for When Calls the Heart}.

What a cool story! Thanks for sharing that little tidbit. And, Peter, thank you for sharing so much today. I really appreciate it.

Thank you, Ruth, for taking the time. Looking forward to the premieres this Sunday.

Behind-the-scenes Sharing Christmas

How pleasant it was to chat with Peter. The man is supremely talented, amazingly astute, and just an absolutely charming fellow. Moreover, conversing with him is one of the most natural things on earth. Each one of his projects is special to him for various reasons, but he never focuses on past glories nor attempts to elevate them in order to bolster his ego in any way. As successful as he is, he has never permitted it to go to his head or intrinsically change who he is. He invests the time and effort in order to continue creating wondrous tales for earnest viewers all over the world. I have no earthly idea how he is able to keep track of everything; I suppose his organizational skills must be foolproof, but he no doubt has a well-oiled intellect and an insatiable thirst for knowledge. His unquestioned passion is writing and directing these projects, and I don’t expect to see him slow down anytime soon.

So please tune into the Hallmark Channel Sunday, December 10th for the premiere of his film Sharing Christmas, and then tune in for A Royal Christmas Ball later on that evening on Ion. Additionally, consider checking out his links below and investigating his vast array of Christmas films (networks regularly re-run his films from years past during this festive season). As far as I’m concerned, he is the genius behind so many of our beloved Christmas (and other) films, and I can hardly wait to see what future years will bring for this gifted, gracious, and gregarious man!

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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

2 Comments

  1. denise December 12, 2017 Reply

    loved learning the backstory on how the idea for Sharing Christmas came to be. I have enjoyed so much in his body of work.

    • Author
      Ruth December 12, 2017 Reply

      Thank you Denise me too

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