We usually go to a movie on Thanksgiving, but this year we got pinned to our couches thanks to the Hallmark Movie Channel. There is no escape from all that is good and evil on that channel, as you alternate between sobbing at the commercials, and cheering on the happy endings. There are more variations on the basic Hallmark Channel holiday movie script than there are sprinkles on a Christmas cookie. Of course, real life is just like this- endless variations on everyone’s story of life. It’s nice to know that there’s a basic template out there to follow because we all know movies are EXACTLY like real life. On one hand, why not live like you star in a Hallmark movie so that when you write your Christmas letter, your readers know…”You care enough to send the very best”…!
So, our year in review via the Hallmark movie script:
Characters (should include perfect family with either twins, triplets or adoptee, a pet, and a love interest, lie as needed for effect): First on set is the adoring mother (Julie) who gets out of bed at the crack of dawn with perfect hair and makeup to cook a full breakfast for the household every morning and no one calls the fire department when she touches the stove. She is cast as a nurse at the local clinic, handling every crisis with grace and aplomb. The father (Chr’s) is of course stunning in his suit, belt, and tie, which he wears to get speedily through TSA screening. He works at an undefined job in which he has a large office with many windows and councils his wife over the phone on all matters. Their adorable, perfect daughters round out the main characters – A college student in a snowy locale (Shannon) with flowing hair and a snazzy car is often spotted walking to sign language class in matching hat and mitten sets after sweatless cheerleading practices. Her twin sister (Liz) lives in another college town in a spotless and trendy apartment, with a corner puzzle table and a refrigerator stocked with fruits and veggies. She rides a zippy red scooter. There is also the eldest daughter living far from home and out of state (Hannah.) She seamlessly juggles her last year of college, an accidental concussion, a demanding job, and a biology major fiancé (Riley) who spends much of his time shirtless, to Hannah’s delight, as they plan their June 20th wedding. (Riley and the wedding are not the lie part!!) Script notes – parents wouldn’t discuss replacing daughters with sons or cats, so consider replacing old decrepit dog with one that pays attention and sheds less

Set (should include one trip by plane, many car scenes, an idyllic small town with powdery snow but mild temps, and a living room with a fireplace): Much time and effort were spent scouting set locations before settling on a family cruise to the Caribbean so that stingrays and monkeys could be photographed, a romantic weekend in Las Vegas, the job location in California with the perpetual crisis that the father must fly to at a moments notice in order to save the company, and the road trips made by the couple to their stunning daughters at college where they stop for hot beverages at clean, tidy, gas stations, and get prompt service at restaurants. Script notes – inform weatherman that epic snowstorms be scripted and NOT interfere with daily driveway scenes

Most scenes are shot in the living room, where unfortunately the fireplace has been removed but the furniture changes constantly as differing students move chairs, bookcases, bins, refrigerators, tables, and couches, in and out. The last scene settles the furniture placement once and for all with the removal of the legendary Green Velvet Couch to yet another college student, and the placement of buttery soft leather lounges, which will remain unsullied by feet, crumbs, and coffee spills. Script notes – adoring mother seems to have attachment to the new couches, make sure she is out of the way before anyone lays on them with pizza and dirty socks

Lighting (should showcase Christmas lights as much as possible as well as flatter the cast and setting): Due to inclimate weather and a demanding shooting and publicity schedule, the set house is lacking it’s usual icicle lights, and instead, the owners went for a more playful theme with multicolored lights hung on a rainy weekend, an angel about to take off, flickering snowflakes of blinding LED bulbs, and a charming light-up deer set against the perfectly shoveled and landscaped country scene where highbeams on the driveway are a must so that the live deer (who do not wear lights) are allowed time to prance, and bolt, around and over, the cars. Script notes – have the lights on at night and in the pre dawn, why waste the glory, there’s a big electricity budget

Interior lighting includes a forest of Christmas trees sporting many strands of lights, but not nearly as many as their old friend Mark Schaut can get on a tree, with animated figures of Mr. and Mrs. Claus nestled playfully underneath. There are strings of lights and baubles in every other room but many artifacts have been confiscated to complete the décor of the daughters’ apartments. Script notes – feeling a side story with Mrs. Claus since she is found under the Christmas tree, face down, every morning with the dog – does she have a drinking problem? is she cheating on Santa with Frank?

Costumes (should appear dressed in period clothing in which they feel comfortable):
Yoga pants and Levis it is! Script notes – no need to buy costumes, this seems to be all they own

Conflict in the plot (include a mystery, an tragedy, a cryptic phone call): Super organized couple so not much left to chance. There is the tragedy of the light-up deer and the wild turkeys that gather each morning to pick at his sequins and light bulbs. The internet goes in and out with no warning causing blood-curdling screams to echo from the house, but that is more fitting to a horror movie and no PG attempt can be made from this terrible occurrence. There is the daily hunt for keys and glasses and the ongoing argument of who is MORE right, Chr’s or Julie, since no one is ever wrong. Script note – best phone call story comes from Riley when he called to say Hannah said yes; “I took her hiking and climbing, and there was blood, sweat, and tears, and I think she was really dehydrated so I asked her again when we got to the bottom and she’d had a gallon of water, and she still said yes, so I think it’s a go!”

Cameo (mildly famous person should at least make an appearance in all movies): Consider theme music from an iPod, nodding back to father’s idol Steve Jobs, or Julia Child as the family chef (more necessity than cameo, crew might starve if the menu is left up to the mother) but getting these would need ghost scenes, séances, or reanimation. Country music stars are all booked. Lassie didn’t get along well with family dog Frank in a meet-and-greet so will have to work with the brush with the Kardashian valet parking line they accidently got in while in Vegas, or Ka night with the Niehaus twins. Script note – really, aren’t these people famous enough after all these years of interesting holiday letters? If they would just get the web site working with all those old letters…

Commercial Sponsors (there should be some good ones, they have three college students, I’m surprised they haven’t been reduced to a bread and water diet): Computing power by Apple, Cards from Wal-Mart, Internet (when available) by Frontier, Gas from Casey’s (unless coffee is needed ASAP, then gas from Holiday because you can see their blue lights from miles away and their pumpkin latte is to die for,) Driveway by Tor, Internships courtesy of Cannon Veterinary Clinic and Southeastern Behavioral Health, student paychecks by Bath and Body Works and RCTC workstudy, Cast removal from Sioux Valley Health Clinic, furniture by Hom, Catering by Fogo de Chao
Script note – call Matt for Fogo reservations, then, schedule hour with the treadmill and elliptical

Directors note – This film took a year to make and a sequel is planned for 2015. VIP ‘Behind the Scenes’ tours of the set can be obtained by knocking on the door, and cookies are always accepted as bribes for the cast and crew (please refrain from eating near the new couches.) The prequels are available on PhelpsPhamilyChristmas.com. Autographs are available on checks for colleges only, and personal appearances can only be requested on weekends (the actors did keep their weekday jobs due to mortgage obligations and health insurance benefits.)
That’s a wrap! Roll credits and have a Happy New Year!

The Phelps Phamily – Chr’s, Julie, Hannah, Liz, Shannon with guest appearances by Riley and Frank

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