Everyone has their favourite classic Christmas movie whether it’s Elf, Home Alone or something more traditional like It’s a wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. For budding screenwriters and filmmakers, holiday movies can be the perfect script writing opportunity because budgets can be kept fairly low without compromising on quality. This, in part is because it’s about the underlying message and festive feel that holiday movies emote rather than big expensive car chases or explosions (although you could add these too.) With many platforms such as Lifetime or Hallmark in the US commissioning their original Christmas movies to draw in their audiences and keep them coming back during the festive season, we wonder why this is and what’s the appeal?
Generally, holiday movies work by tittering (the word is teetering) the audience on the edge between love-driven and fear-driven frames of mind, so we have a look at the winning ingredients that you can develop into seasonal teaching exercises that tend to drive a Christmas classic movie into success:
1. Family Values
Most families will watch classic Christmas movies together but, especially in recent times, families come in all shapes and sizes which means you need to be more widely relatable. Choose a family archetype and explore all the dynamics of this, for example the impact of divorced parents, widowed parents and families or even orphaned children. Using different family values will help you relate to the audience and strike a nerve with many.
2. The Cliché
While it might make the screenwriter yawn, a cliché is a must in a Christmas movie and helps to keep it light-hearted cinema that we all know and love. Whether it’s the stroppy teenager or the weird guy at the corner (who always turns out to be the big FC – Father Christmas? Not sure if everyone would get ‘the Big FC’ especially as he’s also known as Santa Claus…) an audience enjoys the familiar and often the clichés are what makes it the most memorable.
3. Christmas Feeling
Décor and atmosphere can make or break a Christmas movie. If you aren’t setting your Christmas movie during the festival season or featuring some sort of snow, tree, fairy lights or tinsel, you’re doing something wrong! Although contested, Die Hard, Trading Places and Lethal Weapon are still considered Christmas movies to some because they are set around Christmas time and have the traditional “good over evil triumphing” themes.
4. Appealing Childhood
For adults, the appeal of Christmas movies is being able to relive the magic of Christmas, whether that’s the feeling of family traditions that are passed down or undertones of nostalgia that appear in the story. Include magical elements like folklore and phrases that adults will have been told as children when telling the story to transport them back to that frame of mind.
5. The Big Bad
Overcoming obvious conflict is key, it doesn’t have to be shrouded in mystery or blindside the audience. In a Christmas movie, you are highlighting the “big bad” of the story and going on a journey to watch the characters overcome this, sometimes it goes off without a hitch and sometimes it doesn’t but audiences need to know who to root for. This could be tangible like Kevin protecting the house from burglars in Home Alone or Scrooge overcoming himself and changing for the better in A Christmas Carol. Either way the bad guy is obvious.
A Christmas movie can be an excellent project for screenwriters to sink into during the festive season and as you can see, they take a bit more consideration and planning than you might initially realise. For more seasonal inspiration, try these training exercises with your learners!