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Culture > Entertainment

Behind The Wonderful World of Holiday Movies With Carely Smale

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

It’s that time of the year again when the kitchen smells like cinnamon, the living room is lit with yellow tree lights, and the TV plays a continuous loop of made-for-TV holiday movies. 

Whether you’re a holiday movie lover or love to hate them, these romantic movies undeniably hold a special place in our hearts during this season. Despite the mixed reviews these movies receive from audiences, they’ve been in consistent demand over the years. 

So, what is it that compels us to dive into a good old Hallmark Christmas movie? Is it the comfort of the predictable endings? The picture-perfect men? Or is it the fact that their fluffy snow falls with grace and not vengeance like our storms in Toronto?

As someone who was raised with these Christmas movies, backtracking every November and December of my home life, I wanted to get to the bottom of making these beloved holiday romances by speaking with an expert. 

Carely Smale, a movie-lover and screenwriter of over 12 holiday movies, opened up to Her Campus about her opinions and experience as a female writer and what it takes to craft the perfect Christmas movie. 

One of the many tropes of these holiday movies is the formula. According to Smale, these films are all made to follow a “nine-act structure” due to the made-for-TV nature of commercial breaks. What also sets these movies apart from traditional films is their plot lines. Holiday movies emphasize the romance first and the classic “business going under” conflict as the secondary plot, Smale said. 

Although this structure has stayed consistent, the predictability has begun to wear audiences down over the years. Smale opened up about the repetitive nature of these films, saying networks are growing tired due to the similarities in plot lines. She expressed how the current demand is new takes on the classic style of these holiday movies. 

“They’re looking for a lot more diverse stories and more multicultural stories,” Smale said. “Stories that aren’t just from the same perspective every time.”

However, despite the repetitive nature of these movies, fans still seem drawn towards watching them every year.

“I think people just love to have a little bit of escapism,” Smale said. “I think people just want to get home from work and just sit down and not watch something that’s too heavy. They just want to be in Christmas land and feel all happy and not feel like they have to think too hard.” 

Another element that keeps these films consistent is their reliability. Audiences expect new movies every year and know what kind of world they are going into when they watch them. 

For myself, especially in the current world of streaming, having a channel that continuously plays back-to-back holiday movies that I can come back to every year has become a tradition. Every year, while my mom and I bake holiday sweets for our family, we turn on the TV to the Hallmark channel and let the romantic world narrate our time together. 

Over the years, we have seen the same character tropes in many of these films, but what makes them different from one another is their personality and how they react to their conflicts. Although there has been a recurring character type of the “big city girl goes to a small town,” the interest in that narrative is fading. 

However, creating new characters and plotlines can be difficult when trying to perfect the balance of authentic emotion with the lightness of the genre. 

“For me, I want the movie to have depth, but it should still feel really cozy and like you could escape. But I still want there to be depth, and that can be hard because depending on who you are working with, they’ll say, ‘We don’t want that it’s a little too heavy,’ Smale said. 

However, the female protagonist is not the only character for whom Smale is passionate about creating an authentic story. She believes that what makes a stronger movie is a world that involves both lead characters having flaws and conflict, allowing watchers to connect more authentically. 

“I think you need to find something deeper, especially in the main character, that feels real to you… And then, of course, you need to add a lot of fun Christmas stuff.”

With the target audience being women, it’s apparent in some movies the male romantic lead is often not as developed. 

Especially in a romantic movie, it’s hard to deny that the “Hallmark Hunks” play a large role in audience attention. However, Smale spoke about the representation of men and how the unrealistic nature of their characters is not harmful. 

“I think it’s fun, I don’t think there’s any harm in it,” Smale said. “I think people know these are elevated representations of men. They are often not very flawed.”

Although some may see their characters as objectification of men, it’s never done in a way that causes harm to how they are treated in society, but rather just harm to the young girls who grow up thinking they will find a bakery man who saves puppies and Christmas. 

“I think it’s kind of fun to have this sort of a little bit delusional look at men. I mean, women have been put in that position for years.” Smale said. 

The world of these movies is filled with almost dream-like characters, towns, and conflict resolutions, which sometimes feel disconnected from our real lives. So, what value do these movies hold in today’s media space? I think the answer may be different for everyone, but Smale had a great perspective that gives a better overall picture. 

“I think that the stories are kind of timeless in a lot of ways. I think there is a lot of nostalgia attached to the Christmas holidays in general,” Smale said. “Just having scenes with stockings and hot chocolate and ice skating, I think people are sort of brought back to their childhood a bit.

“I think there’s something sentimental and nostalgic about it, and you’re just kind of connecting with your child self.”

With all the wonderful elements that go into creating a made-for-TV holiday movie, some may wonder what it’s like to actually be the one writing them. As a lover of Christmas and the holidays, Smale never seems to tire from the season, even though she writes many stories about that time of year. Instead, she finds being a writer of these films allows her to expand her celebration by trying new activities to gain writing inspiration. 

As a female screenwriter who has successfully crafted holiday movies, I wanted her advice to those who want to do what she does. 

“I think for holiday movies, it’s important to find something that is a little bit different from what we’ve seen,” Smale said. “Something that is personal to you; maybe there is a tradition in your family that we haven’t seen before. Just something that is a little bit different, I think, is always going to get your script sort of seen above the rest.”

What makes this genre so tricky is its particular need to have a focus on Christmas as well. Smale said that when pitching a story to networks, they will often say that if the story can be told without Christmas, they don’t want it. 

“Every single time I write a script, one of the notes I get back is ‘more Christmas’ or ‘more holiday feel.’ So just make sure it’s jam-packed,” Smale said. “Every scene should have something to do with Christmas or whatever holiday you are writing for.”

The final piece of advice she shared is to pick the genre you love to watch and try to find a new perspective that would make you want to watch it. 

“I think when people try to paste the trends, it doesn’t really work out. Just write the thing that you would love to watch, I feel that’s the best script that you’ll write,” she said.

Although some may downplay the value of the holiday movie, I think it’s fair to say that creating new stories each year for a genre that makes almost 100 different movies a year in Canada is complicated. With Smale’s advice, it’s essential to use your own perspective to get your story told while also creating something new that still matches the world of holiday movies. 

So, whether you want to write about them, “hate watch” them, or escape into their world, we all have a relationship with holiday movies. Even if you watch them to tease them, it’s hard to deny your engagement at some point throughout the holiday season. Sometimes, you can’t help but come back to them for the safety of their plots, the escapism of their perfect winter wonderlands, and, of course, the cozy romances. 

If you’re a regular watcher of these movies like my family and I, make sure to check out Smale’s three new movies: Christmas by Design, Navigating Christmas, and Yes, Chef! Christmas.

Sheridan Grace

Toronto MU '24

Sheridan Grace is a fourth-year RTA: Media Production student at Toronto Metropolitan University who aspires to write and produce television content that tells new and lovable stories. With a passion for writing, she is so excited to be working with Her Campus this year. When she is not by her laptop, you will most likely find her singing and dancing, baking gluten-free sweets or trying to argue why she thinks she could win Big Brother.