In the Christmas Spirit: An Interview with Screenwriter Kirsten Hansen

Screenwriter Kirsten Hansen (left center) with (from left to right) Preston Vanderslice (Beau Callahan), Producer Maura Dunbar, Development Executive Sarah Porter, Ashley Greene (Lucy Lovett) and Donna Benedicto (Anna Hepburn). PC: Kirsten Hansen

With the holiday season comes Hallmark Channel’s celebrated Countdown to Christmas. Nothing says Christmas like a cozy movie complete with hot chocolate moments and Christmas cookie dreams. Last year, Screenwriter Kirsten Hansen brought us her debut Hallmark Christmas movie, Return to Christmas Creek. This Saturday, her charming story-telling returns to Hallmark Channel in the adaptation of Denise Hunter’s novel The Goodbye Bride, titled Christmas on My Mind.

ATG: This has been quite an eventful year for you. From Love Under the Rainbow to Chesapeake Shores to Christmas on My Mind, which airs on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries on December 21, the creative process has filled your days. Any free time you’ve had has been spent traveling.  What has been the most memorable experience for you this year?

Kirsten: Thank you, Karen!  I’ve been so fortunate this year to have had so many blessings and travel!  But I was always working while traveling. The great thing about being a writer is I can write anywhere as long as I have my laptop with me.  This year, I finished two TV projects which are very important to me while I was in other countries, and I wrote a Christmas movie while in sunny Hawaii.  

There were a lot of highlights. I’m so grateful for everything that happened this year. I had a road-trip through Europe with my dad and younger sister Saira. Then there were the adventures with my German tour guide #ColonelKurt, an incredible leadership conference in Sedona with my older sister Dana and a magical healing retreat in Hawaii. I went to Belgium for my 40th birthday with my dear British friends and saw my favorite singer Dermot Kennedy for the 3rd time this year. I also spent five months on Chesapeake Shores!  So many!  But I think the highlight of the year was the experience I had in Berlin meeting Dermot Kennedy at a very intimate concert put on by Other Voices.  That night will go down as the best night of my life — so far. I had to keep pinching myself that it was really happening. It all unfolded so magically.

ATG: In all those travels, which places inspired creativity and another original screenplay?

Kirsten: I’m currently writing two movies that are set in Europe, which was the reason for all my European travels this year — I needed to research certain places specifically.  I wanted to see the fairy tale lands of Germany, which were incredibly magical and inspiring, and there is something about Italy and Belgium. I have a quite a few stories percolating right now. I’m heading to Ireland for one of the movies.  It will be my first time there and I can’t wait!

ATG: Your creativity is inspiring. You’ve developed three previous movies for Hallmark. This season, Christmas on My Mind is adapted from the novel The Goodbye Bride by Denise Hunter. Is this the first movie you’ve adapted from a book? How is the process different from writing an original screenplay?

Kirsten: One of my TV projects OLD SOULS is based on a book and this incredible true story by Tom Shroder, an award-winning journalist.  Tom and I have been working together on this project for over a decade, finding the best way to bring it to light.  It feels like the world is ready now.

With The Goodbye Bride, Denise Hunter wrote such a compelling and emotional book.  I loved it. I loved the characters. Even though there were a lot of changes that happened to the story in the adaptation — including changing it from a summer movie to a Christmas movie — I tried to maintain the essence of her characters and what was most important to the story.

ATG: What did you most enjoy about the process?

Kirsten: I love adapting because the bones of the story are there.  The characters already exist and there’s a whole world that’s been created for you. It’s your job as the writer to find the essence of what the author is trying to say and condense or adapt it for the film/tv audience. 

ATG: What aspects of the central character resonate with you?

Screenwriter Kirsten Hansen with Andrew Walker (Zac Callahan) and Ashley Greene (Lucy Lovett) on the set of Christmas on My Mind. PC: Kirsten Hansen

Kirsten: Funny enough, this might be the first movie I’ve written where I didn’t necessarily see myself in the lead character.  It was a fun challenge. Because it was based on a book, Lucy Lovett already existed in the world in a way, and I wanted to honor that. I did find aspects of her that I connected to while writing the dialogue. It’s hard not to. She’s such a good intentioned, lovely character, and Ashley Greene is so good.  I’m really excited to see it all come to life. The countdown is on now!

Kirsten with Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguez (Ryan) on the set of Christmas on My Mind. PC: Kirsten Hansen

Another tidbit: I based one of the young characters who was not in the original story, Ryan, off my nephew.  The actor who plays him, Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguez, is just the cutest! I wanted to take him home with me.  I actually asked his dad if I could borrow him. He’s a scene stealer for sure.

ATG: As friends and family settle in to enjoy Christmas on My Mind on December 21, how should they prepare? Is this a “hot cocoa and cookies” experience or a “cuddly blanket and tissues” movie? 

Kirsten: I hope a little bit of both!  Definitely a cuddly blanket and hot cocoa!  It’s more of a romantic drama with heartwarming emotional depth and a little bit of mystery, than a straight up comedy, but we snuck in some funny moments throughout. The cast is so fantastic, funny, and sweet!   

ATG: The logline for the movie begins “Lucy Lovett wakes holding a wedding dress…” If someone wrote a script based on a significant Christmas of your own, what would the logline be? 

Kirsten: The logline would begin:  A young girl wakes to find a special note from Santa in her Christmas stocking…

A full stocking is my favorite part of Christmas. One year as a kid, I found a note inside my stocking from Santa that read, “Dear Kirsten, I saw you only put out one stocking this year. Such a pity. I had lots extra.  Love, Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph and the elves.” In my family, I was always the one who would squeal with excitement at all the Christmas presents and loved unwrapping my stocking. 

ATG: Stockings are my favorite part of Christmas, too. My mom always spent extra time choosing candy and small gifts to fill them.

Hallmark Christmas movies are known for quintessential Christmas traditions like finding the perfect tree and baking cookies. What is one holiday activity that you would like to include in a future Countdown to Christmas movie?

Kirsten: I thought of a few and then thought hey, these are pretty good. So, I’m going to save them for my next Christmas movie.  You’ll have to wait and tune in.

ATG: You know I will. Do you celebrate the holiday season in true Hallmark fashion? What does a Hansen Family Christmas look like?

Kirsten: Oh, I wish!  When I was a kid, we went all out at Christmas and it was always my favorite time of year!  “Santa” used to hide our stockings in the house, and we had to find them. That was the best!  Now, we do a traditional big feast on Christmas Day with my Mom and our Hungarian side of the family. Then our Dad comes down to visit, usually on the 27th, for a few days and we have our traditional Danish Smorgasboard — and lots of family time.  

For our family, it’s really about spending time together.  Deep talks, playing games, winter walks and Christmassy activities, that kind of thing. Oh, and my nephew and I always make gingerbread houses!  We try and make it extra special for him which I love. I now get to live vicariously through him.

ATG: My boys like making gingerbread houses, too. But I think it is the thought of eating eat afterwards that really captivates them. If you were to establish a new tradition in your home to celebrate the season, what would you choose to do?

Kirsten: I would do a lot of baking!  And cookie decorating. I’d make a gingerbread house from scratch!  I would hand out full Christmas stockings to those less fortunate. I really want to get on that last one. That’s important to me, to help people feel loved and nurtured.

ATG: Those are all great ideas! Something tells me, though, that you might be a bit busy this year with other projects.

For many families, watching the Countdown to Christmas movies has become an annual tradition, as well. What do you think keeps families returning to Hallmark for seasonal programming?

Kirsten: They are so cozy!  People love the nostalgia of wonderful Christmas memories, and everyone loves a happy ending.  I think Hallmark has mastered both of those. I also love how people create little rituals of hot cocoa and cookies and such while watching!  The movies bring people together, and we feel good watching them. I’m grateful to be a small part of that!

ATG: I do hope that your part in that continues, too. Your stories always bring a unique twist and added depth to the Hallmark tradition. 

As the year draws to a close, we celebrate the blessings of the past year and look forward to the promises of the new one ahead. What special blessings will you celebrate as the year draws to a close? 

Kirsten: You’re really getting me in the Christmas spirit. Thank you!  This year I’m celebrating the great health of my family and friends. I’m very grateful for all of our adventures together, and all the blessings and transformation I experienced this year both personally and professionally.  It was a challenging year, with big highs and lows, a lot of extremes, but it was also one of my favorites ever! I’m very excited about all that’s coming up in 2020!

ATG: What hopes do you see looming on the horizon?

Kirsten: I have many that I’m holding close to my heart right now, but I’m praying for a few things to come to fruition this next year, or very soon.  When they do, you’ll hear all about it.

ATG: I’ll be joining you in prayer that those projects take root, and I am looking forward to seeing the announcements on social media. You also enjoy sharing online about your projects, travels, and a musician by the name of Dermot Kennedy. Were you able to combine these three passions into one project, where would it take place and which song would establish the theme?

Kirsten: I sure do, and funny you should mention it. I’m writing a movie right now that’s set in Ireland, where Dermot Kennedy is from. I’m actually going to Ireland to research for the movie. While I’m there, I’ll be seeing Dermot Kennedy perform on Irish soil for 13,000 fans.  It’s the show he’s most looking forward to, and we have something special planned! Shhh! Don’t tell!

Both of my European-set movies contain elements of family, soul-searching, believing in yourself, being true to yourself, and finding true love.  Those themes are really important to me, and I feel it in Dermot’s music as well. My hope is that I’ll be able to get the rights to some of Dermot’s music — not just one song — for these upcoming movies. Fingers and toes crossed!  

ATG: Each of your movies has touched me in a way that allows me to see the world in a new way. I’m looking forward to seeing those “soul-searching, true-to-yourself” themes play out in the picturesque settings of Europe. In the meantime, I am gathering a few friends to watch and tweet during the West Coast airing of Christmas on My Mind. Will you be online with us?

Kirsten: Oh, that’s so lovely!!  Thank you for all of your support, Karen!!  It means so much! I’ll be in Ireland, so I might be sleeping during the actual airing but I’ll try to tweet along. I’ll definitely check in!  I’m looking forward to hearing what you and your friends think. My family and I are having a special screening when I get back. I can’t wait! I’m really excited to finally see it and to share it with everyone.  I hope it warms people’s hearts! That was really our intention while making it.

Kirsten is currently traveling through Ireland, doing research for her newest project. To be inspired by her journeys and perhaps catch a few behind-the-scenes pictures from the set of Christmas on My Mind, visit her Instagram page at @kearstegram or her Facebook page at @KirstenSonyaHansen. You can also find her on Twitter at @K_ear_sten Christmas on My Mind airs Saturday, December 21, at 9pm/8C on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.

Kirsten wished to share one final thought with all the Hallmark viewers: “I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Joyful, and Prosperous 2020 – the year of clear vision – a year where your big dreams come true!” We wish the same for Kirsten, who continues to light the world by sharing her travels, words of inspiration, and heart-felt stories with us.

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