A new Lifetime Christmas movie starring Melissa Joan Hart has had to be changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the central New York couple who wrote it.
“Dear Christmas,” starring Hart and Jason Priestley (from “Beverly Hills, 90210”), is the latest addition to Juliet and Keith Giglio, two professional screenwriters who live in Manlius. The holiday romance film premieres Friday at 8 p.m. on the Lifetime Network.
“The day after Thanksgiving is like Christmas gold,” the Giglios said in a phone interview with syracuse.com | The post-norm. There is no professional sport on TV, and most people are settled in their homes after vacations in Turkey and Black Friday shopping – even more so this year because of Covid-19.
“Dear Christmas” was filmed in Lake Tahoe in July and was the second film to shoot in Nevada after the pandemic halted film and television productions across the country. Safety precautions required them to limit crowd scenes and eliminate extras, so a singalong in a bar had to be changed and a planned 5K Ugly Sweater (inspired by the Giglios in Liverpool) was removed.
“Lifetime called in April and (asked us to) rewrite it to be ready for Covid,” Keith said. “It forced us to focus more on the characters.”
The film centers on Natalie Morgan (Hart) as the host of a popular podcast, Holiday Love, sharing true stories of vacation romance with her listeners. While the outside world and her listeners around the world see that Natalie is an expert on romance, she has never really experienced her own romance. As Natalie prepares to go on a promotional tour for her new book, she stops by home to spend Christmas with her family where she unexpectedly begins to experience her own holiday romance as sparks ignite with the local firefighter, Jack (Jason Priestley).
“There is a subtle… reference to first responders,” Keith added, stressing the importance of essential workers during the pandemic.
The cast, reduced to just seven main talking parts, also includes Ed Begley Jr. (“A Mighty Wind”), Robin Givens (“Boomerang”), Faith Prince (“Spin City”) and Nicky Whelan (“The Binge”). ), with cameos – filmed remotely – by Jamie and Doug Hehner, Hilarie Burton and Antwon Tanner. Emily Moss Wilson directs, and Hart and her mother Paula Hart serve as producers.
Concerns about the risks of Covid-19 also meant the Giglios could not visit the set, as they did with other films they wrote.
The couple have already written two other lifetime vacation films: “A Very Nutty Christmas” (2018) and “Christmas Reservations” (2019). Both have also played Hart, whose credits include “Clarissa Explains It All”, “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, “Drive Me Crazy” and “Melissa & Joey”.
“It’s a real romance for us. These are really the wonderful things that can happen at Christmas, ”Juliet said. “This year more than ever, people are looking forward to them.”
The couple say they enjoy watching Christmas movies every year, including “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Love Actually” and “Miracle on 34th Street”. But the holiday season lasts a little longer in their house, as they finished writing “Dear Christmas” in January and February – which is easy with all the snow in central New York City.
“We’re writing it to Christmas music. We created a soundtrack or a playlist, should I say, for the particular movie, ”Juliet said. “So like, ‘Nutty Christmas’ (which featured a nutcracker that came to life) was all Tchaikovsky.”
“Dear Christmas” is the third movie Juliet Giglio has written with Keith, her husband of 30 years, since moving from Los Angeles to Syracuse nine years ago. Their credits include “Joshua”, “Noah”, “Return to Halloweentown”, “Tarzan” and “Pizza My Heart”; Keith Giglio also worked on Disney’s “A Cinderella Story” and “Another Cinderella Story”.
They moved to CNY to teach screenwriting; he’s a professor at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, and Juliet does the same at SUNY Oswego. They wrote a book together, “Proof of Concept: Writing the Short Script,” which is being used in classrooms across the country.
The coronavirus pandemic has also changed the way they teach, often working from home and doing lessons through Zoom video chats.
“We each took over a room in our house,” Juliet said. “I’ll be in one room and Keith will be in the other. Most importantly, we had to increase our internet connection. “
“Dear Christmas” will air Friday, November 27 at 8 p.m. on the Lifetime Network. See the trailer at mylifetime.com.