Oh the charm of a Christmas classic movie!
‘Tis the Christmas Season, when families come together and inevitably gather around the TV to watch a heart-warming, often funny, Christmas themed movie. Done well, they will want to watch the same movie year after year to re-generate those joyful feelings.
The christmas classic movie is an excellent Indie film-maker’s platform. In 2016, home video sales was $20 billion and TV on demand streaming was another $10 billion and growing. The 2017 – 2022 box office figures from VOD and online viewing is staggering. In this season, Christmas movies are what people crave. Hallmark is currently feeding the hunger for Christmas movies with cheesy holiday themed stories that get thousands of views a week. And Christmas movies are ideal for Indie budgets because they are often set in regular family life where nothing has to explode; and car chases are optional. What it really takes for a movie to become a Christmas Classic movie is a good script.
The rest of the year there is a strong theme in movies where good takes on evil and one of them wins. It’s a fear driven world where being on the side of virtue justifies fighting back.
But in this season, a Christmas movie is the clash of a fear-driven world and a love-based world. Rather than fighting each other, they learn to cross the distance between their world-views. The protagonist gains the benefit of knowing a second way of being in the world!
Christmas classic movie explained
I first noticed this in Miracle on 34th St. Remember the scene where the tired shopper says “I don’t get it. Imagine a big store like Macy’s sending people to another store. Putting the people ahead of the commercialism! I never shopped here much before, but from now on I am going to be a loyal Macy’s customer!”
Macy’s Santa was driven by love of the children and there was a generative effect that spread across the country. Macy’s did the unexpected love-driven thing and gained more benefits than they did when they tried their linear selling/fear-driven methods.
A Christmas Carol and Scrooged have the same theme where Scrooge thinks life is about pushing back the dangers of poverty by making lots of money. The big aha comes when he awakens, literally, to the joys of relationships with people.
Home Alone as a Christmas classic movie
Home Alone is a comedy of clever pranks supported by a backstory of a family so focused on the job of getting to NYC for a family vacation that they leave a kid at home, alone. The irony of wanting time together as a family, which is totally love-driven, resulting in forgetting to bring a family member is funny! It’s that clash of two worlds. The irony continues as the family under-estimates their amazingly resilient kid, and you feel this kind of glowing pride in him.
Elf is a comedy set in the love-driven world of The North Pole, where an adopted human journeys to NYC to help his father convert from a strictly fear-driven world (“No we’re not going to correct our printing mistake that make the children’s book nonsensical. It will cost too much!”) to include a love driven world.
Writing a Christmas classic movie
Writing a Christmas Classic Movie is playing with the different operating conditions between the fear-driven and the love-driven frames of mind. There is conflict and there is humour because everything in the love-based world is the opposite of a good idea from the fear-driven perspective.
Let’s start with understandings of power. In the fear driven world, power is the ability to assert your will, even against the will of others or other factors. This is the endless source of relatable comedy in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation. Chevy Chase is trying to assert his will to have a warm family holiday by having a tree and xmas lights, and family visit IN A BIG WAY. It’s as if he thinks the bigger the effort the happier the family. What the viewer sees is that what really makes for a happy family vacation is nurturing their relationships. It is hilarious how Chevy has this hot wife that he ignores and kisses on the forehead until the very end of the movie.
In Holiday Inn, Bing Crosby tries to assert his will and keep the woman he loves from his best friend who keeps stealing his fiancées by offering them career success. What he doesn’t get is that power is different in the love-driven world. Here, power comes from being all that you can be, and wanting others to be all that they can be. Bing learns that he needs to be his wonderful self and give her the freedom to choose to be with him. It’s the only way to know you have true love.
Another operating condition of the fear-driven world is to see life as a competition. There are winners and losers. You’re high on the hierarchy or low on the hierarchy. Things are good or they are bad. This either/or thinking style is the opposite of the natural default in a love-driven world. Here people say “yes, and…”. They want to make a connection. And, they can hold the space for two different ideas to co-exist. They care most about relationships between people.
In Trading Places, the old guys make a bet on the question of nature vs nurture. They outcast a well-bred stockbroker and elevate a street beggar (asserting their will). Then they sit back to see who will be the winner. They never imagined that the two men would meet and form a relationship. With the help of a big-hearted hooker, the two guys go from competitors to friends (very Gilgamesh). They gain love-driven power and both benefit.
3. Objectivity and Subjectivity
We have time for one more operating condition of the Christmas classic movie, which is objectivity in the linear fear-driven world and subjectivity in the circular, love-based world.
In Miracle on 34th Street, Maureen O’Hara thinks she can be totally realistic in life. She reasons that taking a facts based objective approach to life, including Christmas, will protect her and her daughter from heartache. She learns that caring about feelings, dreams, and having faith in people are the ingredients of a happy life. You can’t always take an objective, common sense approach.
It’s funny that the corporation gets the message at the beginning of the movie and she doesn’t until the end. Also, the leading male is championing the love-based world and the leading female is in the fear-driven world. It’s all topsy-turvy!
Christmas movies are not for the cynical. The writer’s challenge is to let down the protective shield required to navigate the fear-driven world. Let yourself, and by extension the audience, gush with love and feelings of connection. A LGBTQ christmas story could find an even hungrier audience.
I can’t finish without a nod to It’s a Wonderful Life! one of my favourite movies.
Believe in yourself. You’ll be on track for writing a great Christmas Classic.
Want to learn more about writing a Christmas Classic Movie?
I’m presenting a special evening film class at Raindance London on Thursday November 30th: How To write A Classic Christmas Movie.
Hope to see you there.