Christmas is the perfect time to gather around the TV with family and watch a holiday film, but just what goes into creating the perfect festive film script? From atmospheric settings to the right mix of comedy, family bonding and quirky plot twists, here are three festive holiday films that have their own unique Christmas magic.
Written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus (1990)
It’s almost Christmas in snowy Chicago and the McCallister family is preparing to fly to France for the holidays. In the chaos of the departure, their youngest son Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) gets left behind. Kevin now must fend for himself as only an eight-year-old can: by gorging on ice cream, turning the house into an adventure playground and watching gangster movies on TV. Trouble comes in the form of burglars Harry and Marv, who plan to rob the McCallister home on Christmas Eve, prompting Kevin to rig the house with booby-traps for a spectacular slapstick climax. Kevin also has a big lesson to learn about the local creepy neighbour, rumoured to be a killer, Old Man Marley. This clever kid ultimately figures out that all he really wants for Christmas is his own family back, just in time for a touching reunion finale.
Home Alone has become an iconic holiday film because it touches on the key Christmas themes of family and childhood. We watch the action unfurl through Kevin’s eyes, witnessing the magic of Christmas and the dream scenario of being left home alone through a child’s point-of-view. The film has just the right amount of festive fun and comedy with a touching holiday message at its heart: that the real magic of Christmas lies in being together with your family, no matter how annoying they may be. Add in a hefty helping of Christmassy decorations, festive tunes and snowy weather, and it’s not hard to see why Home Alone remains a firm holiday favourite. What screenwriters can learn here is that at heart we are all children struggling to cope with burglars and scary, strange neighbors – frightening neighbors who, we find out, are really kind and just want the same things we do. Comedies are about hope and happy endings and remind us that the basic things which make life joyful – love and belonging – are sought after by all. So every once in a while, consider setting aside those “edgy”, apocalyptic or dark story ideas and go for something simple, sweet, and heart-warming. Because in the end, the child within each of us longs to once more be tucked into bed and hear that everything is going to be all right.
And if you write one of these stories, you’ll be giving the world a great gift.
Miracle on 34th Street
Written and directed by George Seaton (1947)
The original version of this classic holiday film tells the story of a little girl called Susan (Natalie Wood) whose mother Doris (Maureen O’Hara) has taught her not to believe in Santa Claus. This all changes when Doris, who works for Macy’s Department Store, hires an incredibly realistic Santa (Edmund Gwenn) who goes by the name of Kris Kringle and has the eccentric habit of insisting that he is the genuine Santa. As Susan witnesses Kringle’s knack for spreading Christmas cheer, she begins to believe that he could be the real Santa. Not everyone agrees and Macy’s psychologist has Kris committed to a mental hospital, where in deep despair, he deliberately fails his mental examination. Help comes from Doris’ friend Fred, who agrees to represents Kris in a legal hearing. The case rests on being able to prove that Kris is in fact the real Santa Claus. Can Fred possibly, by some miracle, win?
Miracle on 34th Street is a heart-warming Christmas tale that focuses on the human struggle between belief and reason. At its very center lies a cynical little girl who gradually learns the value of believing. Despite being set around a department store at the most commercially-driven time of year, Miracle on 34th Street also manages to assert an anti-consumerist stance, which makes it particularly forward-thinking for its time. In the film, acts of kindness are more important than gifts and Kringle even sends parents to a rival store to buy cheaper toys. Set between the Thanksgiving and Christmas period, Miracle on 34th Street is full of atmospheric holiday spirit. What writers can learn here is that holiday stories can also have powerful themes. Even in traditional folktale fantasies like this one there can be found genuine human truth. Don’t sell “Christmas movies” short and assume they must be all fluff. This film became a true classic because it speaks to audiences on several levels: seen through the eyes of a child it works as a simple Santa Claus story, but it’s also impactful for adults with a thought-provoking theme, that in all forms of human expression some truth can be found. We must open our hearts as well as our minds. In whatever sort of script or novel you may be writing, never forget the power of theme.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Written by Tim Burton, Directed by Henry Selick (1993)
Jack Skellington (Danny Elfman), the King of Halloween Town, is bored of living in a land filled with ghosts and ghouls and organizing the annual Halloween festivities. So, he’s overjoyed to stumble upon magical doors leading to different holiday lands. Along with Jack, we’re transported to Christmas town, an enchanting world of elves and penguins, snow and sparkly red-and-green lights. Jack is so enthralled with the holiday that he decides to kidnap ‘Sandy Claus’ and run Christmas with the help of his ghoulish friends from Halloween Town, with terrifying results. Can Jack realise his mistake in time, put things right and save Christmas?
The Nightmare Before Christmas is an unforgettable, alternative holiday film that has become a cult classic. The king of macabre Tim Burton brings to life vivid, believable holiday worlds full of quirky characters and fantastical settings. Christmas Town, with its candy canes, cute elves and gingerbread houses, captures the cartoony essence of the holiday perfectly. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stunning example of painstaking stop-animation and has something for all ages, including a haunting musical score composed by Danny Elfman.
If you’re creating a holiday script, think about including key heart-warming themes but don’t be afraid to put your own, alternative slant on a Christmas message. Yes, even a dark, edgy imagination – with an open heart – can create a holiday classic! Just remember to include plenty of festive scenery, music and… oh yeah, some unforgettable characters!
Happy Holidays to Everyone!
About The Story Solution: The Story Solution was written by accomplished screenwriter Eric Edson. It reveals the 23 actions used to create dynamic, three dimensional heroes and link all parts of a captivating screenplay. He also covers screenwriting tips, screenwriting resources, and screenwriting books. Visit the website and Facebook page or call 818-677-7808 for more information.