This LGBTQ Christmas movie is looking for Hallmark distribution
Hallmark and Lifetime put out plenty of cheesy Christmas romance movies every year for people to enjoy, but how many of those do you think feature LGBTQ+ leads? That’s right, zero. We will acknowledge Lifetime had an LGBTQ+ kiss last year thanks to Twinkle All the Way, but that was a side romance, not the big boy.
Luckily, indie filmmakers Paul Schneider and Alicia Schneider are looking to change all that. The two have teamed up to co-direct A Holiday I Do, and they’re hoping they can score a distribution deal with either of the holiday movie giants for a 2021 release. But before that, they’re raising funds for the film through a Kickstarter campaign.
So far, the film’s raised a little over $7,000 of its $50,000 budget. But they did get a huge win scoring Hallmark Christmas movie icon Ali Liebert to star as one of their two leads. Plus, the film is committed to promoting diversity on and off screen, and will have at least 50% of their positions behind the scenes filled by women.
If you’re desperate for a little more diversity in your Christmas, this is the perfect project to support. We spoke with both Paul and Alicia about their careers as filmmakers, and the response to A Holiday I Do so far.
Tell us about your filmmaking journeys. What did you both do before becoming filmmakers?
Paul: I have been making short films ever since I first got my hands on my dad’s camcorder when I was a kid. Back in 2006, after film school, I helped local businesses tell their stories through commercials and short documentaries.
Alicia: I own a small business in Holly, Michigan. I am a psychic-medium and I run a metaphysical shop. I get to talk one-on-one to hundreds of people every month! Meeting people from different backgrounds, belief systems, and ways of life has helped me to realize that representation in the media is very important, especially for our younger generations.
Is there any movie in particular that inspired you both to become filmmakers?
Paul: Star Wars (the 1997 re-released original trilogy) and Jurassic Park both impacted me while growing up in the 90s. They inspire me to push the envelope further with each film we do.
Alicia: I have always loved cheesy films! Between my love for the cookie-cutter, predictable, happily-ever-afters, and Paul’s love of good, well-done, impactful films, we should have a little bit for everyone in our movie!
Who are your current influences?
Paul: I draw inspiration from everywhere. For film, you’ll catch me noting a camera shot from a movie, an edit in a trailer, or a lighting setup in a commercial.
Alicia: In the current state of our world, I am inspired and influenced by everyone who is speaking out against injustice and unfairness. That is why I think now is the time for a movie like ours. It’s time for people like me, as a bisexual woman, to feel included, loved, and represented.
What were your first projects?
Paul: The first project as a production company with an actual budget behind it was a lighthearted drama called A Hope Without Walls. That film was used to raise awareness for the issue of homelessness and in 2014 we premiered that film to a sold out audience with all proceeds benefiting a homeless shelter in Flint, Michigan.
Alicia: Historically, I have been a producer and been primarily behind the scenes for our projects. I am excited that A Holiday I Do will be the first film in which I am Co-Director.
A Holiday I Do is meant to be a Hallmark-style Christmas movie featuring an LGBTQ+ romance as the focal point. Were you avid Hallmark Christmas fans before working on the project?
Alicia: I have been a Hallmark-style Christmas movie fan since before I can remember. I have a list of movies (12 Dates of Christmas, Snowglobe, Holiday in Handcuffs, etc.) that I absolutely HAVE to watch between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s one of my favorite traditions that I have with my family.
Paul: If you would have asked me 10 years ago, I’d say ‘no’ but Alicia has turned me! Who doesn’t like a lighthearted escape from reality next to the person they love on the couch?
What drew you both to the project?
Paul: Holidays are tough if you don’t have a loved one or family to spend it with. I want to give those in the LGBTQ+ community the proper representation they deserve.
Alicia: This is a film that I have been waiting for for a long time! Last year, I waited for all of the new Christmas movies to be announced and held my breath in hopes of one that featured a gay lead. When that didn’t happen, I went to Twitter to do a little complaining, as we all do, and I realized that a lot of other LGBTQ+ people wanted the same thing! So Paul and I got together and decided to make one ourselves.
What was it like running the Kickstarter for A Holiday I Do?
Alicia: Nerve-wracking! Haha, especially during a time of such uncertainty in our world. We knew that there would be individuals that were passionate about this project, even if they couldn’t contribute financially, and the response and support has been amazing!
You got a Hallmark Christmas icon Ali Liebert to sign on as one of your leads. How did you make that happen?
Paul: In casting, it’s so important to have a mutual fit for both what’s right for the character and what’s right for the talent. Ali is both a recognizable Christmas movie star and advocate for LGBTQ+ characters and stories, so that synergy was there.
Alicia: It was incredibly important to me that our lead, a lesbian character, was played by someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, and passionate about our rights. Our immediate first choice was Ali, and when we reached out to her, we were so excited that she wanted to be onboard! I knew the universe wanted her to play Jane in this film, and she is absolutely perfect for this role.
A big part of your Kickstarter campaign mentions how the film will be ReFrame certified? Why is it important to help get diversity in the cast and crew?
Paul: There have been too many cis white males, like me, being the ones telling the stories! Alicia and I make a great team. I focus on the blocking, screen direction and staying on schedule, while she can stay 100% in the moment and focus on performance.
Alicia: Paul and I are very passionate about equality in every sense of the word. We know that the film industry needs more women in important roles both in front of and behind the camera. This movie is about women, so it is vital to have as many points of view from as many women as possible.
Ideally, once the film is finished, where would you like to distribute the film?
Paul: We have talked with multiple distribution companies who are very interested in the story and talent attached. Since Christmas movies have an audience each year, we have also looked at self-distribution VOD and hybrid distribution as well. When we near completion of the film, we will make decisions on what will get the widest reach for the film.
Alicia: We think that Netflix or Hulu would be a great home for this film, but we don’t want to rule out mainstream cable channels such as Hallmark and Lifetime. We would love to see them take some initiative to include more diverse storylines and characters on their channels. If our movie is a good fit, we would be more than open to that possibility.
Saugatuck, Michigan is a well known vacation destination for LGBTQ+ couples. Was that important to you when you chose it as your filming location?
Paul: Yes, that was very important to us. The film also is set in a small town, and Saugatuck is the quaintest, cutest town out there. Beautiful during Christmas as well!
Alicia: Saugatuck is very LGBTQ-friendly, and that is what initially drew us to that location. The fact that Saugatuck is incredibly beautiful and really captures the essence of Christmas during the holidays is just an added bonus!
Why is it important for big companies like Lifetime and Hallmark to include more LGBTQ+ romances in their films?
Paul: Hallmark and Lifetime have a large, diverse viewership and their films need to reflect that.
Alicia: Cable channels like Hallmark and Lifetime have such a huge audience, especially during the holidays. We all know that in November and December, you can turn these channels on at any time of the day and find a feel-good holiday film. For the LGBTQ+ community, seeing ourselves on screen is a rare but amazing feeling!
It could also help open dialogue for people who don’t fully understand or accept our lifestyle, maybe seeing us on screen in a “normal” setting would bring clarity and acceptance.
After your Kickstarter was covered by The Daily Beast, Hallmark released a statement ensuring they’ll be promoting LGBTQ+ diversity in their upcoming films. How does it feel knowing a large part of that statement comes from your film?
Paul: I was really happy to see a small Michigan film get enough attention to make Hallmark release that statement. I really hope they follow through and make LGBTQ+ diversity an integral part of the storylines.
Alicia: It’s amazing to feel a positive shift in the entertainment industry! I hope that there are 100 gay Christmas movies in the works by the time our film comes out! This is such an exciting time, and I am thrilled to be a small, yet impactful part of history.
Where do you see yourselves in five years?
Alicia: In 5 years, I think our production company will be working on other impactful and important films!
Paul: Our goal is to produce a feature each year, so hopefully we have five films complete or almost complete by then. I am in post-production of our previous feature currently while we are prepping for A Holiday I Do.
Do you have any experience with mentors? Would you recommend them for up and coming filmmakers?
Paul: There is nothing better than being on a film set shadowing others. Film school is great, but that is only theory until you apply it. It’s important to always stay in the ‘student’ mindset as well. You can always learn something new and be open to constructive criticism.
Alicia: Yeah, having someone to motivate you and keep you on your toes is so important for people to succeed.
Talk us through your creative process.
Paul: I am a big pre-visualizer and planner. I do storyboards, shot lists, etc. I have a plan A, B and C for everything. The funny thing is, I rarely reference any of my planning docs while onset. They are just part of the creative process to engrain the vision and then I can just adapt and create while onset. Nothing ever goes as planned anyway!
Alicia: I’m the idea person, so I just throw out my dreams and ideas for the film, and Paul and Melinda (our writer) put them into a format that was perfect for our screenplay.
Do you have any other indie filmmakers we should have on our radar?
Paul: I have had the pleasure to work with many talented filmmakers in Michigan. Even after our state’s tax credit left, the talent didn’t.
After A Holiday I Do, what’s next for the both of you?
Paul: We are looking forward to sharing A Holiday I Do with the world. We will likely be in pre-production on our next feature at that time. We have a half dozen great concepts, spanning many different genres we are excited to bring to life.
Alicia: I already have ideas swirling around in my head. Between my business, being a mom, and wanting to continue making films with Rock Solid Creative Studios, I will be very busy! I am just so thrilled to be part of this film and I can’t wait to see the final product.