Bob Saenz is an experienced film industry professional who has worked for many years in California as a script writer, actor, and producer. His work as a writer includes many scripts for film and TV ranging from industrial films to feature length films. He is a master of his craft to the extent that he is also widely sought as a script doctor. As the writer of the script based upon a story by Abbey Cleland, he has graciously agreed to be interviewed about his involvement in the Hallmark film 'Help for the Holidays'
starring Summer Glau and Eva LaRue.
The testimonials on Bob’s website clearly illustrate that Bob is not only an accomplished writer but he is also very passionate about what he does. And like most people who are accomplished and engaged, he shares his time, knowledge, and experience. This is interesting to us at the Summer Glau Wiki because his outlook is similar to Summer’s. She also takes great delight in her work and in being part of the film and TV industry to the extent that her work is more than just a job, hence the numerous testimonials from people who have worked with her, noticing how professional and easy to work with she is.
Since Bob was an integral part of the Hallmark production of 'Help for the Holidays', we wanted to ask him a few questions about his involvement in the project, the production, and what it was like to work with Summer. As you will read below, he has a high opinion of Summer, he is a fan of Firefly, and he really enjoyed working on this project. He was really impressed with how good Summer’s comic timing is (something you are born with), and he says that the film has a lot of magic, mostly done by Summer (but no trolls). However, hope springs eternal as he tells us a bit about his next project.
UPDATE : we have published two more interviews, don't forget to read them afterwards.
Bob, first off, a lot of Summer’s fans are really taken with her work to the extent that many have written fictional works celebrating her characters, particularly River in Firefly and Serenity, and Cameron in TSCC. Would you have any advice for her fans about writing interesting characters for her or any other talented actress?
Bob Saenz: First of all, thank you for letting me contribute to the website. Writing any good script is first and foremost about story. Without a good story you can have all the great characters in the world and it still doesn’t work. One of things that made Summer’s characters great in both series were the stories. With that behind her, an accomplished actress like Summer could grab hold of her character and give her all the subtle attributes that make that character attractive to audiences. Characters don’t really come to life in a script until the actors give them their unique take anyway. To specifically answer your question, I personally write the characters to fit the story I’m writing with no actor ever in mind. That way, casting directors have a clean slate and are able to look for a variety of actors, each one bringing a different take on the character. This gives the director and producer loads of choices for the look of the film and in the direction the film takes.
As for fan fiction, though I have never written any, I do enjoy reading it from time to time. My advice about fan fiction is to remember to not write for the actress, but for the character they play. Remaining true to that character even though you might place her in completely different situations. That makes for good fan fiction.
Speaking of interesting characters, did you have Summer in mind when you wrote the script? While you were writing her character, were you aware that she would be playing this part?
Bob Saenz: Like I said above, I did not have Summer in mind at all, just having a compelling, interesting character that was true to the story.
We are looking forward to seeing this movie for the whole story but also to see Summer tackle a role quite unlike others she has had. Have you seen Summer’s other work? What did you think about it?
Bob Saenz: When Hallmark called and told me they had cast Summer, I was thrilled. Ok, I was ecstatic.
I was and am a Firefly fan and loved her in it. I’ve always thought she was great.
In past interviews, Summer has discussed her preparation for her other roles and with River Tam of Firefly (Joss Whedon), she recently said that she did not have a lot of back story to go on and so she had to imagine a lot. In your opinion, in your work, is it important to give an actress a little or a lot to go on about her character and what motivates the character?
Bob Saenz: Well, I hope she had a lot to go on. I tried to write a well fleshed out, complete character in Christine and think I succeeded. It’s also incumbent on any actor who wants to do a good job to fill in the blanks, to make choices based on the information in the script. She’s a very good actor and in the case of this film, made great choices, in my opinion.
On the other side of that coin (how much to give to the actress) how much do you need to flesh out a character to come up with what you consider to be a good script?
Bob Saenz : I need to know what every character will do in any given situation, even if that situation isn’t in the film. I try to do that in every script I write so when I’m in production meetings and I get suggestions about the characters I can say, “That character wouldn’t do that, and here’s why.” if I need to. Most of the time they listen. The Hallmark people were the easiest and best to work with that I’ve ever experienced.
The testimonials to your work paint a very complimentary picture (no doubt well deserved!) of someone who has a good understanding of people and what makes them tick. Is this understanding of people and their motivations something that you and an actress like Summer have in common?
Bob Saenz : I’m an actor too (with a very narrow range, but in that range I’m not bad) and as both a writer and actor the one thing that has made a huge difference (besides training) was to be a well rounded person. To experience life outside of the narrow interest of the film industry. I have an actual bucket list, one I’ve had since I was about 13 years old, that I have been fulfilling since then. There are still things left on it I intend to do. This has given me a ton of life experiences to draw on for my writing. I do a lot of hands on research, not just on the internet, for anything I’m writing about, too. I’m also a family man, with a wife of 37 years and grown kids and have a full life with them. Plus, I listen to people everywhere I go. I have gotten some GREAT dialogue ideas just eavesdropping on others. As for the testimonials, I’ve been very fortunate to work with great people and I am grateful for their kind words.
Eva LaRue (CSI: Miami) plays the busy mom who needs a Christmas wake-up call. Our friends at fansite Eva LaRue Official would like to know the inspiration for Eva’s role. Do Eva and Summer share emotional scenes?
Bob Saenz: Again, the role was not written with Eva in mind, but I’d cast her again in a second. She’s compassionate, funny, and brings that indefinable realism to her characters that writers love. She does in Help for the Holidays. And yes, she and Summer share scenes including one huge emotional one.
One of the other people attached to this film is Bradford May, who directed it. Would you tell us how the two of you happen to know each other and what it was like working with him?
Bob Saenz: Ahhh Bradford. Yes, a very experienced and professional man and a good solid director. I was pleased when Hallmark told me they hired him. I have never worked with him as a writer, but I worked twice before for him as an actor. I had a small (tiny little) recurring role on the TV series Nash Bridges for 6 seasons and he directed two episodes during my tenure there. He’s thorough, has a great sense of humor, and is easy to work with. He knows exactly what he wants, but listens to ideas too. The best kind of director. Oh... he also knows where to put a camera, something some directors don’t do all that well.
For the character of Christine, are there any tricks or approaches you used to make her appealing? What can you share with us about Christine? Was Summer able to do justice to this character?
Bob Saenz: No tricks. Just write a good story with a good lead character. I think I did it here with Christine. She has some pretty fun things to do and a lovely character arc in this film that drives the plot. Do justice? Summer brought Christine to life in a way most writers can only pray for when they write a character. I am thrilled with her performance.
Without being too spoilerish, can you tell us anything about the relationship between Christine and Uncle Dave, played by John Brotherton? They make a very handsome couple.
Bob Saenz: Hmmm. Ok.... Well, they do make a VERY handsome couple. And John Brotherton is terrific.
We think that Summer has a gift, not often used, for comedy and will we see Summer get to explore this in your story? Did her character go through an awkward phase adjusting to life amongst the “regular folks?” Do the ears factor into the comedy at all?
Bob Saenz: A gift for comedy is an understatement. She’s genuinely funny in the film. Her comic timing isn’t anything that can be taught either. I think people are going to be surprised with this performance. And yes, there are some very awkward moments for her character. How can there not be? She’s used to the North Pole, not Southern California. And yes, the ears are a big factor.
In this film, Summer plays an elf, a supernatural character. Summer has played some of the most kickass, tough characters ever. Does she at least get to wield a sword and dispatch a couple of trolls? No? Maybe in the sequel? They don’t have to be very big trolls, just mean ones.
Bob Saenz: Ok... let’s get this out of the way. This is a HALLMARK Christmas film. I will admit, they did let me write one that is different from most they’ve produced, but there’s no kickass, no trolls, no swords. Sorry. But I honestly don’t think any of her fans will miss them. This is a fun movie.
We know that one of Christine’s powers is to be able to pull candy canes out from behind people’s ears. How did that come about? Was it your idea?
Bob Saenz: There’s a good amount of magic in the film, all of which came from my fevered brain. It was great fun to be able to invent all the magic stuff in this film. And it all propels the film forward, which is the goal of anything you use in crafting a good story.
No doubt a Christmas movie has to follow rules, such as no trolls, to meet the audience’s expectations, and it could be perhaps very formulaic. For example, we all know that the arc of the story will end in a gathering at Christmas, with a resolution of each character’s struggle, and most likely, there will be a tree and songs will be sung. No criticism intended but the Hallmark Channel and the production company likely gave you strict guidelines (they sign the cheques). As a writer, how do you manage to keep your creativity in play and do work that you find satisfying yet still keep all parties happy?
Bob Saenz: I have to honest here and give the Hallmark people snaps for the way they let me have fun with this. Yes, there are Hallmark guidelines. But every good brand has guidelines. They actually let me stretch them a little. They hired me for my creativity and I felt free to use it. I’m happy and I know they’re happy. They told me they were.
If this film is a success, is there any possibility of a sequel, like what happened with ‘The Good Witch’ on Hallmark, starring Catherine Bell? And if so, any chance of a troll or two?
Bob Saenz: I suppose a sequel could happen. I haven’t even thought about what the story would be. I guess if they asked me, I could come up with one. NO TROLLS!!!
Here is hoping that Help for the Holidays is a success. Bob, you seem to be in great demand. What projects are you working on? What other work of yours can we look forward to? We look forward to seeing more of your work even if there aren’t any trolls.
Bob Saenz: Hallmark has optioned an original script from me (written with good friend and talented writer Jeff Willis) that’s supposed to be on their schedule for 2013. It’s a romantic comedy and very different from anything they’ve done in the past. I have one of my original scripts, a feature film black comedy, that’s probably going to production in the spring called “Extracurricular Activities”. I am thrilled with the cast there so far (they are still casting) and with the director and producer. There are at least a dozen other irons in the fire for 2013 thanks to my incredible manager, John. And.... I am right now on deadline on yet another writing assignment for Hallmark. I took time away from that to answer these questions, happily. So now, I need to get cracking and finish it so they can go into production.
Oh... and Jeff Willis and I have a finished script called, “The Ogre”, so there is hope for you in the future for big monsters from me.
Again, my thanks for thinking of me.
Again, our thanks, Bob and we wish you every success now and in the future. You can read more about Bob Saenz at his website bobsaenz.com
Our hope is that after reading this exclusive interview, you're even more excited for the movie now. 'Help for the Holidays' is big on family, romance and the meaning of Christmas. Watch the premiere with your whole family on Hallmark Channel on Sunday, December 9 at 8/7c.
A big thank you to our gifted member Alex for writing the questions and the introduction.