How do you go about charting your path for an ideal career?
If you ask prolific writer Samantha Herman, also a practicing attorney, she’d probably say to let the waves take you where they will while always keeping sight of your dreams.
We chatted with her in anticipation of her latest, Christmas Island, and discovered her route from a fan of the Hallmark genre to writing some of their best movies proves that keeping your eyes on your target pays off.
Samantha is warm, amusing, and insightful as she describes her winding road to screenwriting success. Her love for her craft is evident with every word she writes and every word she speaks.
A true fan of romantic comedies and Christmas movies in particular, she’s exactly who those of us who share her interests want to represent us on the page.
Samantha has always had a one-track mind when it came to TV and movies. Calling her family “indoorsy,” she recalls family nights involving their love of movies and TV and feeling the urge to embrace her love for entertainment early on.
Samantha calls her law degree and license in California slightly off track of her original goals, but that achievement allowed her to move from Canada to California, a necessary first step to get her foot in the door.
It also gave her a firm understanding of her place in the entertainment world. If she knew years earlier of her desire to be a part of it, it was only later she knew writing was the key.
“I wrote with my brother our first kind of DIY feature called Let’s Rap, and we produced that in Canada with a production company in Toronto, my home City. That was an amazing experience.
“I did a lot of learning on the production legal and producing side just on the ground, and that was the first thing of mine that exists writing-wise.”
Her road from Canada to California took her through Chicago for her law degree, and it was an important step on her journey to working with Hallmark Media.
“When I called the cable company to set up my cable, I said whatever package has Hallmark. That’s the package I need. I swear! So I was a long time invested in this content. This is a fan as long as I can remember, and so I ended up writing what became my first movie, Mingle All the Way, on spec.
“I didn’t know what to do with it. I didn’t really have the right contacts. I didn’t have reps at the time. And so I just had it sitting on my computer, and I was trying to figure out how best to navigate that train, but it was designed as a Hallmark movie or what? I thought was the style of a Hallmark movie.”
Samantha is also a self-proscribed soap opera junkie, and a fortuitous meeting with Days of Our Lives and Hallmark actress Jen Lilley changed her life.
Chatting with her as a fan first, Samantha had no agenda. But when she mentioned the script, Jen took an interest and asked if she could read it.
“So when we both got home, I sent it to her, and she liked it, and then she sent it to the producer with whom she had done her first movie,” Samantha said.
“The script was submitted on all of our behalf, and I guess the network saw the potential in the premise in my style, and they acquired it, and then we kind of revamped it under their Direction and under their purview.”
Being a fan first likely helped in that process, and Samantha welcomed all the feedback she received. “[Hallmark] is a collaborative business, and the brand is strong. So honestly, I was happy to work within their system.”
It’s been a successful partnership, to be sure. Jen Lilley starred in Mingle All the Way with Brand Daugherty and Lindsay Wagner. Talk about an incredible start to a fruitful partnership.
“If I could go back and tell me at eight or twelve that not only did I move to California, which I idealized from Beverly Hills 90210 and Sweet Valley High books, but I’m working and I know recognizable actors and friendly with them, I wouldn’t be able to believe it.”
In most circumstances, writers don’t write with specific talent in mind, but Samantha sometimes gets the opportunity to write to the strengths of particular talent as rewrites occur closer to production time.
And in her burgeoning career, she has seen some of the medium’s very best bring her stories to life.
Her other efforts include Small Town Christmas with Kristoffer Polaha, sense, Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday (also starring Jen Lilley), Love Under the Olive Tree with Benjamin Hollingsworth, and Game of Love with Kimberley Sustad.
Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen in 2019 starred Erin Krakow and Luke Macfarlane and has made the rounds on Reddit and Social Media for how Erin pronounces Chicago’s Wabash as WaBASH. Things like that don’t bother Samantha at all.
More often than little oops moments like that, the talent involved finds something more interesting than what’s on the page. “They delivered the line in a more comedic way or really found the heartfelt emotion in it, and to just see it animated is really exciting.
Despite her fervor for all things Hallmark before making her own mark in the genre, Samantha was still surprised to discover the enormity of its community.
“I knew I loved them, and I knew I had a few friends who were also keyed in, but I didn’t realize the degree of fandom until I really got into the world. It’s just a very enthusiastic and dedicated community, and it’s fun to be part of it.”
She’s constantly tuned in with the fans, joining Facebook groups and perusing X (formerly known as Twitter) to see what clicks with viewers. “It’s constant, and it’s amazing,” she admitted.
At the time of our interview, we chatted about keeping up the excitement for her upcoming movie Christmas Island since the talent couldn’t do the heavy lifting.
She noted she’s received some comments on the platform and enjoys responding. She finds all commentary welcome, considering herself “chatty,” so I urge you to follow her and let her know what you think about her movies.
You’ll get the chance this Saturday when her latest film, Christmas Island, premieres on Hallmark.
It stars Andrew Walker (who can deliver lines like nobody’s business) and Rachel Skarsten as an unlikely duo who brings holiday cheer to a family that needs it.
“This is personally exciting for me. The story is about Kate, played by Rachel Skarsten, who is a pilot. She’s hoping to get hired as the full-time Private Pilot of a wealthy family.
“It’s basically an audition to fly them from the States to Switzerland, where they’re going to be having their Christmas holidays, but a storm diverts the plan, and they’re grounded by an over-enthusiastic air traffic controller.
They end up grounded in this small Canadian town of Christmas Island, which — it might be surprising — is a place of much celebration [chuckles].
“Kate is feeling guilty that the plan has not gone off as it was intended and vows to the family that she’s going to make an amazing celebration for them over the holidays despite not being where they intended to be.”
As you can imagine, Walker’s character, Oliver, is not going to let anyone suffer the loss of their holiday plans within less than the perfect seaside Christmas, and as he lures Kate to enjoy the festivities as well as helping to plan them, they grow closer.
This is Samantha’s first time working with Walker, who has a lot of fans, and she couldn’t be happier. “I’m a big fan. He’s so nice, and so handsome, and so talented,” she said.
Christmas Island also reconnects her with Jefferson Brown, who currently stars in the hit series The Way Home.
Brown starred in the short film for her feature Let’s Rap, so they’ve known each other for a long time. “We worked together almost ten years ago, and he messaged me that he was going to be in it, and I was so happy because we’re still in touch. “
We hadn’t worked together and so long, and I know he’s doing such great things on The Way Home.”
Samantha enthuses that she’s got a “great crop” of talent for this movie. Peter McNeil (Good Witch) starred in the feature version of Let’s Rap, so it’s almost like old-home week for the talented scribe.
Samantha is eager for you to see Christmas Island because of how generously it embraces comedy, which the network has been doing overall of late.
“I’m personally excited about that since it’s kind of my natural state. I hope that in addition to feeling the spirit of the season and the family connections and the flirtations, people get a bit of a laugh as well.”
You’ll get your chance to celebrate, laugh, and love with Samantha Herman when Christmas Island premieres on Hallmark Channel on Saturday, November 11 at 8/7c.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.