One of the hardest professions in Hollywood is writing. It seems like, just like with actors, breaking into the writing profession is a combination of talent, luck, and plain old perseverance.
For this weeks On The Rise With… Mike talks with a wonderful writer named Rickie Castaneda. Balancing between writing horror films, with family friendly comedies, Rickie can do it all.
For those of you out there who are up and coming writers, there is a lot of wonderful tips!
Check it out below!
On The Rise With… Rickie Castaneda
This week’s interviewee is Rickie Castaneda, a writer on the rise who has taken TV by storm. Rickie has been working with The Hallmark Channel since 2011, working on many a Christmas film for them. But Christmas isn’t the only thing she should be known for. Read on to see what else Rickie has been up to, and what she’s got planned for the future!
Michael Marcelin: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? Were you always a storyteller?
Rickie Castaneda: I think I always knew I was a storyteller, but I didn’t really know I was a writer until later. I always enjoyed English more than any other class, but I didn’t really say, “Oh, I’m going to be a screenwriter”. Then, when I got into high school, I started TV Productions. I wanted to be a sports copy writer…to work in the news…and I actually got the opportunity to do an internship at a local affiliate in Orlando. The guy who was hiring asked me, “What do you want to work in?” and I said “I want to work in sports”. And he said, “Everybody works everywhere in this business, so you’ll have to work everywhere”. And I said, “Okay…I’m not afraid of that.” Then he said, “I’ve got to ask you a question. And if you answer it right, then you’ll know this is for you: Do you know why we go out to every space shuttle launch?” And I was like, “Because it’s amazing?” Then he said “No, we go out there not to see the launches, but to see if it blows up. If you can handle that, you can handle the news”. And I thought, “Hell no. I don’t want to go into the news.” I got into film school…I dropped out of UCF and went to Full Sail…and that’s when I really got immersed into film and television. That’s when I realized that’s what I wanted to do.
MM: What kind of writing did you do when you were younger?
RC: I did a lot of short stories. When I was in high school, we would put on little productions, like short sketches.
MM: What’s the very first screenplay that you remember writing?
RC: So it’s 1997…I was 18 years old…thinking I know everything. I’m on Christmas break…and I go see “Titanic”…and the Earth just stopped for me. I’m thinking, “This is an amazing film!” It wasn’t just me…the whole world was in on this, you know? It just moved me. And I thought, “I need to write a screenplay!” So I had this idea for a romantic comedy, called “The American Princess”, and I sat down for seven days on my break, at the computer, on Microsoft Word, and wrote this screenplay. So that was my first screenplay, which is on a floppy disc and gone forever (laughs), which is fine, because that’s what we call a “young screenplay.” You don’t even want to read it later. You’re just like, “You know, I was young, it was cute in my head, and it’s a sweet little thing, but it’ll never see the light of day.” But at the time, I thought I was Nora Ephron!
MM: Trust me, I know. My first screenplay was fashioned around my love for Sarah Michelle Gellar… who would have been a teen at the time. It was a domestic thriller about this girl whose mom started dating this guy who turned out to be a murderer. And I was thinking Connie Selleca for her mother. I cast it and everything. But yeah…it was…not great (laughs)
RC: (laughs) Absolutely! You think it’s awesome! Just sitting there, typing away on Word…which was the first and last screenplay I will ever type on Word. Advice to young screenwriters: get a program! Do yourselves a favor.
MM: Now, for the past few years, you’ve been working with the Hallmark Channel on their Christmas films. How did that gig come about?
RC: I had worked with Dominique Telson on a horror film, “Bloodlines”, which we produced. So… naturally, she thought of me for a Christmas film. (laughs) She had a script for a TV movie called “Mistletoe Over Miami”, and they needed it re-written…but re-written fast, and needed the story to take place in New York, along with a lot of other elements that had to be changed. So it basically became a page one rewrite…and in a nutshell, I had about a week to do it. So I rewrote it, as “Mistletoe Over Manhattan”, and they liked it. They said “This is great. Can you do it again?” (laughs) So I did it again for the movie “The Case For Christmas”. And they go, “Wonderful…can you do it one more time?” And I did it again for the movie “Christmas Magic”. So those were the first three. I came in as a re-writer, but because all three ended up becoming page one rewrites, they were kind enough to give me credit on them, instead of just being a ghostwriter. And that was the beginning.
MM: You mentioned “Bloodlines”. What was that like, producing a horror film?
RC: Well…that movie was our first movie, so I’m sure it’s like producing any other film. You just laugh a lot more on a horror film set because when you don’t have the scary music, and you don’t have the element of the build-up or suspense, it all seems kind of ridiculous in the moment. But we all had a good time, and I learned a lot. It was a big learning lesson in a lot of ways.
MM: Would you ever produce again?
RC: Yeah. It’s not my priority, but eventually I would like to branch out. In fact, I am branching out with this new movie, called “Blood Moon Manor” that I was a writer on, but I’m coming on as an associate producer as well. So I feel like I’m going to be helping the other producers, and re-learning things…stuff like that. But yeah, I definitely would go into producing again…although right now, for me, writing is number one. My ultimate goal would be to become a TV creator/showrunner. I would love to produce in that aspect…to create TV shows. I find TV much more appealing than film lately. That’s where all the good drama is…the meatier stuff.
MM: Your next film was “Naughty or Nice”, which was a big success in the ratings that year, and most unlike your previous films. What sparked this idea?
RC: It actually started out like a writing assignment. It wasn’t my idea, which is unfortunate, because I liked it a lot. But I thought it was interesting to have somebody get the “Naughty or Nice” list, and uses that power sort of selfishly. And Krissy, I think, is probably a very layered…very flawed kind of character who learns a big lesson at the end. Hilarie Burton played her perfectly. It was one of those moments where it was like, the actor really got the lines that you were trying to say, and you’re like, “Yes! Yes!” And it wasn’t just her…Gabriel Tigerman, Matt Dallas, Daneel Harris…it was a great cast. We even had the “Family Ties” mom and dad in there…I was stoked! Being a kid of the 80s, it was great. So I think it was because of the “One Tree Hill” reunion on this particular one that brought a lot of the younger crowd to this one. But it was a fun movie. I got to be sassy with it, and have a little more fun with it.
MM: Next was “Catch A Christmas Star”…again, previously unlike the others in that this was a musical. How did this story come about? Did you find it harder writing a story surrounding a musical concept?
RC: Well, I didn’t actually plan the music part of it. I just liked the idea. I thought it was interesting to have a celebrity who had to revisit her past, and see how she would cope in that world…especially nowadays with the paparazzi element. It was just more of a “how would that work” kind of thing. Anybody whose life changes so drastically, it’s like: do you fit in, is that bridge still there, does that first love still live? I wanted to explore that avenue of it. I made her a pop star because Christmas is about music (laughs), and that was the best celebrity that fit for that movie. When I have music in a script, the original music is done in Canada with the production company, who has a team that does that. I also try to pick Public Domain songs, because you know you’re safe with those songs.
MM: Now you’ve also done some ghostwriting work. How did that work for you, knowing you helped shape a movie, but you’re not getting any credit for it?
RC: You know, when you love the story, and love what you do, getting paid to write is better than any other job out there, in my opinion. I mean, you’re getting paid to do what you love and it’s worth it, no matter what. And the great thing about ghostwriting is: if it sucks, no one knows it’s you (laughs). The bad thing about ghostwriting: if it turns out great…no one knows it’s you. But it gives you an opportunity to stretch your wings…and I think it helps take a lot of pressure off of you, too. There was one movie I ghost wrote that my parents watched, and I asked them what they thought about it, and they were like “Uh…we’re glad your name wasn’t on that one”. And I was like “Okay…wow…thanks Mom and Dad!” (laughs) Because they don’t always use what you do…you may be just one of many writers on a given project, so you won’t know what’s yours and what’s not until it airs. I definitely encourage people to ghostwrite, because everyone does it in the business. Every major writer has done it. You can actually make a lot of money from ghostwriting. Having said that, it’s not a case of just being about the money…it’s an opportunity to keep working.
MM:This year, you kicked off the holiday broadcast season with “One Starry Christmas”, which debuted this past weekend. Tell us about the story.
RC: “One Starry Christmas” is about a woman whose boyfriend leaves her alone during Christmas to take on an ambitious work deal, and she wants to surprise him and her parents by taking a bus from Chicago to New York to be with them. And on the bus, she meets a cowboy who happens to be her soulmate. In true Hallmark fashion, they find a common ground and fall in love. It’s a classic rom-com…country life meets city life…and what do you do when true love comes calling? Are you going to answer the door or not? A lot of people don’t, but at Hallmark, we always do (laughs).
MM: And you have two more Christmas films you worked on premiering next month, correct?
RC: I do. They’re “The Best Christmas Party Ever” and “Christmas Parade”, which will be airing December 13th and 14th, closing out Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas.” So it’s kind of nice to be kicking it off, and ending it this year. Like nice bookends.
MM: You also have a horror film, “Blood Moon Manor”, in the works. Tell us about the story and when and where it will be filmed.
RC: “Blood Moon Manor” is set to shoot in New Orleans at the end of this month, and it’s about a couple who inherits a plantation in the South. But what they don’t realize is that the woman’s family has been under this kind of voodoo curse, and they need to pay a debt. And it so happens that it’s now time to pay it. The movie has a lot of elements that make New Orleans so special. I think it’s going to be pretty scary. I like to call it a supernatural thriller versus a horror film. But what’s funny is that everything on my IMDb page either has “blood” or “Christmas” in the title (laughs). Go figure. I really do have a lot of stuff in the middle that no one has seen yet…but hopefully next year you’ll see something else from me (laughs).
MM: What’s the one movie you wish you had written?
RC: I wish I could be as funny as “Coming To America”, but I don’t think I will ever be that funny. I could only dream of it. That script is just genius. It was so effortless. And “Back To The Future”. I’m definitely an 80s kid.
MM: What advice would you give aspiring screenwriters?
RC: Write from your heart. If it’s not there, then people are going to sniff it out and call B.S. Story and characters are the most important thing. People will follow them anywhere. You have to really love this business, really love writing, because at the end of the day, it’s you and that page…you and those characters…you and that story. And don’t let the other stuff distract you, because there’s a lot of distractions in this business. A lot of ups and downs, like a roller coaster. Just stick to the story and characters, and one day you will end up in TV or film.
MM: What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
RC: I know how to do laundry really well (laughs). But no, I know a lot about sports. I genuinely love football. I know a lot about it…not just enough to get by at the bar. I can really go into depth talking about football.
Favorite Movie – E.T., Slumdog Millionaire, Gone With the Wind, Back to the Future
Favorite TV Show – Game of Thrones
Favorite Book – The Alchemist
Favorite Screenwriter – John Hughes and Nora Ephron
Favorite Food – Pizza
Favorite Website – Buzzfeed
Favorite Sports Team – Dallas Cowboys