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Matt Lieberman On Specs and 'The Christmas Chronicles'

December 2, 2020
3 min read time

Screenwriter Matt Lieberman wrote Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles as a spec script back in 2012. The script sat in development for six years until, in a twist of events that some in Hollywood might call a Christmas miracle, Home Alone director Chris Columbus fell in love with it and the streaming giant picked it up. “Netflix asked for more Santa and then Kurt Russell signed on, and the rest is history,” Lieberman says.

There’s a lot more Santa in The Christmas Chronicles 2, which drops November 25th on Netflix.

Whereas the first movie took Santa to Chicago and Boston in a “fish out of water” type story, the sequel brings us to the North Pole. “The natural progression was to expand the universe,” says Lieberman. “The idea for the sequel started on set between Columbus and Russell with ideas about expanding the world Santa lives in, and the story behind his magic. It was about drilling down and learning more about how the North Pole works, including seeing more of Mrs. Claus.”

Goldie Hawn turns her cameo as Santa Claus’ better half from the first film into a starring role in the sequel. “We wanted to make the role good enough to make her part of the sequel. And since it was [Russell and Hawn’s] first movie together in 30 years, we definitely wanted to make it special and make all their scenes together count,” says Lieberman.

The script went through a number of passes and notes between Lieberman and Columbus, who co-wrote the sequel as well as directed it, with Russell weighing in on the drafts. “What he brings to Santa Claus  — he just makes every frame come to life. He’s just so good at it,” Lieberman says of Russell. “I didn’t have him in mind, or any incarnation of Santa for the first one. He has big ideas on who Santa Claus is and what he’s about.” Lieberman and Columbus spent a few weeks with Hawn and Russell ensuring that the characters were what they wanted them to be before signing off on their final draft.

In addition to making Russell and Hawn’s film reunion a memorable one, Lieberman admits there was a bit more pressure to write the sequel after the positive success of the first one. “You want to make sure you’re writing a sequel for a reason and expanding upon the story and its world. They feel like a whole different story and movie, while giving little nods to the original, which I think we do here.”

With screenwriting credits on 2019’s Addams Family and Playing With Fire, along with this year’s Scoob!, Lieberman is building a solid repertoire in family movies. However, Lieberman says when it comes to writing movies that are fit for the entire family, he doesn’t try to write a movie for kids. “I think when you do that, you lose everyone. I’m a high-concept writer. You have to know what’s the hook of the movie? What is it about it? What do I think is funny about it? Then I start building out my characters from that.”

Lieberman likes approaching well-known characters — like Santa Claus and Scooby Doo — in a fresh way.

“I don’t try to honor what the hardcore fans want at first. I try to make the best story,” he says. “Because at the end of the day the best story will win and the hardcore fans will show up no matter what. I think with directing and on-set, you can start layering in those nods that everyone wants to see. Story should always take precedence.”

Fittingly, Lieberman is currently working on the new Jetsons animated movie that he says “feels unique. “We found a good place to tell the story now.”

December will also see the release of Free Guy, an upcoming science fiction comedy starring Ryan Reynolds, that was also a spec script of Lieberman's.

“Specs do sell. Big budget specs sell. I have sold two spec scripts that studios have paid out over $260 million on. At a time where you hear that studios are only making movies based on superheroes and IP — and while that’s true in some cases — a great story will always find a way. If you have a strong idea and you’re selling a story that’s really about something, and you’re putting in the time to work on your craft rather than just trying to sell something, then I do think those stories find a way of happening.”

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