This year’s Lifetime holiday movie written by SUNY Oswego creative writing faculty member Juliet Giglio and her husband Keith is “Reba McEntire’s Christmas in Tune,” premiering at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26.

This is the fourth straight year Juliet and Keith, who teaches screenwriting for Syracuse University, have had a script picked up for the popular Lifetime holiday movie series, following “A Very Nutty Christmas” (2018), “Christmas Reservations” (2019) and “Dear Christmas” (2020).  

The production also continued their partnership with Melissa Joan Hart and her mother Paula Hart, but involved McEntire wanting to do a Lifetime holiday movie -- which the Giglios pitched hard and creatively when they learned of the opportunity to work with the country and television superstar.

“We did a rewrite hoping to pull Reba in,” Giglio said. “We read her biography and did all the little things to make it right for her. When you’re writing for a big star, it’s very exciting.”

The Giglios were pleased to learn that the movie would co-star John Schneider, best known as Bo Duke from “The Dukes of Hazzard” and a successful singer in his own right.

McEntire and Schneider star as Georgia and Joe Winter, who used to have a famous couples act (think Sonny and Cher, Giglio noted) before a falling out led to them detesting one another. But the couple’s daughter Belle (Candice King) needs them to reunite for a benefit concert that also will save her job.

“‘Christmas In Tune is a really cute story about a man and a woman who were a duo singing partner and also married,” McEntire said in a Universal Music Group news release. “The lady is more of the singer, but the man is more the writer, but they make a good duo. And ... they have a beautiful daughter and things went south so they went their separate ways, and the daughter gets them back together for a military benefit at Christmas. And of course, neither one could turn her down.”

While a Lifetime holiday movie is bound to have a happy ending where even the most star-crossed -- or bickering -- couples get together, Giglio said that challenge is part of what makes it fun.

“We watch these movies because we know we are rooting for them to get together, but it’s all in the process,” Giglio said. “How do you combine all of that in fresh ways, while making a Christmas movie at the same time?”

Words made real

For the Giglios, visiting the set of the movie -- which they were unable to do last year due to the pandemic -- is one of the most rewarding parts of seeing their concepts come alive.

“The set, the casting, the production design looked exactly the way we envisioned it when we wrote the script,” Juliet Giglio said. “Reba is really funny and a great actress, and we got to chat with her for quite a while.”

As part of their research, they learned how much McEntire loves horses, and McEntire makes a grand entrance on one of her own horses in an early scene.

Giglio added that the same production designer has been involved with the last few movies and that fruitful relationship really helps realize their vision. “He always gives me something that he’s created for the set because he knows I like to take home a memory from the film production,” Giglio said.

“Christmas in Tune” was even more fun because of all the musical numbers, right up to a big ending concert that culminates the story. Giglio said most of the songs are standards -- although the singer wrote a new song for the film as well.

“The music was wonderful, and Reba and John have such great chemistry,” Giglio said.

Capitalizing on the popularity of the franchise, People magazine did a special section just on these holiday movies, and the Giglios were thrilled to see all of their films included among the editors’ favorites from the past 30 years. This also is the second consecutive year a film written by the Giglios has claimed the coveted Friday after Thanksgiving slot.

The couple is branching out on their storytelling as well. July 2022 will see the publication of “The Summer of Christmas,” a romantic comedy book about an up-and-coming screenwriter crafting a holiday movie who will experience many of the plot points of these films in her own life as her film gets made.

Classroom notes

Giglio said that working on these holiday movies offers benefits to current and prospective Oswego students.

“I’m able to show them that I’m doing the same things they are in the class,” Giglio said. “Right now, I have an assignment where I’m asking them to give script notes to two other students in the class. For us, script notes are such an important part of the process people might not think of otherwise.”

It also provides a window into many jobs available in the industry that aren’t just writing movies. “It’s a big business, but you don’t have to be a screenwriter,” Giglio explained. “There are a lot of real jobs for people who can provide good notes and work well with writers on how to get their scripts ready for production.”

She also sees how movie-making continues to evolve, with so many more players in the game producing and distributing content -- for example, Lifetime now has partnerships with Hulu, Sling and Philo -- which means she can provide fresh perspectives.

Giglio also is proud of how the faculty in the creative writing department are all active writers, whether in poetry, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, playwriting or screenwriting.

“I think it’s really helpful, and I think it’s a reason students should come to SUNY Oswego,” Giglio said. “We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk and are doing professionally the kinds of things our students want to do.”