Genius and Dreams – An interview with writer and associate producer Kirsten Hansen

Once in a long while, we happen across another person who motivates us to be better at what we do – to be more passionate, more joyful, and more in awe of the beauty that surrounds us. As we anticipate the final three episodes of Season 3 of Chesapeake Shores many Chessies have discovered one such beautiful soul by the name of Kirsten Hansen. As an associate producer and writer for the show, Kirsten happily joins the Sunday night Twitter parties to share behind-the-scenes tidbits, answer viewers’ questions about plot and character, and engage in a bit of witty banter between fans, actors, and producers. With her writer’s credit for tonight’s episode, it’s a pleasure to share a bit more with you about this incredibly talented and kind kindred spirit.

Kirsten Hansen, writer and associate producer for Chesapeake Shores, with actress Barbara Niven.         PC: Kirsten Hansen

ATG: You have quite a few credits to your name. What was your very first screenwriting project?

Kirsten: The first time I was hired as a writer was in January 2008.  I was a creative executive at Brightlight Pictures, and I had pitched a passion project that I wanted to option (a book called Old Souls by Tom Shroder.  It’s a true story about children who remember their past lives). Brightlight, Telefilm Canada, and CHUM Television all agreed for me to adapt the book into a movie treatment since I was so passionate about it.  That treatment opened a lot of doors for me as a writer, and the project got a lot of attention from companies such as Imagine Entertainment. That moment when Brightlight put trust in me as a writer changed everything.

To this day, Tom Shroder and I are still working together on it, and it’s such a moving, powerful, true story.  He wrote the script, and I’m producing it. We even have FANTASTIC cast attached… so stay tuned for when I can say more.

Funny story, in 2002, I picked the book for OLD SOULS off the shelf in a bookstore, and showed it to my friend and said to him: “One day I’m going to make this book into a movie.”  It was like something bigger than me was speaking. I hadn’t even read it! But I have kept my word. It has been a long journey, but I believe the world is finally ready for a story of this magnitude.

ATG: Looking back at that project, knowing it was a very decisive moment for you, what have you learned since that point? How have you matured as a writer?

Kirsten: I have learned so much!  I started my journey in 2001 (until 2006) working as a development executive for Keystone Entertainment (now Air Bud Entertainment).  I went back to Keystone in 2008, and because of that experience with Brightlight, they had me writing all of their outlines, and eventually their scripts for them.  I worked hand in hand with Robert Vince (CEO, writer, director, producer) as his writing partner, and script supervisor on set— where I learned how to write FAST — turning script rewrites around in days.  I learned how to write a “production friendly script” rather than a “writer’s draft.” I took classes online or wherever I could find them to learn the deeper crafts like subtext, etc. I wrote 5 days a week for Keystone.  On weekends, I wrote my own projects—finding my own voice as a writer. The more I wrote, the more confident I got as a writer. It takes practice. But once you learn the structure and format to screenwriting, anyone can do it.

ATG: Your practice is certainly paying off. The episodes you write are often the fan favorites. In fact, you’ve been with Chesapeake Shores since season 1. How did you get connected with the show originally? What intrigued you about collaborating with the team?

Kirsten: What a blessing it has been!  I left Air Bud Entertainment in July 2015 to become a freelance writer, with a goal of writing in TV.  On my last Keystone movie, Pup Star, which I co-wrote and script-supervised, I met Matt Drake, who has become a good friend and constant collaborator of mine.  He read my TV pilot, Synergy, so when he was brought on by Dan Paulson to produce Chesapeake Shores, he brought me in to meet with John Tinker, who was the Showrunner of Season 1. Initially I was to be the Script Coordinator (a job I had done for 15 years for other projects), and I was stoked to do it again because of the opportunity to be in TV and the promise that I might get an episode to write in Season 2.  Just two weeks later, John Tinker gave me my first TV episode. Ep 1006: Second Chances. That’s when my whole world changed.

ATG: I love hearing how those doors opened for you. It is clear that you are right where you are supposed to be. What is your role this season? What does it entail?

Kirsten: I’m a writer in the writing room and an Associate Producer.  We have a small writing team and not everyone is able to be with us in the room in Canada—meaning we have to talk story over the phone, etc.  Michael Berns runs the room, and the two of us work together from morning to night, Monday to Sunday. Brian Ross, our Co-Executive Producer, covers set. The cast loves him.  He is there with any in the moment writing changes that happen on set. He’s been such an invaluable addition to the team this year because it was all hands on deck for Michael and I.  We work so well together, and we have been known to finish each other’s sentences. In the writing room, he sets up his computer that connects to the projector, and we see the script on screen. We go through it together – writing, rewriting, until it’s perfect, or until we run out of time, whichever comes first.

ATG: Which episodes did you write this season? Were you given an opportunity to direct?

Kirsten: I officially wrote episodes 3008 and 3009 (which was co-written with Michael Berns).  Since we do a lot of writing together anyway, it was really fun to do it officially where we split up the storylines and then wrote it together.  They are two of the most dramatic episodes of the season, and I’m so grateful to be part of telling those long-awaited storylines.

As far as directing, I haven’t yet, but maybe one day!  I was fortunate to shadow Martin Wood in Season 1, and Andy Mikita in Season 2 (not to mention Terry Ingram, Peter Howitt, and Robert Vince many times).  Directing is something I will start transitioning to when the timing is right.

ATG: It sounds like much of your success is all about timing – and a lot of hard work. Writers claim to “write what they know.” We have already seen a couple of references in Chesapeake Shores to pop culture films and classic stories. What is another iconic moments from film or story you would like to reference? Why?

Kirsten: Oh, we totally do!  I used to have to emotionally connect with each character to write them.  Over time, I have learned how to just let the character to speak through me, to say what they need to say.  I love giving homages to movies and TV that have inspired me— Richard Curtis has been a big inspiration to my writing and my life.  More than once I have referenced Notting Hill and Bridget Jones… and another Hugh Grant movie, About A Boy.  I used to watch those movies on repeat every night before bed.  To write that clever banter was a dream and a goal. Richard Curtis is a genius, and so is Aaron Sorkin.  I can’t even. His dialogue is so rich and so smart.

ATG: You, too, have a talent for creating witty banter and deep character arcs, but when you find yourself at a loss, or simply looking for cinematic inspiration, what are your tried-and-true movies or shows for getting your own writing voice back on track?

Kirsten: I love TV.  I love getting lost in the world of characters… and I have too many favorites to mention.  But I definitely turn on different shows/movies when I have time (which isn’t often) and they will inspire different parts of my voice… but honestly, music.  It is always music. When I put on a song with the right kind of melody that opens my heart, my fingers can’t keep up with the words flowing through me.

ATG: Trace Riley’s music has been featured quite a bit this season. Do you have input into those songs? How does the writing team approach the inclusion of a song and who creates the lyrics? Do the words and music come from the writing team? From Jesse Metcalfe?

Kirsten: Yes. Yes. Yes.  All of the above. Jesse is so uber-talented, and has a lot of input into the music, as well as writing a bunch of the songs.  We also have a phenomenal music supervisor who brings us options. We have found a lot of fantastic songs from local artists, and they fit the sound of the Trace Riley Band.  Then, depending on the scene, episode, or moment, we have music meetings, and Michael and I will pitch what songs we feel might be a good fit for the moment, as well as the director, producers, and Jesse.  It’s a huge collaboration, and I’m really proud of the Trace Riley Band. I would honestly buy their music as a genuine fan.

Kirsten with the Trace Riley Band, behind the scenes of Season 3.        PC: courtesy of Kirsten Hansen

ATG: You’re not the only one. Many fans have voiced their desire to purchase an album by Trace and his band. Now, you proclaimed yourself a “Bree” in a recent Tweet on social media. What of yourself do you see in Bree?

Kirsten: I really connected with Bree in Season One.  That’s when I was finding my legs and voice as a writer, and she was literally in the same place in her life.  It was a mirror in so many ways. I also resonated with her journey with Jess and David. That episode I wrote (1006) was inspired from my own journey with my sister, who is one of my best friends.  You write what you know, as they say. I used to really connect with Bree—but she has grown.  have grown. And neither of us are the same as we were. Her voice has evolved through Michael Berns and Emilie Ullerup.  But at the heart, we are both blond (me sort of), the middle child of three daughters, love yoga, can be awkward in expressing ourselves and use words or banter as a safety, and are professional writers.  So that’s a lot of similarities if I do say so myself!

Kirsten with With Oliver Rice and Emilie Ullerup during Season 2.       PC: Kirsten Hansen

ATG: That bit about using witty banter seems to echo a recent conversation between Bree and Simon. I’m a bit of a Bree, too, but I also have a deep fondness for Jess. As I shared in my own blog, I remember a time in high school where I was giddy and ecstatic in response to a boy’s interest in me. When have you reacted in a way that was more free-spirited and in-the-moment, like Jess?

Kirsten: Ha, good for you!  And I hear you. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and get pretty enthusiastic about everything, including matters of the heart.  I’m a hopeful romantic, as they say. So who hasn’t?!

ATG: That being said, which other Chesapeake Shores character have you wished to be at times?

Kirsten: Connor, when he’s kicking butt, Abby, when she’s kicking butt, and Trace Riley— when he’s rocking out on stage.  I’m not much of a singer, but I’ll win an airband contest any day!

ATG: Those characters to tend to kick butt regularly – even on stage, line-dancing. They all have softer sides, too, and we are seeing quite a bit of character development for them this season, especially with Bree, Jess, and David. Which element do you feel is more important to a story, plot points or character development?

Kirsten: Good question!  I used to be all about the plot.  I love mysteries and puzzle pieces, and shows that are moved forward with big “UH OH” moments.  I love shows like Scandal.  But, that is not the essence of Chesapeake Shores.  It is about the characters.  Their truth. Their reality. And writing for Hallmark has been such a gift in learning to listen to the characters, and knowing that nothing huge has to be happening in order to drive the story forward emotionally.  Substance is so much stronger than flare.

ATG: In addition to screenwriting, you’ve also been directing and producing. What fascinates you about those aspects of storytelling?

Kirsten: Writing is very special to me. I will always write.  It’s a spiritual practice for me, but there is something about ensuring that the way you wrote it, and envision it, comes across on screen. I see in pictures.  I originally went into film to be a director, and writing was something I was thrown into, but by the grace of God, I’m sure not by coincidence. I just never believed in myself as a young writer because I didn’t have the tools, just the imagination and a need to write words.  I have a lot of projects that are near and dear to me—and sometimes you just gotta be the one to make them. Only you can tell the story as it’s intended.

ATG: For you, how are those roles different from screenwriting?

Kirsten: Writing is staring at a blank page.  There is nothing to direct or produce without a script.  Writing is an introverted experience. Directing is an extroverted collaboration.  It’s giving voice to the words. And taking the pictures that the writer imagines, and bringing them to the screen.  All are necessary and key to telling stories.

ATG: Creating a script can be a very time-consuming and emotional process. When you really want to dive into a script, where do you go? What atmosphere works best for you as a writer?

Kirsten: When I was writing Old Souls, I was nervous I would procrastinate (out of fear of not doing it right) so I went to the Starbucks across the street from my apartment to make sure I could write.  That I would do it. It was really noisy, so I put my headphones into my ears, and turned up my music to drown out the sound and focus. Who knew that would create my official practice?  Now, that is always how I write. Sometimes at Starbucks (my favorite coffee shop for the ambience and chai), but now that I’ve been writing a lot, under very strict timelines, I find that writing comfortably from my home (couch or bed) is the best way to stay inspired and focused for long hours at a time.

ATG: Funny. I write from my bed, too, with a bunch of fluffy pillow supporting me and the sunlight streaming through the window. If you were to surround yourself with objects that inspire you to be better at your craft, what objects would you choose?

Kirsten: Crystals.  They clear the energy and promote creativity, focus, inspiration, and confidence.  When I really need it, I put them on my lap. I use salt crystal lamps, too – anything to keep the energy and vibration high, so that I know that I am in a really clear space to write. No negativity.  Only light. I also keep a journal nearby in case there is any emotional Drain-o (personal writing) that I need to do in order to clear my head, and better hear the words, and characters wanting to come through.

ATG: That phrase “emotional Drain-o” really fits. You have to get beyond yourself to really get into the characters. You also maintain a personal blog as another writing outlet. Maybe that was part of your early “emotional Drain-o”? What led you to start it?

Kirsten: Ah, yes.  I was inspired to start my blog back in 2010 when I was embarking on my side career as an intuitive healer.  I used to put out newsletters along with my blog. This was all when I was looking for new juice as a writer, and needed a creative outlet, but wasn’t finding any success in my own projects.  I was guided to just “write from my heart” and honestly, those blog posts helped me find my writing voice. To have confidence sharing my words with people the way I heard them. I haven’t written a blog post in quite a few years, but I guess my Instagram serves as that now.  My website/blog is still up for anyone looking for a little inspiration.

ATG:My two little boys have found inspiration in some of your other projects, including Air Bud and Santa Buddies. Those obviously appeal to very different audiences than Chesapeake Shores and Love on the Slopes. How do you write for these diverse audiences? What must a writer keep in mind when developing a script for children versus a script for adults?

ATG: I’m so happy your boys love the Air Bud movies.  Have they seen Russell Madness, Monkey Up and Pup Star?  All three of those movies are fun, funny, and super sweet.  I’m so proud of them. Everything I write has heart, comedy and a family element.  I’ve been very lucky that the family films were an excellent foundation for Hallmark movies.  There was a real freedom in writing comedy at Keystone, which I’m really grateful for. Talking animals?  I mean come on, can’t be more fun than that! But I always loved rom-coms and that was my natural instinct, so it’s a dream come true.  Writing for kids, though, is an art form. It’s not as easy as you would think. It can’t be too complicated, and for them physical comedy always wins. I think if you have a strong universal theme of family, hope, love, and possibility, with loveable characters, and a journey of some kind of self-discovery, triumph of the spirit, then you’ve got a winning combination.

ATG: Last winter’s Love on the Slopes definitely contained that “winning combination.” It garnered 2.8 million viewers, which was one of the highest viewerships for the WinterFest movie premieres on Hallmark Channel. Did you anticipate its success?

Kirsten: Wow.  No, I didn’t.  That’s so fantastic.  We knew we had something special on our hands from the start, as it was a magical collaboration of a great story, fantastic cast, crew, locations and all that, but it was very unique for Hallmark, so it was a risk.  I’m so glad that it was such a big success, and it has been so loved and embraced. As my first Hallmark movie, it means the world.

ATG: My family certainly enjoyed it. Now, Love under the Rainbow finished production. What can you share about this new movie? Did you write the script? Direct?

Kirsten: I wrote the script for Love under the Rainbow in December last year ,and by Feb 2018, we were filming it.  It’s now complete and waiting on its release date. Since it has a bit of a Spring feel, I imagine it will air in the Spring on Hallmark.  This is a movie about hope and believing that your dreams will come true. You just have to have faith. It’s a really touching story, and it was such an easy one to write.  It just poured onto the page. We have a great cast, and there is some really fun banter in this one! Oh, I can’t wait to finally see it!

Kirsten with the cast of Love under the Rainbow.          PC: Kirsten Hansen

ATG: Viewers can definitely count on you for delivering witty banter and heartfelt emotion in tandem. We’ve seen a bit of that on Twitter.  You are very active on social media on Sunday nights. What is your favorite part about interacting with fans on Twitter and Instagram? How has their involvement influenced your approach to writing, producing, and directing a show?

Kirsten: I love our #Chessies.  It has been a real honor to interact with the fans, and to know that they care so deeply about the projects we are creating and putting out into the world.  To know that what we do is touching people, making them laugh, inspiring them, and to hear firsthand how it is impacting them—well, it’s just a dream isn’t it?!  I wish I had more time to interact with the fans, but I always seem to be writing!

Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, if we didn’t have you guys.  So THANK YOU! From the bottom of my HEART.

ATG: One major way you have impacted me and other viewers is by encouraging others to pursue their passions and dreams. For those who want to share their own stories – written or otherwise- what are your words of advice?

Kirsten: Write.  (Or whatever your creative outlet if it’s not writing.)  Do it. You just gotta do it. Write a blog. Write via your instagram.  Write in a journal. Just keep writing until you find your voice. The words that can only come through you.  Then, if it’s a craft like screenwriting or novel writing that you want to do – and you’re like me, and need practical knowledge before you have confidence — then take classes.  There are so many online, such as Screenwriting University and Master Classes. Search online and see what resonates with you.

I remember when the thought of writing a whole 110 page screenplay seemed incredibly daunting.  I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I had stories in me that only I could tell, but I had zero confidence.  So, I committed to writing in my journal every day for 40 days until writing became not just a dream but a practice and a habit.  I had to write.  Now it’s as normal to me as breathing. I think, most importantly, trust your process.  I’m no spring chicken. Some people have a short path. Some win writing contests and make it big after their first script.  But some of us have to work VERY HARD for 17-plus years before we start to see some success. The thing about writing — you can be 80 and publish your first work.  It’s never too late. If you have something in you to say, some story that only you can tell, then you have to tell it. As Wayne Dyer used to say, “Don’t die with the music still inside you.”  I know I won’t.

ATG: Tonight, you’re sharing a bit of your own “music” with us in the form of episode 3008 With just two additional episodes to go after tonight, how would you complete this sentence for the Chessies: This season is our best ever. Be sure to watch out for….

Kirsten: Episodes 3008, 3009, and 3010.  They will change the O’Briens and Trace. The end of Season 3 is unlike anything we’ve experienced in Chesapeake Shores, and I can barely write these words without crying.  We will go deep. We will face issues and give answers to long awaited questions… questions you’ve been waiting 3 seasons for. It might not always be pretty, but have faith.  At the end of the day, Chesapeake Shores is about HOPE.  And Family. And second chances.

Kirsten a delight to know. Her path to success has been one we all should seek to imitate. Hard work, study, and a routine of practice do pay off. As Thomas Edison so aptly stated, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” As humble as she is, Kirsten would never call herself a genius, but her work proves otherwise. Whether traveling abroad in search of soul-inspiration and food for the imagination, or holed up in the writer’s room for days on end, she shines a light wherever she goes. She pours the best of herself into her writing, and its more than apparent to viewers of her various projects. Check out tonight’s episode of Chesapeake Shores to see just how she brings the O’Brien family to life, and be on the lookout for her other projects.

The cast of Return to Christmas Creek, Kirsten’s next screenwriting project for Hallmark, airs November 18 on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.

For a dose of inspiration with a touch of humor, be sure to follow Kirsten on Twitter (@K_ear_sten) and Instagram (@kearstegram).

2 responses to “Genius and Dreams – An interview with writer and associate producer Kirsten Hansen”

  1. Excellent interview with Kirsten. I learned so much about this wonderful person and writer. She’s definitely making her mark at Hallmark and beyond!

    1. Thank you, Robin. Kirsten is so fun, kind, and generous with her time. I can’t wait to see what her future holds.

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