Pumpkins, Cakes, and a Writer's Life
For Audrey Shulman ’09, the process behind creating Love, Fall & Order, a Hallmark Channel Original Movie, was “professional screenwriting bootcamp.”
The whirlwind began with a kick-off meeting in February 2019 and ended with the film’s premiere on October 12 as part of the network’s fall lineup.
Life in the Fast Layne
Shulman moved to Los Angeles after graduating from Bennington and worked as a writers’ assistant, most recently on the Disney Channel show Fast Layne. Shulman also had the opportunity to write an episode of Fast Layne, though the show was ultimately canceled before the second season was shot.
“Fast Layne was the first episode of television I got to write professionally,” said Shulman. “Writing that script was such a valuable experience because, even though I’ve always written scripts on my own, this was the first time I went through the process of rewriting in the room with other writers.”
Fast Layne was executive produced by the same team behind Even Stevens, and Shulman loved working for a children’s show that catered to a younger audience with wit and emotional storylines.
Shortly after Shulman completed her Fast Layne script, she found out that her Hallmark pitch had been accepted—and that the film would premiere only a few months later.
“We sat down to brainstorm about the movie in February, and the executives told me the movie was going to air in October—and I had only submitted a paragraph for the pitch,” said Shulman. “Usually, films take years to make, Luckily, I had just gone through this experience with the Disney Channel script and felt like I had good practice for writing a movie quickly.”
Love, Fall & Order
Shulman’s Hallmark opportunity came from her former boss, Marybeth Sprows, with whom she’d kept in contact after assisting her at Paulist Productions, the company behind the prestigious HUMANITAS prize. When Sprows transitioned to an executive position at Crown Media, she invited Shulman to pitch a script for Hallmark’s original programming.
Out of the options Shulman submitted, the concept that was selected was her final add—a landlord dispute for which a big-city lawyer returns to her hometown to help her father with the case, only to find that the opposing counsel is her long-ago high school rival.
“Hallmark movies often involve the main character reconnecting with someone they already knew, but in a romantic context,” said Shulman. “I thought it could be fun if, instead, the pair grew up competing.”
Shortly after her submission was accepted, Shulman found out that her script would also be produced as part of Hallmark’s fall lineup. Thinking of her own love for the Northeast, Shulman decided to set the film in Vermont, and the initial landlord dispute metamorphosed into a contested pumpkin farm.
The Hallmark Channel’s structured storytelling style provided both a challenge and a framework for Shulman’s writing.
“In these movies, the romance has to be the primary story, the season has to be super important, and there’s usually an event going on in the background,” said Shulman. “Even though it seems like writing to fit the formula would be easy, it’s a challenge to craft an interesting story that hasn’t been seen before.”
Shulman read Hallmark scripts and watched past films before diving into her own.
“Over the years, I think Hallmark movies have gotten a little more comedic, a little more dimensional,” said Shulman. “I felt like my movie could be fun and in the vein of these newer movies. I’m really proud of my script, and the way the movie turned out. It was an incredible learning experience, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity.”
Shulman watched the premiere of Love, Fall & Order with star Erin Cahill, who live-tweeted throughout the movie.
“People love Hallmark movies; there’s such a following. Fans really get into them, tweeting stuff like, ‘Love those men in those sweaters!’ and ‘More leaves, all the leaves!’” said Shulman. “I have a huge extended family, so it was fun to get texts from everyone while the movie was playing and even hear from Bennington friends who were watching.”
Sitting in Bars with Cake
In addition to her film and television credits, Shulman is also the author of Sitting in Bars with Cake, a memoir-in-recipes that chronicles Shulman’s year-long quest back in 2013 to find a boyfriend in Los Angeles by using her homemade cakes to break the ice with men at bars.
“It all happened as an accident,” laughed Shulman, whose first “cake baiting” experience involved a cake she baked for her best friend’s birthday, which she brought to a local bar. “When I was done handing out cake to my friends, I could tell that guys were looking over, kind of interested in the cake, but not sure how to ask for some.”
Shulman wondered if her cakes could become the foundation for an unconventional experiment. She set herself the challenge of bringing one cake each week to a different bar in Los Angeles and blogging about the experience. The project became about writing, baking, and connecting with new people.
“I’m not the kind of person who would just randomly go up to a guy at a bar, so bringing cake became a really nice way to talk to other people who I wouldn’t normally be connecting with,” said Shulman.
Fifty cakes and one year later, Shulman hadn’t landed a boyfriend—but she had secured a book deal.
“I had just started outlining the book when a friend who had been reading my blog reached out and offered to set me up on a blind date,” said Shulman. “That’s how I met my husband five years ago. We just got married in Vermont in June.”
A Million Different Things
As she looks forward to working on her next project—a feature script she sold to Amazon earlier this year—Shulman keeps focused on her writing by cultivating the sense of discipline she first developed as a Film and Literature student at Bennington.
“I like to get up early and be working on a writing project before I’m even totally awake,” said Shulman. “I think a lot about my time at Bennington—how everyone was interested in a million different things, and they’d be so invested in what they were doing that they wouldn’t stop for dinner, or maybe even to sleep. Everyone was so passionate.”
While maintaining that devotion to your art can be difficult after college, said Shulman, the effort pays off in the end.
“I just love to write. The best feeling is when I’ve found something that’s working in a script or writing project, and I want to get to that feeling again,” said Shulman.
To current Bennington students, Shulman recommends staying open to any opportunity and chances to build new relationships.
“When I first moved to Los Angeles, I didn’t know how the film industry worked; I moved in with the parents of a Bennington friend, took scrappy jobs, and stayed in touch with people I met along the way,” said Shulman. “It’s important to be up for anything. You never know who will come back into your life and give you that next great opportunity. The trick is to be ready for it.”
Bennington students and alumni interested in connecting with Audrey Shulman are welcome to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer