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A writer's Christmas in June

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As snowflakes swarmed in the glow of the streetlamp, actress Jennie Garth - decked out in a heavy overcoat and gloves - fanned herself to stave off the heat.

Blizzards in Los Angeles in June are only a slightly less frequent occurrence than one occurring off-camera that day: I was a writer standing in a place few writers are welcomed - the set of his own movie.

Six months had passed since I'd first read the treatment for the TV movie that would become "Secret Santa." Producer Beth Polson's synopsis put forth a whimsical supposition: What if a cynical newspaper reporter journeyed to a town in search of a mysterious philanthropist - and ended up finding something more than she'd bargained for? I felt the yarn held a plausible premise and I buckled down to pen the script.

CUT TO: ONE MONTH LATER. The teleplay was complete, and I'd arrived at the moment screenwriters most dread. My newborn "baby" was off to live with a new family, and I wouldn't be granted visitation rights. It was only my second movie, but I'd been around enough to know that writers were about as welcome on a movie set as a rabid possum at a Brownie campout.

The first time out, I'd naively phoned the producer on set to ask if I could drop by and say hello. He abruptly cut off the conversation, promising to call right back. The next time I saw him was five months later at a media event where he looked at me as if he was struggling to put a name with my vaguely familiar face. Needless to say, I was wary that "Secret Santa" would merely be a sequel to the previous unpleasantness. Then, I received the shock of my professional life.

"Just so you know," Beth informed me the day before production began, "you are welcome on set."

I asked her to clarify when I was welcome. "Always," she said succinctly. "After all, you're the writer."

From Day 1, the cast sought me out to offer kind words about the script and did their best to make me feel welcome. When I went out of town one Friday, Garth welcomed me back on Monday with a playful scolding for writing a scene that had kept her busy plucking flecks of mud out of her hair all weekend.


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