Hallmark Stars Want Dan Harmon to Write Their Next Movie After Chaotic Instagram Posts

Rick and Morty” co-creator Dan Harmon making a Hallmark movie go viral wasn’t on anyone’s list of 2022 predictions. But that’s exactly what he did last weekend, thanks to a series of Instagram posts about the 2021 Sister Swap films.

“There are two Hallmark movies called Sister Swap,” Harmon wrote in the first of three separate, increasingly frantic dispatches. “One is called Sister Swap: Christmas in the City, the other is Sister Swap: Hometown Holiday. So we thought oh cool it’s a franchise and there’s a sequel, which Sister Swap do we watch first? Well HERE’S THE THING.”

“The thing,” Harmon discovers, is that the two films take place concurrently, following a pair of sisters (played by Hallmark regulars and real-life sisters Kim Williams-Paisley and Ashley Williams) as they switch places for the holidays. It’s not a Parent Trap situation, mind you; older sister Jen (Williams-Paisley) and younger sister Meg (Williams) happily live separate lives and chart different paths.

But as Harmon tells it, the Sister Swap movies are cinematic curiosities of the highest order. Are they actually the same movie, re-edited and re-shot from slightly different angles? Are they about two different, identical-looking pairs of sisters experiencing similar but unique situations? Is this absurdist art or Hallmark movie nonsense?

“The essential idea was that I wanted to do a movie with my sister. She’s my best friend and we talk every day,” Ashley Williams tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, in an interview following Harmon’s fanatical, if incredibly chaotic, Sister Swap-inspired rants.

“I am the protagonist of my own life, and [Kim is] the protagonist of hers, and we’re both secondary characters in each other’s lives,” she says. “So I thought, wait. Maybe we could do that [as two companion movies] on Hallmark. And Hallmark was like, ‘No, make it one movie.’ And I was like, ‘No.’”

Eventually, the sisters—and Ashley’s husband Neal Dodson, an experienced Hallmark producer who worked on the film with them—wore the network down. They landed on a pair of intersecting stories, kicking off with Kim’s story in Hometown Holiday and wrapping up with Ashley’s in Christmas in the City. The films start and finish the larger story over the same period of time, but the two women contend with unique problems and love interests in each one.

The end result is a pair of charming, only slightly surreal Hallmark movies. But as we learned in our chat with Williams and Dodson, even if he was off the mark, Harmon is forever welcome to speculate on the true nature of Sister Swap—and, ideally, work on a third entry with them.

The conversation below is edited for length and clarity.

I first heard about the movies from Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon’s wild Instagram posts. What were your reactions to a prominent figure in comedy stumbling upon the Sister Swap movies, a year after they came out?

Williams: There is a Santa Claus, and his name is Dan Harmon. I actually came down with the flu the day that he first posted in his eggnog-induced state. Basically my life for the next two or three days after were wake up, drink some water, read Dan Harmon’s posts, check on my children, go back to sleep, repeat. This is a gift. I’ve been a Dan Harmon fan for years. I loved Community. I am fascinated by the world of satire. It delights me that this is on his radar.

When we released these movies, I kept waiting for the zeitgeist to take hold. because they’re incredibly outside the box ideas for Hallmark. … The fact that now a year later we’ve uncovered this entirely new fan base—we’ve got the comedy culture now involved and invested—is truly the best thing I could have ever hoped for.

Im sure Dan Harmon will be very honored to hear that. Neal, how did you react to the sudden buzz? You’re behind the scenes as an executive producer, but you’re still quite involved with the Sister Swap saga—not just because you’re also living with one of the sisters.

Dodson: It was really fun to watch the evolution of Dan’s post. … We basically had a virtual family meeting with Kim, saying, “Let’s jump in. This is fun.”

Dan is not a snarky person, but he is an ironic and obviously very witty and very smart person who analyzes the culture. [His posts about Sister Swap] started from, “What the freak is going on?” I’m literally saying “freak” because it’s about Hallmark.

Williams: And our children are one room over, so let’s keep it “freak.” Get your Hallmark voice on. [Laughs.]

Dodson: The posts went from, “What is happening here? This is like messing with my head. Is this awful? Is it immoral to make movies this way?” to a fascination with what was happening, to some version of, “I can’t believe they’re doing this on Hallmark.”

Ashley, Kim, and I all jumped in on social media and started both giving thumbs up to really weird fan theories that were hilarious, but also actually answering some of the questions about the movies. … The reactions to those range from, “Thank you for explaining it,” to “That’s amazing,” to really mean, rude things, to which we write “LOL” and get offline.

What are some of the funny or surprising questions youve been getting about the making of the two Sister Swap movies? Dan Harmon was wondering if they had different, dueling editors, for instance, or if they were supposed to be Rashomon-style movies, with different takes on the same events.

Williams: If you look at some of Dan’s posts or you read a bit about it online, it’s easy to [think we] just took the same footage and edited two movies together. That’s totally not what happened. We prepped two movies. We wrote two movies. We shot two movies cross-boarded, which means we shot basically by location. And then we edited two movies and released two movies.

It’s eight scenes that cross over. Other than that, it’s two totally different stories.

Anyone who actually watches the two movies will quickly realize these are two separate stories. But how did you decide which movie would start and which one would finish the overarching story? In what order should people watch them?

Dodson: “Kim’s the big sister and she was the first born, so she gets to go first” is the cute answer. The other answer is [because of] our screenwriters.

There are nine acts to a Hallmark movie. … There’s a big long first act, and then these smaller ones. And [co-writer Zac Hug’s] idea was that by act six or seven in Ashley’s movie, Christmas in the City, we would actually hit the end point of the first movie, Hometown Holiday, so that the second movie would reward you with more story.

That was one of our conceits, that you wouldn’t quite get all the information from [Hometown Holiday], and that would actually draw you to [Christmas in the City] in a weird way. … You wanna be rewarded for watching both movies, but you’re not required to watch both movies.

But it does all boil down to, “We have to put Kims story first.”

Williams: I mean, she always got the front seat in the car. She’s my big sister. She gets to go first.

Kim’s Sister Swap movie, Hometown Holiday, is a straightforward romance about bringing the family together and rekindling a high school crush. Ashley, your movie, Christmas in the City, is a bit more fun—you’re planning a Christmas party at your sister’s restaurant. How did you decide which sister gets to star in which story?

Williams: I do still have some work to do in therapy [laughs], in terms of my own shortcomings and feeling like my only strength is that I sometimes can be an underdog. And I think my character was infused with that [sensibility.] My sister’s my hero, and then my life is kind of, “Oh no. Okay, so she’s doing that. What should I do?”

Dodson: [Zack Hug] had written other movies for Ashley over the years. … And he loves to write for her voice, but previously had not been able to write for Ashley’s comedic voice. So to your point about her movie being sort of fun and light, that was a lot about Zac Hug wanting to let her comedy chops rip.

Williams: Apparently Zac Hug teaches a class about how to write a Hallmark movie, and slide one is a picture of me and it just says, “Cast Ashley Williams,” which is hysterical.

I need to take that class. Are you trying to make the Sister Swap stories into a larger series? Or will Kim and Ashley get to star in one movie together next time, as new characters?

Dodson: The [new] one that we just set up is for them as unrelated characters, but still sisters. The only bummer about making these movies was that [Ashley and Kim] only had eight or nine scenes together, and they would’ve loved to have gotten to work together more.

Dan doesn’t know [about this movie] yet, and we have flirted with him online to tell him about it, because that will actually flip his lid a little bit. He’ll be like, “Wait, there’s even another universe, where they are different sisters played by the same sisters?”

In terms of more Sister Swap movies: At one point while we were on set, we had talked about them finding a third sister. … I’m not joking—if Dan Harmon called us and said, “I’ve got an idea for how to do this,” or we called him and said, “How about this?” and he said yes, we would take it to Hallmark right now and beg, beg, beg to do it and figure out a way to actually embrace the idea of a Hallmark multiverse.

That would be amazing. I do feel like the Hallmark Channel has now earned the visibility and clout to do something bigger and weirder like that.

Dodson: Yes, you’re absolutely right. These stories are evolving. This year, there was a Christmas movie that was about someone making a Christmas movie at Hallmark. Those kinds of things are truly awesome, and it doesn’t mean [Hallmark is] not gonna also make their sort of bread and butter, but it’s all pushing forward in a huge way.

Another notable thing in Sister Swap: Christmas in the City is that there is an openly queer couple among the cast, who kiss on-screen. Most Christmas movies are not particularly inclusive. Did you receive any pushback from the network for including them?

Williams: The development meetings that I’m in right now on a daily basis, the focus is on love, whatever the context. That’s what Hallmark does.

Dodson: There was a Hallmark movie that I produced called Love Classified, which was another queer romcom. It was about two women and their mother, [played by] Melora Hardin. In that movie, for instance, Melora Hardin downs two martinis in a row at a bar—that used to be verboten at Hallmark and is no longer, because that’s the way people live their life.

Hallmark movies are definitely more diverse now, compared to the stereotypically white, cis, straight content of the past. They also seem to be taken more seriously by more people, who would normally want to mock them for being silly holiday movies.

Williams: Yeah, absolutely. I love all the different ways that people watch these movies, and I think all this time we’ve just been waiting for the moment that we can invite Dan Harmon to write one with us.

That has been the goal of this journey. My last question is, are there any Sister Swap Easter eggs or secrets that you were hoping people picked up on, but still haven’t been?

Williams: I actually would like to open up this challenge to your readers, because I have a fantasy of a Rocky Horror Picture Show-like screening, during which people show up in red coats with red hats, and start dancing on the stage. … I just want everyone to know nothing was not done on purpose.

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