Screenwriter Karen Bloch Morse ’95 has had more than two decades of success in Hollywood.
The Valentine’s Day gift that screenwriter Karen Bloch Morse ’95 received last year didn’t fit in the typical red-foil heart-shaped box. On that day, Morse’s pitch for a TV movie titled Same Time, Next Christmas was picked up for development. “It is unusual to pitch and sell something in the same day,” Morse says. “It was fantastic.”
And a bit terrifying, too: She’d have to speed-write the script to meet rigid Christmas production schedules. “Deadlines are typically flexible,” she says, “but there’s no postponing Christmas.”
Fortunately, Morse thrives under deadlines. She delivered a polished script
in two weeks instead of the typical 10. The project was greenlighted for filming in May, and in August she flew to work on set in Oahu.
After 24 years in Hollywood, Morse knows the rhythms of the screenwriting business well enough to relish such glamorous moments and on-screen successes when they come. “A lot of your work as a screenwriter never makes it to the screen,” she says. “So many things are out of your control. The only thing you can control is your own productivity and writing.”
When she entered Colgate, Morse thought she had the script for her professional life nailed down. She would become a lawyer, like her father. She enjoyed creative writing, and even attended a private high school in Maryland known for its writing program. “But it never occurred to me that writing was a job,” she says.
Then she met literature professor Fred Busch — and her script changed. She launched herself into writing classes, including a playwriting course, and in her senior year penned a play that won Colgate’s creative arts competition. Busch and her parents encouraged her to pursue a writing career.
In 1995, Morse graduated and moved to Hollywood, initially working for fellow Colgate alumnus John Romano ’70, and then cutting her teeth as a script coordinator on the blockbuster TV show Dawson’s Creek. She segued into screenwriting, working on rewrites and feature scripts for such studios as Sony, Disney, and Universal. “The challenge of screenwriting is you have to hit all of your beats, deliver all of your information as visually as possible, and get all of the emotions into the movie in a finite period of time,” she explains. “You know that somewhere between 105 and 120 pages, you have to type, ‘The End.’”
Her first produced film was the 2008 dance movie Center Stage: Turn it Up, followed by the 2010 remake of Ice Castles. “The challenge of a remake is that you want to be respectful of the original film while modernizing the dialogue and setting,” Morse says. Feathered hair was out; cell phones were in.
Morse’s 2016 movie for the American Girl franchise, Lea to the Rescue, hit right as her two daughters were major fans of the company. “For a year, I was the coolest mom at their elementary school,” she says.
Same Time, Next Christmas aired on ABC Dec. 5. Glee star Lea Michele and Younger actor Charles Michael Davis play childhood sweethearts who reunite and rekindle their romance years later at the same Hawaiian resort where their families vacationed.
“Being on set is invigorating,” Morse says. “It’s an exciting challenge to write on the fly as things change. And when you hear your words come to life, there is nothing cooler for a writer. It’s exhilarating.”
As for what the future holds for Morse, she has a feature film, Daughter of the Bride, shooting this spring. And it turns out that her title Same Time, Next Christmas was prophetic: She has just signed on to do another movie for ABC, for next Christmas.
Professor Fred Busch inspired both Morse and writer Dan Slater ’00. Read more about his legacy and his contribution to Living Writers.