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‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas’ Boss on How It Went From Concept to Finished Movie in Just 4 Months

“It was insane,” Austin Winsberg tells TheWrap

When NBC unexpectedly cancelled “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” earlier this Summer, the series creator and showrunner Austin Winsberg immediately mobilized fans hoping for more. And it worked — “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas” hits The Roku Channel on December 1. And it came together even faster than you might think.

“It was insane,” Winsberg told TheWrap. “I mean, Roku literally greenlit it off of, you know, like nothing more than a notion or a few-line idea from me just kind of dealing with the family’s first Christmas without Mitch on, I think, July 22. And then we had to turn in the finished movie literally four months later. So we went from a four-line idea to a finished movie in four months. And that’s with 12 musical numbers and all of the challenges and everything that goes along with it.”

So no, Winsberg didn’t get a whole lot of sleep in between July and October. But the process was made easier by the fact that Winsberg was working with most of the same people he’d worked with on the first two seasons of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” on NBC, from choreographer Mandy Moore to Executive Music Producer Harvey Mason Jr., and more.

“I had two weeks with two other writers from the show Sam Laybourne and Samantha McIntyre, to kind of break the story,” Winsberg continued. “Then I had a week to write the outline, and then another week and a half to write the script off of that. And then we had two weeks of pre-production, and then three weeks of shooting, and then two weeks of post, and it was just all kind of go, go go.

“There were definitely little production changes that had to happen because of weather and actor availability, and things like that, that we kept having to shift as we were shooting. And then for Mandy Moore, our choreographer, just the struggles of being able to mount 12 production numbers, some really big ones in such a short amount of time. The actors only had four days of prep rehearsal before we started.”

Of course, beyond the sheer practicality of making it happen, Winsberg and his team also had very specific story aspects that they wanted to keep intact. The showrunner noted that he wanted to honor the cliffhanger of season 2, in which Max (Skylar Astin) suddenly gets Zoey’s (Jane Levy) powers and can hear people’s heart songs, while still welcoming new fans, who maybe hadn’t seen that cliffhanger.

“The first thing was trying to make it feel both like a standalone holiday film, that could maybe be a perennial holiday film, hopefully, and so that if people have never seen the show before, they could kind of come into a cold and still be able to watch it and have a full experience,” Winsberg explained. “And so the first challenge was going from breaking it with like a six-act episodic structure, to breaking it with a true three-act movie structure and treating it more like a movie.”

Then came the fact that, though Winsberg and the cast might welcome a chance at more episodes again, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas” had to tie things off a bit more cleanly.

“By the end of the movie, you want some sense of completion, but not a total completion so that we can still leave the door open a little bit, in case there is a desire for more,” Winsberg added. “So it was definitely a thin needle to thread. And I felt like keeping the Max and Zoey stuff alive from the season was important. Keeping Mo and Perry alive was important to me. And obviously the family dealing with the first holiday without dad was sort of the crux of the movie, but keeping the tone and the soul and the spirit of it alive too.”

“Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas” is will be available to stream on The Roku Channel on December 1, beginning at midnight in all time zones.