A Love Yarn - We Interview Screenwriter Becca Johanson!
Just over a week ago wool fans from around New Zealand were treated to the latest Rom-com film A Love Yarn, set right here in New Zealand.
The story centres around Sophie Dale, an American woman who has made New Zealand her happy home. Sophie owns a delightful yarn store where she shares the joy of wool and knitting with her fellow townsfolk. All this gets tipped upside down after learning her top supplier of yarn, King Farms, is stopping production. Oh noes!! Enter the charming city styles Samuel King who has travelled from New York to audit the business model of the farm and start the sale of its assets. Desperate to keep her shop going, Sophie convinces Samuel to give her two weeks to learn the ropes of yarn spinning and raise enough money to buy the equipment herself. Things get a little complicated when matters of the heart start to also knit together (that was my attempt at a wool pun! eep!).
This week I was lucky enough to chat with Becca Johanson in Canada, the very talented screenwriter behind A Love Yarn. In our conversation she shares her story of how A Love Yarn came to be and her own real life wool passion.
Becca at a market event with her wool eye candy
Thank you for chatting with me Becca and congratulations on the exciting release of A Love Yarn. Your main character Sophie has a cheerful yarn store and I see you also have a colourful yarn business - how fantastic! Please share with us a bit about yourself and your wool adventures.
I have my own yarn dyeing business, Puzzle Tree Yarns, which I sell online as well as at Wet Coast Wools, a shop here in Vancouver that used to be run by a friend of mine (Her name is Glenda and I named a character in the film after her!) I don’t have my own brick and mortar location, but perhaps one day! Rent in Vancouver is ridiculous so for now I dye in a corner of my home and am lucky to be able to make that work. I've been dyeing for 3 years this July, which is very exciting!
In addition to Puzzle Tree Yarns is screenwriting something you do on a regular basis or was A Love Yarn your first? What led you to screenwriting?
I’ve loved writing since I was a kid, but I’ve been screenwriting since 2013, when I graduated from University with a degree in film production. I wrote and directed 8 short films over the years but when I had pancreatic cancer in 2014 and a daughter in 2018 it started to be clear that writing was a better avenue for someone who maybe couldn’t handle hectic set life anymore. It was hard financially for a few years because it’s a tough business to break into, but eventually I got an excellent agent and sold the first romantic comedy I ever wrote, which turned into A Love Yarn! For me writing feels like the lowest stress and highest creative output job in film, which really vibes with my personality. Other people may disagree, but my experience with screenwriting has been very positive. It might be the types of films I’ve chosen to write…who could be stressed out writing about romance and sheep??
Your yarn dyeing business and screen writing are both industrious careers, how do you integrate both with busy family life?
Since I have two jobs I have to juggle the yarn aspect and the writing aspect. I value my family time so highly that I’ve really tried to be as efficient as possible with my work. I dye yarn about two mornings a week, and when I’ve got script ideas I put them down for later and if they start to come together I start mapping them out and by the time I get to the script stage it only takes about two weeks to get a first draft. My partner and I swap off childcare depending on who has plans and work that day (he works from home too) so it’s really flexible at our house. If I need to take a call I will usually take it in the car, because its the only quiet place sometimes with a three year old and a giant dog running around together!
A Love Yarn is a Canadian/New Zealand made film, are there similarities between both countries in regards to wool farming history? One of the themes in your movie is around the mill ceasing production, this has been a reality in New Zealand over the past 20years - is that something that has occurred in Canada as well?
It certainly has happened here as well. Canada is lucky to have a few very good and very respected yarn mills (shoutout to my favourite mills, “Briggs and Little” and “Custom Woollen Mills”!), but it still isn’t a super profitable industry from what I hear. I’ve also heard farmers say they have trouble getting a good price for their wool, and keeping animals is expensive (I grew up on a cattle ranch, but I imagine the vet/feed costs are similar). There are smaller operations starting up since the advent of “mini mills”, like “Longway Homestead” has in Manitoba (I recommend you follow them on Instagram! Lots of cute sheep pics and milling videos). The equipment they use is from the same company used in the movie, I believe.
Homespun, character Sophie's welcoming yarn store (filmed in Matakana just north of Auckland)
The original screenplay, was it set in New Zealand or was that something that was adapted by the film company?
So, this is a funny story. The movie has changed a few times; originally it was a Christmas movie set in the States! And the first step was to make it a Spring rom-com. The shoot was planned for Montreal in May 2020 but Covid put everything on hold. I was surprised in July by the production company saying they were instead going to be shooting it in New Zealand in August. New Zealand was perfect; almost no Covid, absolutely breathtaking scenery, and lots of sheep! It got a script edit by a New Zealand writer at one point, to make it fit the location. I love all the local flavour they added to it!
Here at Fresh Retro Love we loved the wool references and wee knitting accidents as design elements - around here we call them features not flaws! We also noticed a few of the wool facts. Did you consciously include these wool references and benefits? Sharing the good news of wool is so awesome, to see in and hear it in a movie is wonderful!
It was definitely on purpose! I tried to include as many facts and terms as I could to really fill out the world and make it more about wool and fibre crafts. Because yarn and wool are such big parts of my life I wanted to make sure anything I wrote about it was accurate. There are a few lines that ended up in the final cut that aren’t quite right, but considering how much wool content there is and how many other non-fibre-aware people it had to go through in the process, I consider the final product a win!
Is there a shift in Canada back to locally made products and sustainable buying? Knitting ticks so many boxes from producing something with your hands to being beneficial for mindfulness and anxiety reduction. Is this something that you are seeing as becoming more important to the consumer?
During the pandemic there have been a lot of people taking up knitting or get back to fibre crafts as a way to slow down and even before this I have noticed a lot of emphasis on making and mending. Most of my business is from people wanting to buy local yarn!
At the time of this chat the movie hasn't yet screened in Canada. What are your hopes for it and the way it comes to life? How do you feel about its release?
I’m a tad nervous, since it’s my first feature! So far the overall review is a positive one. But I hope the release and subsequent airings of the film make it so as many people as possible can see it— Not just knitters/crocheters etc, but I’m hoping maybe it will turn people onto fibre crafts who hadn’t considered it before. There are so many benefits of fibre crafts and being a part of the fibre community! In particular I’m excited for my grandma to see it…she’s been phoning me asking about it for months. Hallmark-style movies are her favourite types of movies, and I’m learning from speaking to people that almost everyone loves a feel-good rom-com. It pleased me to no end that I can make something that is so widely viewed and enjoyed.
What inspires you each day? What do you love most about the screenwriting process and your yarn business?
A lot of my inspiration (for both of my jobs) comes from watching what other movie and shows people are making. Though my creativity really blossoms when I’m given something to do and my only job is to make it beautiful; be it bare white yarn, a script idea, or even just my day to day activities with my daughter. I do oil painting on weekends and garden a little almost every day. I always need to be making and tending to things; that’s what I love!
During the writing process what kind of research would you do? Is your wool background second nature or was there additional work that you did?
Most of the wool info was stuff I picked up over my 10+ years knitting. I am in some knitting groups and you learn so much from being in that space. You learn about dye lots, different pattern techniques, dealing with moths, and less practical things like the “Sweater Curse” ( it’s hard to forget that one!). Some of the milling info I did research online. Most of the farm scenes were directly inspired by my own life growing up; bottle feeding baby animals, fixing water troughs, and learning to use farm equipment are just a few of the things that ended up in the film.
Going forward can you imagine A Love Yarn 2? Perhaps something else on your writers desk? What are the next steps for Becca and your screenwriting/yarn biz career?
I must admit (with slight embarrassment) that I sent the producers a pitch for the sequel right away, just in case they want to move forward with number two. I would be delighted to continue with it! There are so many interesting things left to explore not only with the wool/sheep parts of the story but also the Sophie/Samuel relationship. It’s out of my hands, but a girl can dream!
Oooh yes, I’m excited about the possibilities for Sophie and Samuel too! You have our vote! Thank you Becca, it was a delight to chat with you and share with us some of your creative process. Again massive congratulations on the movie release A Love Yarn, we loved it and fingers crossed we get to see more of Sophie and Samuel. All the best to you and your family and Puzzle Tree Yarns!
Some of Becca's colourful hand dyed yarn selection
If you missed A Love Yarn’s initial screening on TVNZ it can be viewed it On Demand right here. Grab your favourite cosy blanket, a hot chocolate and your knitting (for the full immersive experience) and enjoy!