By Will Broaddus
---- — The last time Andrea Janakas was interviewed by a hometown paper, she was in the fifth grade, and had written an essay on the Eastman Gelatine Corporation.
“The topic was, ‘What are Peabody’s best attributes,’” Janakas said. “I was fascinated by (Eastman) because I lived up the street. When I discovered they made film and stuff, I wrote the essay and got invited to tour the facility.
“I got my picture in the Peabody Times, and was feeling like a celebrity for a day.”
Now, more than 20 years later, Janakas is again drawing attention for something she has written: the script of “Holly’s Holiday,” an original movie that will debut tonight on the Lifetime network at 8 p.m.
“It’s a story about an advertising executive who’s looking for perfect love, and she realizes there’s no such thing,” she said. “She’s viewing it through this mannequin who comes to life.”
The story, which Janakas created with her Light and Matter Films writing partner, Justine Cogan, draws inspiration from a 1987 film called “Mannequin,” which starred Andrew McCarthy.
“We’re big ’80s movie fans,” she said. “We wanted to give a wink to the campiness of it.”
The genders of the main characters have been reversed in “Holly’s Holiday,” where a male mannequin serves as the romantic interest.
But the biggest difference from the earlier film is in how the lead eventually finds true happiness.
“The cast is so terrific,” Janakas said. “They really pull this off well.”
The movie was made by Marvista Entertainment, a production company that regularly creates projects for the Lifetime network. They had liked an earlier script Janakas offered them and committed to “Holly’s Holiday” a year and a half ago.
“The process of selling something takes so long,” Janakas said. “Then when they’re about to make it, it’s so fast.”
Janakas’ film career began with an earlier pitch she made to her mother, before graduating from Peabody High School in 1994.
Her parents were hoping she would go law school, and “that was the trajectory” when Janakas was admitted to Villanova University.
“But I had an aching feeling I wanted to be in a more artistic environment,” she said. “I had always written essays, short stories, creative writing. I had a heart to heart with my mom and told her I wanted to apply to this other school.”
That school was Emerson College, where Janakas eventually graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism in 1998.
Though that degree would still have allowed her to go to law school, Janakas “got bitten by the film bug” at Emerson and, during her senior year, worked briefly in the independent film scene in Boston.
Then in the final, spring semester she took advantage of Emerson’s internship program to “study abroad, which at Emerson is to go to L.A.,” and she has lived and worked there ever since.
Her internship at E!, the entertainment network, led to a job as a production assistant on a “celebrity bio show called ‘Celebrity Profile,’” where eventually Janakas moved up to associate producer.
The job allowed her to apply the skills she had acquired in college, but still left her with an aching feeling.
“I was still living a double life, writing scripts, wanting to make movies, but not knowing how to get my way in,” she said. “That’s the tricky part of L.A.
“A lot of it is perseverance and staying here for a while, widening that contact base, that Rolodex. Those dots begin to connect.”
Getting a master’s degree in directing at American Film Institute, which is “in the heart of Hollywood,” was another important stepping stone.
In addition to expanding her connections, graduate school armed Janakas with a thesis film that she could use to promote her skills, an award-winning short named “Gypsies, Tramps, & Thieves.”
While Janakas’ first love remains the kind of character-driven stories that are featured in independent films, she and Cogan have adjusted their material to the realities of the current market.
“From 2008 to now, it’s very difficult to attach financing to independent films,” she said. “I had to switch gears and try to get a little bit more commercial with projects.”
While the film industry is filled with such compromises, Janakas looks forward to returning to Peabody for the holidays, where she can enjoy the unconditional love of her family.
“It can get lonely in L.A., when you don’t have your family around, that remembers the kid that wrote that thing in fifth grade,” she said.
Janakas is especially excited because “Holly’s Holiday,” which will air repeatedly for the next several weeks on Lifetime, will have its final airing on Christmas Eve.
“I’ll get a chance to see it with my family, all in one room,” she said.