Brian Ruberry has always watched a lot of football on TV, and he’s been known to watch a romantic comedy or two, often with family.
Then an unanticipated plot twist occurred in his own life: He wrote a Christmas movie screenplay himself, and it was made into a movie.
It was 40 years in the making.
On Dec. 11, when the film Ruberry wrote, “Single and Ready to Jingle,” premiered on Lifetime, he watched from his sofa with his wife and grown children in Kensington, Md. The film is about a woman who books a trip to a singles resort and instead ends up in a Christmas-obsessed town in Alaska — and falls for a man there.
“When people find out that I’m writing movies from Kensington, Maryland, I’d have to say they’re surprised,” Ruberry said. “But they’re not as surprised as I am. I always thought I’d end up playing football.”
Four decades after Ruberry first tried his hand at writing movie screenplays, the former public relations agent is hitting his stride at age 66.
“If you want to be a writer, you have to realize you’re going to see a lot of rejection,” he said, noting that he was turned down more than 100 times before his first television movie script was accepted in 2021.
“All of that rejection just made me more determined to prove everyone wrong,” he said.
“Single and Ready to Jingle” will be Ruberry’s second movie this year.
He also wrote the script for “The Attraction Test,” an UpTV film that aired in April about a college professor who takes her own dating questionnaire. And another of his rom-com scripts was recently made into the film “Stepping into Love.” A network for that one has not yet been announced.
Ruberry spent his early years in the Chicago area and as a teen moved to Alexandria, Va., where he was on the football team at Bishop Ireton High School, a private Roman Catholic school.
“I had absolutely no interest in writing, but I was a good athlete and football was my passion,” he said.
When he made the football team at James Madison University as a linebacker, Ruberry had high hopes that a successful college career might one day lead him to the NFL.
Then during his first year on the team, a shoulder injury sidelined him.
“I couldn’t play football anymore, and I also wasn’t cutting it as a biology major,” he said. “When we got to chemistry, the math was over my head. So I decided to become an English major.”
One of his professors submitted his short stories for an annual academic award at the university, which Ruberry said he won two years in a row.
“Just like that, I found this new passion,” he said. “When I graduated, I decided that I wanted to write television sitcoms.”
They were fun scripts, and he’d always enjoyed watching television shows like “Get Smart” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
In 1981, Ruberry earned a master’s degree in film at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. But he soon learned that breaking into Hollywood as a scriptwriter was a frustrating slog full of endless rejections.
“I missed my girlfriend, so I moved back to the D.C. area,” he said. “I wrote a musical called ‘Monster of Muldoon’ that played for a month in Georgetown in the late ’80s, and every now and then I’d write a screenplay and try to sell it.”
There wasn’t as much time for writing after he took a job in public relations, married and had two children, he said.
When his marriage ended in divorce, Ruberry eventually found love again with Helen Beven, a personal trainer he met in 2005 while they were both training for a marathon.
Beven said Ruberry’s marriage proposal was out of a Hollywood script.
“He proposed to me at the end of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in D.C.,” said Beven, 57. “He ran the entire race with the ring, and when he finally caught up to me, of course I had to say ‘yes.’”
Beven said she was impressed by Ruberry’s passion for writing and his sense of humor.
“Every year, he’d put together this hilarious Christmas letter and send it out to everyone,” she said. “And as long as I’ve known him, he’s been working on scripts.”
Then in 2019, Ruberry decided to try again to sell a screenplay.
“I’d read in a magazine that Hallmark and Lifetime make dozens of original television movies every year,” he said. “I don’t like the kind of writing with a kiss at the end. But I do like romantic comedies. So I wrote one of those after I watched a few Hallmark movies.”
Many romantic comedies follow the same three beats of boy meets girl, boy loses girl and boy gets girl back, Ruberry said.
“I decided to keep my new script as original as possible and write a romance that might actually happen in real life,” he said. “Nobody I’ve ever met ran into somebody on the street and started up a romance, so I stayed away from that. My focus was on putting the comedy back into romantic comedy.”
The plot for his script was about a record store owner who leases out her guesthouse for the holidays, and her new renter — a country singer — helps save her shop from financial trouble. The two, of course, begin a romance.
Ruberry said he contacted the screenwriter who had written the magazine story he’d seen, and she offered to take a look at that script.
“A week later, she emailed and said, ‘I think we can sell this,’” he said. “It only takes one person to open the door. I couldn’t believe that I might actually get paid for something I’d wanted to do my entire life.”
Although that script has not yet been sold, UpTV, an uplifting cable channel, scooped up the script Ruberry wrote for “The Attraction Test” last year. Ruberry said after that one sold, he decided to keep the scripts coming.
Barbara Fisher, producer of “The Attraction Test,” said she was intrigued by Ruberry’s ideas and asked him to write a screenplay using “Single and Ready to Jingle” as the title.
“If they wanted a story for it, I was willing to find one,” Ruberry said.
The next morning, he said he woke up with an idea about a woman who is a single toy company executive. She decides to escape Christmas by jetting to St. John in the Virgin Islands, but instead, an assistant books her on a flight to St. John, Alaska, where the town celebrates Christmas 24/7.
“And of course, she meets the brother of the innkeeper where she’s staying,” Ruberry said. “And there’s a snowstorm, preventing flights from getting out.”
His script was an instant hit with the producer.
“People want to escape with something fun during the holidays,” said Fisher, executive vice president of scripted content at Real One Entertainment.
“Every network has Christmas movies now because they’re something the entire family can watch,” she said. “Nobody seems to get tired of them.”
Fisher said she didn’t think twice about hiring Ruberry to write yet another Christmas screenplay for 2023 after he’d finished “Single and Ready to Jingle.”
“Brian is a talented writer with good ideas, and he’s easy to work with,” she said. “Maybe that’s something that comes when someone reaches a certain maturity.”
Ruberry said he often draws on experiences and relationships from his own life.
He’s now at his keyboard eight hours a day and can knock out the first draft of a script in three or four weeks.
“If you have an idea, chances are it’s already been done, so you have to do some research,” he said. “The ‘woman goes back to her small town and strikes things up again with her old boyfriend’ theme has been done a thousand times.”
Looking back, Ruberry said, there might have been a time in middle school when he displayed a hint of things to come.
“I didn’t have time to read a book for a book report, so I made up an entire story about pirates,” he said. “My teacher, Sister Thomas, thought it was wonderful and put it up on the bulletin board.”
He’s grateful she encouraged his creativity, he said, which he’s mixed in with a healthy dose of endurance.
“It’s been a long time coming for me,” Ruberry said. “But it was worth the wait.”