5 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hallmark Holiday Movies
Santa is amazing. But even the big guy and his elves can’t claim to put the same dedication into making the Yuletide gay as the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
Their annual deluge of heartwarming original holiday flicks (a record 37 for 2018, out of 232 over the past 17 years) is as eagerly anticipated as the gifts under the tree. Yet, unlike the Tickle Me Elmo in your cupboard, these movies stay loved: Viewer requests keep bringing back 2006’s military-themed The Christmas Card.
Last month’s Christmas at Graceland, with Kellie Pickler, is still rocking ratings as a repeat. And we flat-out worship 2014’s The Nine Lives of Christmas, with Brandon Routh as a jerk who falls for a vet student after their cats hit it off.
"We try to reflect the positive side of people’s lives," Hallmark programming honcho Michelle Vicary says. The goal is to have viewers "feeling a little bit better for having spent two hours with us." Here’s how the moviemakers do it.
1. They stick like frost to what works
Starting with the cast. So-called "Queens of Christmas" Candace Cameron Bure, Lacey Chabert, Danica McKellar and Lori Loughlin boast two dozen titles among them! Leading men resurface too, like three-timer Kristoffer Polaha (above, with Ashley Newbrough, in Small Town Christmas, about a touring author who encounters a former flame).
As for plotlines, familiar themes include workaholics who ease into the Christmas spirit (like Tia Mowry-Hardrict in A Gingerbread Romance, airing December 16), strangers stranded over the holidays (the franchise tallies 13 flight cancellations) and unexpected inheritances, from ski lodges to reindeer farms.
2. They’ve got locations down
Outliers have shot in Atlanta (subbing for Wisconsin), Memphis and even Romania, but most Hallmark Christmases occur around Vancouver. The village of Fort Langley (population 3,400) has hosted at least 10 shoots. "I love to see how other directors approach the same location," says veteran Hallmark filmmaker Ron Oliver, who spotted a street from one of his projects in another.
3. They multitask
Writers, producers and directors often do quadruple duty, simultaneously prepping a new film, overseeing postproduction on another, penning a third and rewriting a fourth.
4. They film year-round
Right now, someone is hauling out the holly for 2019, but the winter wonderlands you see could be spring, summer or fall too. The actors compensate by shivering, rubbing hands together and stomping "snow" off their boots to look cold.
5. They know snow
6,496,000 pounds of it over the years. Oliver recalls using fish-packing ice — after the fish did. "It’s hard to be Christmasy," he says, "when you’re like, 'What’s that horrible smell?'" The tech has improved: Now set decorators use spray foam, a dissolving toilet paper–like substance and even bubbles!
A Gingerbread Romance, Movie premiere, Sunday, December 16 8/7c, Hallmark Channel
Small Town Christmas, Movie premiere, Sunday, December 16 9/8c, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries
This article also appeared in the Dec 10 - Dec 23 issue of TV Guide Magazine.