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    Tuesday, December 06, 2022

    ‘Cheers’ to Christmas: The Kelsey Grammer movie filmed in southeastern Connecticut debuts on Lifetime

    Kelsey Grammer, right, and Mitch Poulos in a “12 Days of Christmas Eve” scene at Bill Miller’s Castle in Branford. (Contributed)
    Kelsey Grammer and Mark Jacobson act in a scene for “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” at Keith’s Appliances Norwich. (Contributed)
    Director of photography Branden Maxham and director Dustin Rikert film “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” at Norm’s Diner. (Contributed)

    When the holiday movie “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” starring Kelsey Grammer premieres Saturday on Lifetime, the scenery will look very familiar to southeastern Connecticut residents.

    The film was shot here over 14 days in September and October in locations including downtown New London and the Branford House at UConn Avery Point in Groton.

    Grammer plays Brian Conway, who runs a large electronics sales company, and the Charter Oak Federal Credit Union’s headquarters in Waterford stood in as his main office. A Mohegan Sun penthouse served as Conway’s New York home.

    The movie was produced by Synthetic Cinema International, which is based in Rocky Hill and has shot many productions in southeastern Connecticut over the past few years.

    Andrew Gernhard, owner and producer of Synthetic, described “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve,” which is a dark comedy, as Scrooge meets “Groundhog Day.” Conway dies daily, and then he restarts the day. There are “lots of digital effects for his crazy, outlandish deaths,” Gernhard said. The tale is ultimately one about a man who needs to get back to his roots and to rediscover the worth of his family and particularly his daughter. Playing Grammer’s adult daughter? His real-life daughter Spencer.

    Grammer’s company came up with the idea for “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” and for having it star the Grammers. The offer to produce it came to Synthetic through Johnson Production Group, which is involved with financing, production and distribution of projects and often works with Lifetime.

    Gernhard said Grammer, who is best known for playing Frasier Crane on “Cheers” and “Frasier,” and his people were great to work with.

    “I can’t give Kelsey and his daughter enough praise. They were amazing as actors, they were amazing as producers, really hand-in-hand with the production,” he said.

    He’s not the only one who appreciates Grammer.

    “People looooove Kelsey,” Gernhard said. “We went out almost every night to these wonderful restaurants, and people just loved him – the minute we walked in, it was like, ‘It’s Kelsey, Kelsey, Kelsey.’”

    Filming at Keith’s Appliances and Norm’s Diner

    “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” spent a day filming at Keith’s Appliances in Norwich, where it stood in as one of Conway’s stores. Owner Jessica Burzycki said, “It’s just a great opportunity that they actually used the local businesses in our area while filming the movie instead of doing some kind of staging.”

    The script originally called for the shop to focus on electronics, but Burzycki said that expanded to include both appliances and electronics since there aren’t any small independent electronics stores anymore.

    This is a Christmas movie, of course, and in the time between the film crew arrived at Keith’s Appliances at 6 a.m. on the first day and Burzycki got there at 7 a.m., the movie folks already had the store fully decked out for the holidays.

    “The entire store was decorated in Christmas decorations — it was pretty awesome. … It was quite the production,” Burzycki said.

    “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” also filmed at Norm’s Diner in Groton, where the crew hung garland and wrapped pictures and mirrors to resemble presents.

    Steven Carmona Stoyanoff, co-owner of Norm’s, personally prepared some dishes that were used as props in scenes. He and server Dale Gregory also were extras.

    “It was very nice to see and feel the concern they had for ALL actors and staff in making sure everyone was COVID tested and healthy prior to being exposed to everyone,” Stoyanoff said. “On the day of the shoot, our interaction with Mr. Grammer was very nice, as he knew both of our names before even walking into our building. He was a gentleman and professional throughout the entire process.”

    He added that the whole crew was very nice and helpful and that “the entire experience was a breeze.”

    Stoyanoff said that he and his sister/diner co-owner Kerystal Stoyanoff “were very pleased and excited to have been offered this opportunity by allowing our little Norm’s Diner to be in a Lifetime movie!”

    Charter Oak becomes Grammer’s headquarters

    “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” ended up being on location at the Charter Oak Credit Union site off Route 85 in Waterford for four days, from Sept. 20 to 24, according to Laurie B. Cormier, senior vice president and chief human resources and marketing officer at Charter Oak.

    A conference room was emptied out, and with new furniture and props, it became the company president’s office.

    Charter Oak’s board room, meanwhile, was used as a conference room for a large meeting in the storyline.

    Charter Oak also played the role of a hospital. Over the door to the lending department, the movie crew put a sign that said “Surgery,” and Charter Oak’s lobby was the waiting room.

    At one point, fake snow and ice were laid down outside the entrance.

    “It was like this little piece of plastic that they put on the sidewalk and dolled it up with fake snow. That was one of the scenes, a slip and fall,” Cormier said.

    The production team had to adjust their filming plans on occasion because of the weather.

    “The one day they were shooting outside, we had this horrendous rainstorm, and they were in and out, and green screens do a lot, I guess, for them,” Cormier said.

    They did some filming outdoors and brought it all into the building when the rain persisted.

    “They seemed to be able to change gears very quickly and make a scene work,” Cormier said.

    Cormier said that Grammer would come in in the morning, very casual, and go down to the credit union’s community room, which is in the basement. That served as the production’s home base for the week. It was where the actors’ makeup was done, and where the dressing rooms were. The girl who plays Grammer’s granddaughter would have her school sessions there with her tutor.

    Cormier said, “This was a first for us, so we didn’t know what to expect, but it was really a lot of fun. I think the employees and our credit union members enjoyed seeing it as they came to do their business … When we were shooting outside, it was early in the morning. The doors weren’t open but the ATM was busy. We had members coming through the ATM, and they’d very slowly drive by, trying to see what was going on. And we had some employees that were pretty gaga, wanting to see him (Kelsey Grammer). I think a few of them got pictures of them.”

    She added about the entire production, “It’s amazing what they can do and how quickly they do it. They’re a very well-oiled machine, I have to say. They all come in, they know their job, they do it quickly, and they do it well. The day they left, you would have never known they were here.” Not only that, she said, but “they were very pleasant to work with. Every person I spoke with was very, very nice.”

    More holiday films from Synthetic

    “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” is just one of the holiday movies Synthetic has debuting this year.

    “The Noel Diary,” which stars Justin Hartley of “This Is Us” fame, hit Netflix on Thanksgiving Day. The movie was shot around Connecticut, with its farthest east location being Essex, with filming done around the Griswold Inn and inside Olive Oyls, a sandwich shop that was transformed into a gas station for the production. It’s based on the bestselling novel by Richard Paul Evans about a man who discovers a diary when he goes home to settle his mother’s estate.

    Gernhard said that “The Noel Diary” is “a very intimate story, but it was shot all over Connecticut, like Essex, Manchester, Greenwich, Darien — beautiful places.”

    He said they essentially shut down Essex.

    “When you do these big Netflix movies, they (have) a much larger of a production footprint than the Lifetime and Hallmark ones,” he said.

    In addition, Gernhard said that Netflix shot during the summer and used digital effects to make it look like winter.

    “There are sequences where you’ll see them walking outside, and it didn’t even have any snow. (The snow) is completely CG in this movie. It’s amazing what they actually did with (the effects),” he said.

    As for why so many Christmas movies film during warm months, Gernhard said that some of it is because that’s when stars are available. And some of it is that there are just so many Christmas movies being made that they have to be shot when they can be.

    “I think this year alone, between all the networks and studios, there are 190-plus original movies for Christmas,” he said, noting that there were around 140 last year.

    Another Synthetic production for 2022: “A Nashville Country Christmas” starring music icon Tanya Tucker and premiering in December on the Paramount Network. It was shot in Tennessee, and Tucker plays a country music star who escapes the craziness surrounding her life by going back to her grandmother’s farm. It will be promoted during “Yellowstone,” which is also on the Paramount Network.

    A couple of movies for which Synthetic did post-production work are also part of this TV season. “Ghost of Christmas Always” is already out on Hallmark, and “Haul Out the Holly,” starring Lacey Chabert, will premiere on the same day and time — but on Hallmark — as “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve.”

    TO WATCH

    What: “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve”

    Where: Lifetime

    Premieres: 8 p.m. Saturday

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