Hallmark movies filmed in Mystic debut this week and next
’Tis the season for Hallmark Christmas movies filmed in southeastern Connecticut.
One premieres this Saturday, and another airs next Saturday.
They are both productions of Synthetic Cinema International, which is based in Rocky Hill and has shot numerous TV films in the region.
Making its debut on Oct. 28 on the Hallmark Channel is “Mystic Christmas.” The Day was on set for some filming of that movie, and an article about it will run next week.
But first up is “Where Are You, Christmas?” It airs at 8 p.m. Saturday on Hallmark.
“Where Are You, Christmas?” shot scenes at Olde Mistick Village, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, and state Sen. Heather Somers’ Groton home, among other locations. More on those later.
The production stars Lyndsy Fonseca, whose credits include playing Penny Mosby on “How I Met Your Mother” and Alex Udinov on “Nikita”’; she is also married to Mystic native and fellow actor Noah Bean.
Leading the cast, too, are Michael Rady, who was in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Melrose Place”; and Jim O’Heir, who played Jerry on “Parks and Recreation.”
Set in the fictional town of Red Lake Falls, “Where Are You, Christmas?” features a woman named Addy (played by Fonseca) who has created a Santa app and is feeling overworked and stressed out. When she comes home to visit her family, it’s too much Christmas and too much of, well, everybody and everything for her. She wishes that Christmas didn’t exist — and that is exactly what happens.
Everything turns to black-and-white. Later on, as individuals remember Christmas, they become color again.
“This is a first for Hallmark. The movie becomes completely black-and-white, with no Christmas,” said Andrew Gernhard, Synthetic owner and producer.
There’s an inside-joke reference to Hallmark holiday films when Addy asks if folks don’t watch all those Christmas movies, and they say, no, they watch all those New Year’s movies, he said.
“Like any Hallmark movie, Hallmark fans will love the overall story. She realizes that the world isn’t that great without Christmas,” Gernhard said.
He said that every shot in the movie has visual effects, which translates to more than 1,600 visual effect shots. Because of that work, Synthetic was in post-production for almost five months, compared to the usual one or two months for most Hallmark movies. Gernhard said it was ambitious. There were three weeks of prep and three weeks of filming.
“We would shoot a scene as is, but then we had to do it with green screens behind characters. So the camera had to stay in one place. Some of it is green screen composite, and some of the movie is hand-painting out the color, with a little assistance with computers … But it still was very intense. It’s not like a dream in the movie. This is the whole darn movie. We’re talking about a full-color character walking in and out of a mechanics’ shop, behind things and in front of things (that are black-and-white). They had to be in color and everything else had to be cut out,” he said.
Somers, whose house was used as Addy’s childhood home, spoke about how the production folks decorated her house. She said they moved her furniture out and brought in their own items. (Somers moved out of the house for the several-day duration of the filming.) They used a real Christmas tree from a local tree farm. She learned that Hallmark has a Christmas warehouse in Connecticut where the film folks can go and pick out whatever decorations they’d like for a certain venue.
And, Somers added about lights lining the home’s exterior, “It was the nicest my house has ever looked with Christmas lights.”
She said the whole thing “was a very pleasant experience. Everybody was professional and kind and very accommodating. … It was just a once-in-a-lifetime kind of exciting little experience.”
Somers said that her mother, who passed away about a month ago, loved Hallmark and got to be there for the filming. (She lived in an accessory dwelling on Somers’ property.)
“It was so exciting for her to be able to see the movies and the cameras. … I’m just sad she didn’t get to see it (the finished product). I would have loved for her to be able to see the movie,” she said.
Filming at Olde Mistick Village
Synthetic filmed quite a bit of “Where Are You, Christmas?” and “Mystic Christmas” at Olde Mistick Village. (For the Christmas-doesn’t-exist scenes, the store Sophia’s Mystical Christmas was renamed Sophia’s Thanksgiving Store.)
Chris Regan, who is Olde Mistick Village’s property manager, said they used some of the stores as well as the green with the gazebo. For filming, the village brought back its Christmas decorations that had, per usual, been put in a tractor-trailer and driven to Pennsylvania, where a company refurbishes them.
These are the second and third productions that Synthetic filmed at Olde Mistick Village. (The first was 2018’s “A Very Nutty Christmas” starring Melissa Joan Hart.)
“The crew that comes in, they’re all great people. And let me tell you, I’ve never had a bad experience. What they say they’re going to do, they do. It’s refreshing to watch a whole team come in and create this whole event,” Regan said.
The village’s presence in these movies has drawn the attention of other film studios — Regan has gotten calls from studios — and from the public.
“It’s fascinating – people get so in awe when they see a movie being filmed,” Regan said. “It kind of creates an attraction because people want to see what celebrities are there, if there are up-and-coming stars, the next big person in Hollywood. You just don’t know.”
Somers noted having these movies made locally is “great for our economy.” The film folks used local people to do the lighting, for instance, and went to a local sandwich shop to have lunch.
In conjunction with the debut of these two movies, Hallmark is placing a Christmas Cam in Mystic, mounted on a street light near Pearl and Route 1, and aiming into town, said Bruce Flax, president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce.
“We have met with the person who is installing to determine exactly where and how it will get power, etc. The chamber and merchants are working to make sure Mystic looks great,” Flax said.
Starting around Thanksgiving and continuing until a few days after Christmas, the camera will be on daily from around 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
“It will be available for people around the world to take a peek at Mystic during the holidays,” Flax said.
Other Synthetic productions
Two other upcoming Hallmark Christmas movies are Synthetic productions as well, though they weren’t made locally. “A Biltmore Christmas” starring Bethany Joy Lenz and Kristoffer Polaha was filmed in Asheville, N.C.; it first airs at 8 p.m. Nov. 26. “A Merry Scottish Christmas” starring Lacey Chabert and Scott Wolf was shot in Ireland and Scotland; it debuts 8 p.m. Nov. 18.
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