That’s what happened to me this past May. I’d been to Vancouver, BC before, but this time I headed to parts of Vancouver I’d never seen to see Christmas Joy being filmed for Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas. The movie stars Danielle Panabaker as Joy and Matt Long as Ben Andrews, and the novel comes out today in paperback. You can read what the story is about here. I was on set for scenes set at Aunt Ruby’s house, which were filmed in a rural area northeast of downtown where the roads were narrow and winding, and blueberry farms dotted each side of the road.
Once I arrived on location, the first thing I noticed was a wheelbarrow of snow and a dump truck full of the stuff that I learned came from a nearby mountain. Is it silly that I felt absolutely giddy at that moment? I mean it was May, and there was snow. And the only reason there was snow was because they were turning my Christmas book into a movie.
Workers were busy deconstructing the set from the night before, pulling back yards and yards of white material from the front flowerbeds of a huge log home. I was told that I was in front of Aunt Ruby’s house.
For the record, Hallmark gave Aunt Ruby one heckuva upgrade! In the novel, Aunt Ruby’s house was described in this excerpt:
“The white-columned porch had always made the house look like a mansion to Joy. The two-story structure wasn’t fancy, though. Just an old cedar shake saltbox colonial, but Uncle George had added the amazing wraparound porch the summer Joy and Mom stayed there.”
In the movie, Aunt Ruby lives in a gorgeous log home. Was I disappointed that it didn’t look like the house described in the book? Not at all. The house style doesn’t change the story, and that log home made for a beautiful setting.
It was kind of weird to be tromping through lush green grass with plants beginning to bloom on a mid-70’s day, and then have piles of snow — some fake and some real — piled around and Christmas everywhere I turned.
The producer, Vicki Sotheran, was welcoming and introduced me to the team behind the magic of this movie. It was surprising to me just how many people it takes to make a film. I expected the camera and mic folks, and of course the producer and directors. I even expected hair and makeup, but there are lots of other people moving props, checking on product placement and moving things to staging areas for the next scenes scheduled to shoot. Somehow, it wasn’t chaotic. Everyone moved with purpose as if it had all been choreographed. I’d love to know how many feet of extension cords are used on a single movie.
I was given the call sheet that listed all of the scenes that were going to be shot that day, and taken to a chair in Video Village, errrhmmm a fancy name for a 10×10 black tent with a few different sized monitors and ten director’s chairs behind the director, to watch the shoot.
When the clapper came out, and the director called Action! my breath actually caught.
It couldn’t have been more perfect that the scene being shot was my favorite one, where Ben (Matt Long) accidentally drops and breaks a Christmas ornament that is very special to Joy (Danielle Panabaker). These actors were perfectly cast as Ben and Joy. Their banter was natural and fun, and the chemistry spot on. I was pulled right into the scene, and cried as they made the image in my mind become real.
When you watch the movie, you’ll have to take note of the gorgeous swags, roping, wreaths, and decorated Christmas trees. Balsam Hill provided the trees and decorations, and they are absolutely stunning. It really might be the prettiest Hallmark movie ever made. Every tree was decorated magnificently with larger-than-life accents that only a true decorating expert could pull off, although, I’m now tempted to give it a try at my house this year.
The most magical moment for me personally when the snow machines kicked on. Snow had to be blowing hard enough to be seen through the windows, so it was one nice snowstorm for a girl from North Carolina, where we don’t get much of the white stuff. The lofty flakes fell softly in a mix of tiny and huge ones that swirled around us as we sat in Video Village watching the scene. I loved it! It took all of 15 seconds before I was sweeping tears from my cheeks… again. It was just so real.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes secret: In order to keep things moving, the Christmas trees were on spinning dollies to allow them to be rotated into three positions: undecorated, partially decorated and completely decorated. One quick turn and the tree only required the final touches for the scene. Pretty smart.
There are so many things to consider like snow on a seventy-five degree day, and lighting when those daytime scenes ran into the night. When I was leaving at eleven-thirty at night, the crew had huge lights on a tall pole hoisted high in the air behind the house to fill the windows with light from the outside to make it look like daytime from the inside. *Television magic*
I hope folks will pick up a copy of Christmas Joy. A movie can’t possibly pull in every plot thread from an entire 88,000-word novel into a 20,000-word script. It’ll be fun to chat about the changes and what didn’t make it into the movie at all. Yes, the movie is different, but it’s heartwarming, and I believe readers will love it as much as I do when it premieres on the Hallmark Channel on Saturday, November 3 at 8 PM/7PMc.
I’m headed to Vancouver again, this time to the set of Hope at Christmas. In this story, there’s a bookstore called The Book Bea. See if you can count how many of my novels you see in that movie when it airs this year on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Miracles of Christmas.
(Hallmark still photos ©2018 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Eike Schroter)