‘Tis the season to be jolly and falalala down the rabbit hole of Christmas movies
Jayde Atchison // Staff Writer
Jane, a journalist on the rise, is living out her dream in New York City. She left her small town in North Carolina to work for a medium sized magazine, and is on the path to having it all. Jane believes she is about to get the promotion she has been pursuing the last six months, but leaves the building with all her belongings in a box after losing her job to the boss’s nephew. After losing her job and apartment, Jane loads her car and finds herself back in her childhood home. Just when she thinks she’s hit rock bottom, she runs into the man that used to be the-boy-next-door. Now the once prodigal daughter, Jane finds happiness and love just in time for the first snowfall of the year – and on Christmas Eve no less. The scene fades to black as the couple kisses under mistletoe on her front porch.
It’s that time of year again. Overcrowded stores, gaudy lights draped across just about every suburban West Vancouver house and the annual homage to Charlie Brown’s scraggly little tree. Then there’s the twenty-four-hour marathons of Hallmark Christmas movies.
Jane’s story may not be a real Christmas film, but it certainly fits the plot of at least three of the Christmas films on television tonight. As thousands of annual viewers turn on the television to distract themselves from the yearly tides of modicum such as work and final exams in the winter seas of mediocrity, they are bombarded with images of Santa, snow and seasonal cheer. It appears that no matter what channel or streaming service they scroll through, Christmas is inescapable. Whether we love them or hate them (but still secretly watch them), there is no denying the success of Christmas and Holiday movies. Each year we learn that the limit doesn’t seem to exist on how many variations of the same holiday can be captured through film.
With every yearly holiday feature flick, there’s a certain deja vu to the Christmas formula that sparks a need to continuously create films with the same themes. The Hallmark Channel is one such company with the seemingly perfect formula. As it stands, Hallmark has 225 Christmas themed movies and has 24 new movies being released in 2019. Capilano University Acting for Stage and Screen alumni and Vancouver actor Camden Filtness (The 100, The Stand, Supernatural) credits the success of Hallmark films to the sheer number of dedicated fans watching them. “I’ve heard many stories of families who spend the holidays watching their favourite Hallmark Christmas movies each year, and discovering new ones as they come out each December.” Filtness reflects. The Hallmark Channel has a loyal following in the Western world (called Hallmarkies) and the productions make their way around mainstream television and streaming services like Netflix. During the darker months leading to Christmas, people want to escape their seasonal frustrations of less daylight, colder weather, year-end deadlines and project stress, and holiday movies provide that escapism.
“Hallmark does a great job of making people happy, not only with the Christmas movies but with their regular movies as well,” Vancouver actor Madison Smith (Salvation, Narcoleap, Aftermath) explains. “You’re gonna like the characters, you’re gonna have fun and you’re going to have a happy ending. It’s kind of reassuring that you can flip on the TV to Hallmark and know that you’ll be happy in the end.” Smith has been a part of the Hallmark family through working on five films, including Write After Christmas coming out this year.
Even for those who don’t fit the description of a Hallmarkie, getting caught in a spiral of Christmas movies can be an entertaining way to spend an evening with family during the holiday season. Come Christmas day, every other genre quite literally hibernates until the new year, so it feels as if there is no other option but to sit back and get into the spirit of the holiday for at least one day. Alternatively, you can create a wholesome drinking game out of the clichés and plotlines that appear through the movies. Take a sip every time there is a meet-cute, three sips when the camera slowly pans over a Christmas tree and finish the drink whenever someone says “there’s still some time left!”
There is an addictive quality in Hallmark movies, one that makes financial sense for the company to continue to create more every year. A majority of Hallmark’s plotlines involve a love story and the Christmas editions are no different. There is a guilty pleasure to the rom-com aspects of the holiday specials. As humans, we have a magnetic draw to love and rom-coms because we are able to sympathize with the characters during their struggles and for the most part, we want a happy ending for the good guys. As the winter gets colder, we step closer to ‘cuffing season’ – a phenomenon where single people are propelled to tie down a relationship, and combat being alone through the holidays. Hallmark movies can be an inspiration to those entering cuffing season and trying to find their special someone. The projection of our expectations, or the desire for desire itself is more important than novelty. We feel safe in the fictional satiety that the protagonist wins, or that love is more important than money.
On the Holmes and Rahe stress inventory, Christmas is more stressful than minor violations of the law. Between financial pressures and the expectation of spending time with family, there’s something to be said for the power of a fable that allows us to live vicariously through the idea of holiday bliss. Capilano University Acting for Stage and Screen alumni and Vancouver actor Cardi Wong (Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Dragged Across Concrete, Supergirl) suggests: “in today’s day and age there’s so much hate and anger so why not take a night off, feel good, and face the world again tomorrow?” Wong felt his heart grow three times larger when he found out that some hospitals will play Hallmark movies through the holidays to help spread the joy. To know his roles in the four Hallmark Christmas movies have been able to touch across Canada and the US makes his part in the projects that much more satisfying.
Working on the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie is generally a positive experience for the actors involved. The atmosphere on set has been described as a good place to be. “We all know that what we are creating makes people happy and that’s all you can ever ask for with any kind of art form,” said Smith. “We shoot these movies in often less than three weeks and in that time you grow really close to the people that you’re collaborating with, both in front and behind the camera, because we all want to put something out there that puts a smile on people’s faces that watch them.”
However, while actors and higher production staff may experience Hallmark movies positively there is another side of the crew that has found it harder to get into the Christmas spirit while working on set. Former production assistant (PA) Richard Bradley* has faced hardships from working on over 10 Hallmark productions. Throughout the years he worked with Hallmark, the days would often go to twelve hours and they would not get paid overtime wages. Only in the last two years has Hallmark joined the union, which allows for overtime hours and pay. As Bradley recalls, “my first day ever on set I watched trucks for 15 hours and no one told me what to do or how I would get paid or anything.” With turnarounds of about three weeks per project it can be a harsh job to sit outside for 12 hours a day in Vancouver conditions and not know what your job entails. To those hoping to pursue positions in the world of film, Bradley acknowledges that Hallmark is often a necessary place to get in the door and meet others in the industry, but to try and gain work on commercials or other unionized positions.
Many of the Christmas movies are made to look like small towns throughout the US, but Vancouver is a large home for filming Hallmark projects. Hallmark gives chances on both new actors and new crew members hoping to get their foot into the film industry. For both Madison Smith and Cardi Wong, they appreciate that Hallmark allows young Canadians to embark on their acting careers in their productions.
For Wong, he was given the opportunity to be one of the first Asian actors to hold a place on a Christmas movie poster for the film Road to Christmas. “All my early bookings were just small service roles (dishwasher, pizza guy, etc) and not to get too lost in my own sauce, but I am physical proof that if you give POC [people of colour] the opportunity, we will take that chance and run with it.” Wong says. Through playing Chad Michael Murray’s adopted brother, Wong was able to break the monotony of an otherwise predominantly white couples that shine on the posters. Having representation of POC in the film industry is still a battle many are fighting to break through. Actors like Wong are working hard to demonstrate that their voices matter, and should not be left out of the narrative.
Although Hallmark is making space for people of colour, there is still a lack of representation of LGBTQ+ community. There have been hints to characters who may be gay, but there has yet to be a love story between a couple that is not seemingly heterosexual. This may be due to the large following in the United States. It is not news that turmoil exists for queer people in the US through the governments creating laws that and bills that take away basic human rights, so it is no surprise there is a lack of representation. If Disney is able to incorporate same-sex couples in their movies and shows, then hopefully Hallmark will make a transition into being inclusive to all.
Despite the lack of representation, however, Hallmark is creating television shows and movies that hold a spot in many hearts across North America. The films are light, easy viewing that can be the focal point of a family gathering or background viewing while opening presents from under the tree. When people think of Hallmark, they think of a happy ending that allows for a tragedy-free viewing. Maybe it’s cheesy, but it works.
Follow along on the actors journeys in and out of Christmas movies on their Instagram:
@camdenf @cardiwrong and @madosmith21
*Name has been changed by request of interviewee