Everybody take your places
Just call it a string-of-Christmas-lights budget.
In 2019, a Vancouver director estimated that 75% of Hallmark movies were filmed in B.C. — partly because of the province’s beautiful scenery, but also because of the tax credits that are triggered if you hire Canadian producers, writers and directors.
The Canadian government says that the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC) refunds eligible productions up to 25% of their labor expenditure.
According to Vancouver Magazine, Hallmark usually allots a micro-budget to each movie — less than $1 million Canadian, which can allow production crews to avoid union regulations. Adding tax breaks to that makes the expense of shooting even smaller.
A Hallmark movie takes about three months to make — from the initial idea to “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Once the idea is greenlit, a producer has about three or four weeks to get ready to shoot and to streamline their costs. They hammer out a script, gather the crew, and sign the stars. Actors typically get the script, audition, and are fitted for wardrobe within two weeks.
The movies themselves are shot over 15-day periods, during 12-hour days (non-union shoots mean no overtime), in the summer so that they’re ready to go by December.
Once it’s wrapped, it gets a spit-and-polish edit, and then — showtime.
By the time a producer is in post-production, the crew is usually prepping for their next shoot.
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I’ll be home for Christmas
Beyond the romantic intrigue, part of a Hallmark movie’s charm is the amount of nostalgia it serves up. The company is not shy about admitting it — in 2019, they even released a movie called “Nostalgic Christmas”.
In a book on the subject, Clay Routledge, Ph.D, professor of psychology at North Dakota State University, defines nostalgia as the emotional response evoked by specifically reflecting on your specific memories about childhood with a sense of longing.
According to IMDb, three of the company’s most-used actors (Candace Cameron Buré, Lacey Chabert, and Danica McKellar) were stars on popular shows from the 1990s — Full House, Party of Five, and The Wonder Years, respectively.
Continuing Hallmark’s “1990s superstar legacy,” Mariah Carey even directed one called “The Christmas Melody" in 2015.
Considering the holidays often bring up memories of holidays gone past, it makes sense that people would want to submerge themselves in a movie that is the cinematic equivalent of a warm bath. Nothing too bad ever happens, everyone is good-looking, everything is gorgeously decorated, and every so often, you might get the chance to vicariously kiss a prince.
Have yourself a merry little movie
According to The Washington Examiner, the Hallmark channel reached an average of 1.53 million viewers during the 8 to 11 p.m. time slot in the last week of November 2023, bested only by ESPN.
A 2019 Forbes article reported that Hallmark’s slate of movies called “The Countdown to Christmas” delivered more female viewers in the fourth quarter than any other cable network — 641,000 female viewers between the ages of 25-54.
Even though the movie channel is relatively young (it was launched in 2008 and then rebranded as Hallmark Movies and Mysteries in 2014), it is ambitious and, dare we say, culturally proactive.
In 2021, it reached an agreement with YouTube to allow its movies to be streamed on the platform — given that in a recent study, Pew Research Center said that 95% of people aged 18-29 use YouTube “frequently,” the agreement could indicate a desire to capture both Gen Z’s imaginations and their money.
Rather than slowing down, Hallmark’s takeover of the Christmas landscape is speeding up. After releasing 34 Christmas movies in 2018, its output dipped slightly in 2019, only releasing 24, but released 40 in 2020 (yes, even with the pandemic), 41 in 2021, 40 in 2022, and now 42 in 2023.
Pop culture magazine Vulture calls Hallmark the last great basic cable channel, noting that while many U.S. audiences don’t subscribe to cable, Hallmark’s viewing numbers have barely dipped, and that it has a commitment to producing new, scripted content for their biggest fans.
Hallmark seems to have definitely found a formula for success. You might even say they’ve checked it twice.
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