British Columbia

Why Hallmark Christmas movies are big business in B.C.

Need fake snow in July? A charming village for a predictable romance? B.C.'s moderate weather and tax incentives make it a popular place to film the made-for-TV movies.

B.C.'s moderate weather and tax incentives make it a popular place to film

Film crews transform the Village of Steveston, B.C. into a winter wonderland in November to film the latest Hallmark Christmas movie called 'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.' (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Getting into the holiday spirit starts early in the Village of Steveston, B.C., where Christmas decorations start popping up in July — along with manufactured snow. 

No, it's not the world's worst case of "Christmas creep," where the season comes earlier and earlier to shop windows and ads.

It's the work of film crews, shooting one of several Hallmark Christmas movies that used B.C. as a set this year.

It keeps going all year. In November, the entrance to Rocanini Coffe Roasters was dwarfed by nutcrackers, for a film shooting across the street.

"It's so cool! Like, there is nothing one minute and then you look and everything is set up … It's fun to watch, you get a sneak peak of behind the scenes," said Elise Raye, who works as a barista there.

While the audience is transported to fictional towns like "East Riverton," they're actually watching B.C., which has become the go-to place to film the made-for-TV holiday flicks. And picking out the locations has become a favourite pastime for locals.

"You get to see the locations on the movie and know exactly where that was and have attachment to it now, you feel like you were part of the movie in a way, which is pretty awesome," said Raye. 

B.C. the place to film

Vancouver Director Allan Harmon has shot 10 Hallmark movies in the last two years, four of them holiday themed. He says 75% of Hallmark movies are produced in B.C.

Hallmark didn't respond to CBC's questions about why it chooses B.C. so often, or how many productions are based here.

Harmon thinks tax incentives are a major reason.

Crews use fish ice that they grab from the famous fishing docks in Steveston, B.C. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

"There is no question tax credits are a big part of it," he said, "and also the dollar, the exchange on the dollar is a big factor." 

Hiring Canadian actors, directors and writers trigger tax incentives. 

Plus B.C. is really easy to dress up. Crews often go to the famous fishing docks in Steveston, B.C. to stock up on shaved ice to turn sets into a winter wonderland. 

"Because of the crews, the scenery and access to the gear, we have a fully evolved and developed a system for making films and television," said Harmon. 

Record number in 2019

Aside from employing thousands of people in B.C., these movies are big business.

The Hallmark Channel beats all the broadcast networks for ratings for women from 25 to 54 years old — a coveted demographic.

This year alone, the channel pumped out a record 24 new holiday flicks — one for every day in December before Christmas. Lifetime and Netflix are also producing their own Christmas-themed movies. 

B.C. has become the go-to place to film Christmas movies because of the low dollar and tax incentives. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The appetite appears to be so large for the cookie-cutter movies, there are enough viewers to go around.

"It doesn't seem to be a competition with each other, they are just increasing their audiences every year," said pop culture columnist Kim Linekin. 

"The holidays are already when things are too much, we indulge in things that are bad for us."

The guarantee of a happy ending each time also draws people in this time of year.

"One of the reasons it's popular is because it's a fantasy that we can heal our differences," she said.

'Whiter than all that fake snow'

But missing almost entirely from Hallmark's roster, is diversity. 

"Their casts are whiter than all that fake snow in those movies," said Linkein. 

Last year the channel had five non-white leads, this year that number was down to four — in two dozen movies.

It has also come under fire for two Hanukkah movies it produced this year. Neither have the word "Hanukkah" in the titles and the plots are about Jewish people trying to fit in during Christmas. 

Plus, all the love stories feature straight couples.

"There has never been an LGBTQ romance in any of their holiday films, they're strictly hetero.That's kind of shocking in this day and age. That's a missed opportunity," said Linekin. 

And that was all before the controversy earlier this month, when Hallmark pulled a commercial featuring two brides kissing at the altar, because of complaints from a conservative group.

It reinstated the ad after widespread outrage and calls for a boycott, but not before the brand's perfect Christmas image was tarnished for some fans.

About the Author

Tina Lovgreen

Video Journalist

Tina is a Video Journalist with CBC Vancouver. Send her an email at tina.lovgreen@cbc.ca

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