How a Hamilton summer was just right for "A Christmas Song"

Summer in Hamilton kept the stars of "A Christmas Song" warm while shooting Christmas in July.

Given how TV and movie schedules work, it's not unusual for Christmas films to be shot in the heat of summer.

It happened with the Frank Capra classic "It's a Wonderful Life," filmed over June, July and August, 1946, during a southern California heat wave. That's foam, plaster, shaved ice and soapflakes simulating snow all over the streets of Bedford Falls, N.Y., really a three-block-long set built for Jimmy Stewart and company in Encino, Calif.

It was just as hot around Hamilton last June when crews rolled carpets of white cotton batting onto the green lawns and bushes at the Mount Mary Immaculate Retreat Centre in nearby Ancaster.

The winter scene was for "A Christmas Song," one of three holiday-themed TV movies on which Hallmark and CTV teamed up on.

The stately manor house was festooned with large wreaths, red ribbons and other decorations. Outside, sun-burned crew members in shorts and T-shirts operated boom mikes and lighting equipment.

Natasha Henstridge ("The Secret Circle," "Would Be Kings") wasn't always so comfortable. She shot scenes standing out in the hot sun dressed in a long wool coat, scarf and mittens.

She plays Diana, a by-the-book music teacher at an all-girls high school. When that school is amalgamated with a neighbouring boys school, Diana's program clashes with the one taught by rival Ken, played by Gabriel Hogan ("Heartland," "Rent-A-Goalie"). Before you can say, "Glee," both teachers prep their kids for a showdown Christmas concert that will determine which music program stays and which gets cut.

Amanda Thompson ("Totally Amp'd"), Brittany Adams ("Wingin' It"), Jack Ettlinger ("Canada's Got Talent") and Kent Nolan ("Corner Gas") play the competing singing students.

Henstridge and Hogan have worked together before. This is their fourth pairing, in fact. "We're like an old married couple," says Henstridge, originally from Newfoundland but raised in Alberta. "We even look a bit alike; we need to play brother and sister next."

It helps that the two pair up well physically. At 6-foot-4, Hogan doesn't need to stand on a box opposite the 5-foot-10 former model.

The two likable leads are the reason to watch "A Christmas Song."

How do they get in the mood for playing December scenes in Hamilton's summer sun? The decorations help, says Henstridge.

"We were decorating one of the trees in the classroom the other day and I thought to myself, 'Wow, I really do love Christmas."'

Her favourite holiday film is "Home Alone," also a winner with her two children, aged 14 and 11. "I know it's not a classic, but the kids love it so much," she says.

Hogan, whose kids are younger, says "It's a Wonderful Life" is the movie that always gets him in the Christmas spirit.

Neither went to a same-sex school growing up, but they relate to the story in other ways. Henstridge says there was a drama teacher in Alberta who really helped her confidence. "I didn't have a ton of friends," says Henstridge, "but somehow, when I got in that drama class, I came out of my shell a little bit."

"A Christmas Song" premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CTV Two and the Hallmark Channel in the U.S. (repeating Dec. 22 on CTV).

Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.