Here's How Long It Takes To Film Hallmark Movies

There's a hopeless romantic in all of us, and thank goodness Hallmark movies are there to bring it out. Since 2008, the cable Hallmark Channel has become a veritable factory of holiday-themed romance TV movies, presenting close to four dozen films every year for their 24/7 Countdown to Christmas programming, per The Wall Street Journal. And the audience is there for it: According to Newsy, there are scads of podcasts, blogs, and fan clubs devoted to discussing and swooning over the Hallmark canon.

It's not hard to see the appeal in Hallmark holiday movies. Unlike heavy dramas that can feel more like homework than entertainment, Hallmark's selections are pure, delectable fluff. No matter when you tune in or what film you watch, you're guaranteed to find charming locations, appealing characters, and happy endings — and sometimes that's just what you need after a long day. Certain actors have become famous for their frequent Hallmark movie roles, such as Candace Cameron Bure and Lacey Chabert, but you'll often find some surprises in the cast. Betty White, Carol Burnett, Holly Robinson Peete, the late Carrie Fisher, and even Meghan Markle in her pre-royal life have all appeared in the popular holiday films.

So, how does Hallmark manage to put together so many movies in time for the holiday marathon? A lot of quick work, careful budgeting and — yes! — fake snow all combine to make it all possible. 

Hallmark keeps production costs low

Unlike, say, a three-hour epic film with exotic locations and tons of CGI special effects, Hallmark movies are known for their frugality. According to Business Insider, a typical Hallmark release costs just $2 million to produce; by comparison, "Spider-Man: No Way Home" had a production budget of $200 million (via The Numbers). The company also saves money by shooting most of their films in Canada, where they use local production crews for an extra tax break. 

They also save money by casting actors who don't demand astronomical salaries. According to In Touch Weekly, performers with smaller roles can expect to make between $1,271 and $3,575 weekly. Naturally, actors with starring roles are paid more, but they still don't command A-lister paychecks. Hallmark movie queen Candace Cameron Bure has appeared in nearly 30 productions, including the popular "Aurora Teagarden Mystery" series, since 2008, per QC Approved. But her reported net worth — approximately $14 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth — suggests that her Hallmark earnings are modest by Hollywood standards.

Another key to keeping production costs down is to avoid using too many characters (actors who speak lines are paid more than extras who mingle in the background), avoiding using children and animals (caretakers, tutors, and trainers cost money), and not utilizing copyrighted songs in the film. ("Jingle Bells" is a free public domain song; "All I Want for Christmas Is You" definitely isn't.)

Hallmark movies take less than a month to film

Each new holiday season brings a fresh batch of Hallmark specials in addition to reruns of old favorites. How does the network manage to pull off all that romance and charm? The answer: a super-tight filming schedule.

Right before Christmas 2021, Vancouver Magazine published an inside look at how a typical Hallmark holiday movie gets made. It all begins when the producer pitches a story idea to the production company. Once the idea gets approved and the financing is settled, it takes about three to four weeks to write the script, hire the small 15- to 20-member crew, and cast the film. A Hallmark cast member who chose to go anonymous told the magazine that many actors enjoy working on Hallmark films because of their devoted following. "A huge pro is the massive audience," the actor said. "People will recognize you and reach out to you over social media and ask questions about your character."

The filming itself is a quick-and-dirty process that takes just 15 days, allowing no overtime, fancy camera angles, or retakes to allow the star to rethink their character's motivation. The film editing team then scrambles to put the film together in about two weeks' time. 

So, next time you settle in to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie in December, remember that the film was completed while you were still lounging by the pool last summer. 

Predictability is Hallmark's hallmark

Watching a Hallmark movie is like eating your mom's homemade chocolate chip cookies on a snowy day. You know the experience will be sweet, warm, and comforting, with no surprises. (No raisins or candied cherries in those cookies, please.) That's because the producers know how to play to their audience.

The plot of Hallmark movies has become a running joke: In a typical film, a sophisticated city dweller finds herself in a charming small town shortly before Christmas. There, she meets a hunky local man: perhaps a bakery owner, lumberjack, or architect. At first, the two can't see eye to eye, but as the film progresses, they find they have more in common than they thought. By the end credits, they're kissing under the mistletoe.

The one thing you won't see, at least not much, is a range of cultures and identities. The network caters to its target demographic, so the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ community is underrepresented in the films. An unnamed producer told Vancouver Magazine, "The formula is unspoken. If you want to do something more diverse, you're not taking that one to Hallmark." Still, the company is taking baby steps toward inclusion. In 2020, they released "The Christmas House," a film about a gay married couple (via WSIS), and in 2021, the Christmas lineup included titles such as "A Holiday in Harlem" and "Eight Gifts of Hanukkah." We can only hope for continued inclusion in future holiday seasons.

Surprisingly, you won't find this in Hallmark Christmas movies

Hallmark Christmas movies have plenty of sweet moments, wholesome values, solid life lessons, and, of course, romance. The one thing they don't have a lot of is — surprise! — snow. Not the real kind, at any rate. Many of the company's holiday films are actually shot during the summer, so the white stuff is hard to come by, even in Canada. Lacey Chabert, a Hallmark veteran, told Business Insider, "I've gotten used to being really hot and sweating in my boots."

To get around the seasonal problem, experts told Business Insider that they've been known to use a variety of materials to resemble snow: ice shavings off blocks of ice; crushed limestone; snow machines; flame-retardant foam; and even soap foam for close-up shots. The budget for snow and snow substitutes can come out to a hefty $50,000 per film. 

Still, the company relies on the white stuff to set the mood of their Christmas movies. Michelle Vicary, Hallmark's executive vice president of programming, once told The Wall Street Journal, "Every year we get scripts with something like, 'It's the first year in the country's snowiest city that they had no snow.' Nope. Not on Hallmark, it's not."

The 2022 Hallmark filming season is already underway

With small budgets, formula-driven scripts, and quick filming times, Hallmark can crank out an impressive number of holiday movies each year. In 2021, fans were treated to 41 original films in the Countdown to Christmas lineup (via Oprah Daily). The 2022 total hasn't yet been announced, but the network is already teasing that one of the new productions is "sure to become a family tradition."

Per Hallmark's website, "A Holiday Spectacular" is a little different from the typical Hallmark movie for a couple of reasons. First, it's a period piece: Set in 1958, it centers on an heiress from Philadelphia (Ginna Claire Mason). She's planning a wedding but secretly longs for a more exciting type of life as a professional dancer with a very special troupe. The second unique aspect of the film is its cast: In addition to legendary actress Ann-Margret and Eve Plumb of "The Brady Bunch" fame, "Holiday Spectacular" features the Radio City Rockettes. The senior vice president of productions for the Rockettes' parent company said in a statement, "We are thrilled to partner with Hallmark Channel to bring together our two iconic holiday brands, which both create holiday magic for millions of people every year."

Hallmark movie fans, get ready to settle in with your wine and popcorn for another season of comfort and joy. We're sure to get Hallmark movies that our worth our time.