Big Picture: Christmas movie being filmed on Fort Street

Christmas comes just once a year, but not, apparently, for Cynde and Allan Harmon. When production began on the husband-and-wife filmmaking team’s new Christmas movie here on Wednesday, it was the third time in five months the Vancouver-based couple was feeling the holiday spirit.

Principal photography is underway in and around the former Little Cheese Shop on Fort Street, posing as Emily’s Bakery, for The Christmas Calendar, a holiday movie they’re producing for GlobalTV.

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The film stars Laura Bell Bundy (Anger Management, How I Met Your Mother) as Emily, a big-city lawyer who returns to her hometown to take over her late grandmother’s bakery. When the struggling baker receives a handmade Christmas calendar from a secret admirer who instructs her to “open each day, one at a time, until my secret is revealed,” the small town’s ensuing obsession with her mystery draws national media attention.

Cynde, the film’s producer, and Allan, who is directing and executive-producing with her, had hoped to shoot The Christmas Calendar here sooner but had two other Yuletide movies to wrap first.

They collaborated on A Princess for Christmas for UP TV through eOne Entertainment in December. Allan also directed Season’s Greetings, another Christmas vehicle for Bundy, in Kelowna last fall.

When the couple returned to Victoria, where they filmed the Emmanuelle Vaugier thriller Stranger in the House in the summer of 2015, they hoped to take advantage of residual holiday lighting downtown. “We thought: ‘These are great decorations, and the lights at night are fabulous,’ ” recalled Cynde. “But the next day when we came back, they were gone. That was tough.”

All was not lost, however, thanks to the Downtown Victoria Business Association, which delayed removal of the blue Christmas lights and star on the giant sequoia off Centennial Square.

“Most of the trees were down already, but they loved the colour and it worked for the film,” said DVBA general manager Kerry Milton. “They wanted to be able to use them, so we made sure they stayed on.”

The filmmakers also liked Centennial Square’s singing tree, but because its flashing lights wouldn’t work for the film, technicians unplugged them, leaving static pink, white and red lights as the backdrop, she said.

For the Harmons, who own and operate Vancouver-based Really Reel Films Inc., making their latest holiday movie in Victoria was a Christmas gift of sorts.

“I was pitching [Stranger in the House] to Shaw Global, and they had decided not to contract us for that, but they said: ‘Do you have any Christmas stories?’ ” Cynde recalled.

Coincidentally, she had just received a summary of The Christmas Calendar from Cookie Boyle, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay with her husband, Walter Swadasky. “The next day, they gave me the contract. I said: ‘OK, let’s go. Write the script,’ ” Cynde recalled with a laugh.

While most filming will take place downtown, at locations including the Mosaic Building, Logan’s Pub, the London Chef and Wellburn’s Food Market, the cameras will also roll at Langford Bowling Lanes.

Adhering to a philosophy the Harmons have become known for, they’re hiring local talent as much as possible. “We’re all about giving people their first opportunities,” said Cynde, citing John Helme, the respected gaffer whose credits include Gracepoint, Spooksville and The Snow Walker.

“John asked: ‘Would you consider me for a DP [director of photography],’ and we said: ‘Absolutely. It’s well-deserved, and time you got a chance.”

Other locals hired include Matthew Murphy, making his debut as first assistant director, and Carmen Thompson (1491: The Untold Story of the Americas Before Columbus) as costume designer.

Cynde has also hired local caterers and cast local actors in supporting roles.

One reason they had to bring crews and equipment over at extra expense has been the capital region’s limited infrastructure and because, with the recent filming boom, many locals are working on the Lower Mainland.

“We had to bring in our whole AD [assistant director] team. It’s a Catch-22 situation. We thought we’d be able to get more crews here, but you can’t stop them from making a living,” she said.

“There are a lot of people doing things here now. If your local people don’t keep jumping ship, there will be work here year-round.

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