When I got the call that LONG LOST CHRISTMAS, Book 1 in my Sweetheart, Montana series, was being made into a Hallmark movie, I was super excited. Frantic preparations were made for me to travel from Australia to Vancouver, Canada so I could visit the set during filming. Vancouver is my hometown and I hadn’t seen my family since before Covid, so I was doubly thrilled that I was able to go.
Harrison Hotsprings, a small, lakeside resort town in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, made an excellent stand-in for the fictional town of Sweetheart, Montana. The private residence that was used as my hero’s log home couldn’t have been more perfect, inside and out. Filming at the end of summer in unusually warm conditions meant that the “snow” you see in this photo is actually sheets of white felt. For close up scenes outside, wheelbarrow loads of crushed ice were brought in and shovelled down the sides of the steps.
I arrived to find the house swarming with movie crew and the living room being decorated for Christmas in preparation for the day’s shooting. I was feeling a little lost until Shelly Hack (yes, the Shelly Hack from Charlie’s Angels fame, who’d optioned my book and sold it to Hallmark), took me under her wing and put me to work hanging baubles on this tree. I learned that set decorations (so many! everywhere!) are known to the crew as “gak.” But the end result was a wonderfully warm Christmas atmosphere.
At last they were ready to start shooting the first scene of the day. The crew was assembled , I was introduced (cue a gratifying round of applause for the author!) and given a chair in front of a monitor in a room informally called “video village.” Here, the director of photography, the sound mixer, the producer, and various other people worked behind the scenes. A huge thrill shot through me as the clapperboard snapped shut, and the director called “action.”
Taylor Cole plays my heroine, Haley, and Benjamin Ayres plays Blake (changed to Jake in the movie). If I look starstruck in these photos, it’s because I was. As well as being warm and friendly, Taylor and Benjamin are blindingly attractive and charismatic. When they stood side by side and both smiled directly at me, the effect was so dazzling I could barely speak.
Their onscreen chemistry was wonderful to watch. Seeing them do take after take, as the director captured different camera angles and the actors played with nuances of dialogue and emotion, was a fascinating glimpse into the world of film making. I gave them signed copies of my book and got them to sign a couple of others, one for myself, and one for me to give away. I was tickled to learn that Benjamin also plans to give away a copy with my signature as a prize to his fans.
Stephanie van Dyck, who plays Brianna, asked how I saw her character and we talked about how Brianna is brainy but quirky with a colorful dress sense. When I mentioned that Brianna is the heroine of SAY I DO, the second book in the series, I could see her thinking, as did I, how fantastic it would be if they made a sequel…
Grant Vlahovic, who plays Gordon, Brianna’s father and Blake/Jake’s boss wasn’t on set the day we took photos but he was also terrific in his role as Haley’s uncle and her mom’s long lost brother.
Over the two days I was on the set, I developed huge respect and admiration for everyone involved in making the movie. They worked 12-13 hours/day, six days a week, for three weeks, an exhausting schedule. Between takes I did what writers do when they’re not writing, and observed people as they went about their various jobs. From the burly, tattooed and pierced, food stylist guy delicately arranging appetiser platters for a party scene, to the stand-ins who patiently stood in one spot for ages while the cinematographer took light readings, to the intensely focused director who shook my hand, stared intently at me and said I had beautiful blue eyes. Then he abruptly walked away. I thought he forgot I existed after that, lol, but before I left the set he made a point of finding me and asking me what I thought of the movie so far. Wonderful, I said. Just wonderful.
I wasn't allowed to take photos of filming and anyway, the set was always crowded with crew and equipment. But I did manage to snap this pic (above) of the front of the house showing one of the crew, Christmas trees waiting their cue, a board stuffed with the surgical booties we had to wear inside the house, and though the door, some of the equipment. On the right is a photo of some of the crew eating “lunch” at 5.30 pm by the lake across from the house.
The movie version of Long Lost Christmas differs in some respects from my book but that’s normal due to the nature of the two media and I think the scriptwriter made excellent choices. I got a second enormous thrill when I watched the movie for the first time and saw my name up there on the screen!
Books in the Sweetheart, Montana series can be read as standalone or as an evolving story of the town and the connected characters. Click on the covers to take you to their individual pages for an excerpt and buy links.