Will the Hollywood strikes affect Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies? 

Janet Nguyen Sep 21, 2023
Christmas is still on track for TV networks that have movies dedicated to the holiay. LightFieldStudios/Getty Images

Will the Hollywood strikes affect Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies? 

Janet Nguyen Sep 21, 2023
Christmas is still on track for TV networks that have movies dedicated to the holiay. LightFieldStudios/Getty Images

Thanks to Hallmark and Lifetime, Christmas has become a nearly two-month event. Both channels have become known for their slate of original holiday movies, delivering dozens each year. 

While a lot of Hollywood has been shut down by the screenwriters‘ and actors‘ strikes, which began in May and July respectively, Hallmark’s and Lifetime’s slate of much loved (and also much derided) holiday movies are on track for the holiday season.

“We currently are not filming any holiday movies. Our movies for this year’s holiday slate were completed before the strike,” said a spokesperson for Lifetime. A representative for Hallmark did not respond to a request for comment by publication time. 

The turnaround time for these films can vary, but they take roughly five months from the beginning of prep to the delivery of the film, said Daniel Lewis, who is the CEO of the independent production company Evergreen Films. He’s produced Christmas movies like “My Southern Family Christmas,” which aired on Hallmark in 2022, and “Christmas in Louisiana,” which aired on Lifetime in 2019. 

Lewis said pre-production is roughly four weeks, production is three weeks, and post-production can range anywhere between six and 12 weeks. But he added that if the air date for the movie is early on in the Christmas movie season, he and his team can speed up post-production, bringing the turnaround time close to only three and a half months. 

Misty Talley, a producer and editor who has worked on both Hallmark and Lifetime movies and has worked with Lewis as a producing partner, said that Hallmark was able to shoot a lot of movies before the strikes started. (Lewis noted that he typically films between May and September).

“They needed to hurry up for this year’s programming,” Talley said. 

These networks have also been able to rely on Canada, where there is no strike. Both Hallmark and Lifetime had already been producing movies outside of the states for a while now, Lewis noted.  

“It’s been a fit for them and their model for a long time. And I know that wasn’t totally reactionary to the labor strikes,” Lewis said. 

These movies are shot in Canada in part because of the country’s 25% refundable tax credit on labor costs (and the scenery can serve as a stand-in for U.S. cities.) Lewis said he thinks there is a desire on the part of these networks to make more movies in the U.S., but rising costs have been an issue.

Lewis has faced financial challenges making movies because of rising costs. Inflation overall in the U.S. began surging in 2021, reaching a peak of 9.1% in June 2022, a level the U.S. hasn’t seen in more than 40 years. 

“The networks haven’t been increasing the amount of money they’re paying to license these movies,” Lewis said. “So the costs have gone up, but the licensing fees have not because they’re battling their own struggles.” For example, they’re facing reduced ad revenue, he added. 

The budget across different departments has gone up by thousands for filmmakers. 

“If your catering budget used to be $30,000, well, now it’s $60,000 because the cost of food has gone up. Or the cost of materials has gone up for your art department, or your fuel budget used to be 15 to 20 grand and now it’s 35 or 40 grand,” Lewis said. 

He noted that he typically does one Christmas film a year for these networks, sometimes two, but hasn’t done any this year due to cost challenges. 

“The amounts these films were able to get historically out of international license agreements has also decreased due to supply and demand as the volume of Christmas movies made for the U.S. is far more than the international networks need in order to fill their slots, as they traditionally do not begin airing these films until later in the year and closer to Christmas,” Lewis said. (In the U.S. Hallmark Christmas movies typically start to air in October, while Lifetime movies begin airing in November.)

While moving production to Canada offers cost savings, some of the local flavor is lost. When you film in the U.S., you’re able to capture the authenticity of that location, said Lewis, who’s filmed in Mississippi and Louisiana. 

Nearly all of the Christmas movies he’s made have been set in the actual town. 

“And I’ve not changed the name of the city, and we don’t change the names of the businesses,” he added. 

Nor does he change the weather. 

“I’m sort of known as the producer that does Christmas movies that don’t have snow in it,” Lewis said. “Because it’s all the desire to give the audience some real authenticity and a real look at what Christmas looks like in different parts of the world.” 

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