While most feature films and TV movies take many months to shoot, Hallmark Media is notorious for limiting its filming schedule to just three weeks — typically 15 days — for each movie it produces. The tight schedules keep costs down, usually to less than $2 million per movie according to Forbes, and allow the network to produce dozens of original films every year.
But the tight time constraints mean actors have no time to rehearse lines or get comfortable on set, so they have to adjust. During a recent filmmaking panel discussion featuring six of Hallmark’s top female stars, they agreed that the key to success on a Hallmark shoot is “all about prep,” revealing what that looks like and why it matters so much.
Nikki DeLoach Says There’s No Time for Rehearsals On Hallmark Movie Sets
A December 2022 panel discussion hosted by SAG-AFTRA, the entertainment industry’s labor union, included six female Hallmark stars — Nikki DeLoach, Erin Cahill, Jaicy Elliott, Holly Robinson-Peete, Heather Hemmens, and Ashley Williams — discussing the most unique aspects of working for the network, including its short film shoots. Actors must be disciplined and prepared, they said, and not everyone is cut out for such an intense pace.
“I do a ton of prep up top,” DeLoach said, which includes requesting a read-through with her main co-star, director, creative executives, and any other talent who want to join in.
DeLoach, who co-stars with Andrew Walker in February’s “Curious Caterer: Grilling Season,” explained, “That is critical time. Let’s have conversations about anything we have questions about, we’re bumping up against. You know, ‘What if we did this here?’ Because what I don’t want to do is have those questions on the day (filming starts) because we don’t have time for it.”
“I have found that if we do the read-through and if I do all of my prep up top with my coach, then I’m gonna go into every single day knowing how I’m entering the scene,” DeLoach continued. “And then I just get to play, you know, because that’s what you want it to be about. You don’t want to be, like, memorizing lines. You want to just be able to show up to set and play. So for me, it’s all about prep.”
Cahill agreed, adding that she organizes what she needs to know in a printed-out “tab system,” which DeLoach has seen and called “amazing.”
“Before the shoot starts, you prep the whole arc and the character and I have this tab system that looks hilarious,” Cahill explained. “I wish I had a picture of it ready! (After) all that prep then you can, like Nikki said, you can just play and be free.”
Cahill added that her prep also includes waking up each morning on-location with everything organized so she’s ready to film.
“I have little things I do,” she said. “The night before, I lay out my clothes and my vitamins and my collagen powder, put it in my little backpack with my tabbed-out notebook, so that I just am ready to go and play.”
Jaicy Elliot Says Short Film Shoots Require Lots of Trust Between the Cast & Crew
Best known for her role on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” Elliot is quickly becoming a familiar face to Hallmark fans after starring in two 2022 movies — “Romance in Style” and “My Southern Family Christmas.” Filming a series with the same people for years is very different than shooting a movie in 15 days, which she said requires a lot of trust between the cast and crew.
“When you work on such a short project and you want to deliver as much as you can, there’s a certain amount of trust between directors and producers and actors to kind of the deliver the best possible work you can,” Elliot said.
Williams said that trust extends to her co-stars, with whom she must establish on-screen chemistry almost immediately on set.
She explained, “When you meet a co-star, it’s usually day one and there’s this immediate, like, ‘We have 90 minutes to get this scene, we need to convey 30 years of history and a future together. I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine. You know, hold my beer, let’s go!'”
Williams continued, “It’s like, we’re gonna dive in together because there’s no option, there’s no room, for anyone to be a diva or a jerk. There’s just literally no time, you know? So it’s kind of like, ‘Hold my hand, let’s jump,’ and suddenly it’s 15 days later and you’re crying and you’re like ‘This is amazing what we did!’ It’s cool that way.”
According to a 2020 article in Vancouver Magazine, Hallmark movie production crews, which typically consist of just 15-20 people, also say there’s a lot of trust and hustle involved in making sure prepping the sets and equipment is turkey, with many non-union crew members limited to 12-hour days during the three-week shoot.
One dolly grip who asked to remain anonymous told the magazine, “We’re running around trying not to damage these mansions all decorated with Christmas stuff, hauling the 300-pound dolly up and down stairs, and we’re not allowed to walk on the fake snow.”
He said that because they learn to work well together, it’s common for the same production crew — except for the director, producers, and location manager — to move from one shoot to another.