New Connecticut-made Christmas movies were done before strike

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New Connecticut-made Christmas movies were done before strike

The ongoing Hollywood strikes has “put the kibosh on all movies” being made, producer Andrew Gernhard said, including in Connecticut, where Gernhard should be knee deep in Christmas in July. Gernhard, owner of Synthetic Cinema International in Rocky Hill, usually spends his summers filming Hallmark holiday films at bucolic farms, sweet tourist spots and other quaint locations around the state.

Gernhard hasn’t exactly been twiddling his thumbs. Once it seemed clear that a strike could happen, Gernhard made sure he had lots of projects planned at the beginning of the year.

“Starting in November, we made four Hallmark films in a row,” he says. We made ‘A Biltmore Christmas’ in North Carolina, then we made ‘Where Are You, Christmas’ and ‘Mystic Christmas’ back to back, both in Mystic, from March until May. Then we went to Ireland and Scotland from May to July for ‘A Merry Scottish Christmas,’ which we finished on the last night before the strike.”

All four films should make it to the Hallmark Channel in time for pre-holiday viewing, as scheduled. “Where Are You, Christmas” is directed by Vermont native and Christmas movie veteran Dustin Rikert and stars Michael Rady, Jim O’Heir and Annie Tisdale. “Mystic Christmas,” which Gernhard says is a joyous celebration of the town set in easily recognizable locations, is directed by Marlo Hunter (who helmed the 2020 feature “American Reject”) and stars Patti Murin of “Chicago Med.” “A Merry Scottish Christmas” got international attention because it reunites Lacey Chabert and Scott Wolf, who played siblings for six seasons of the series “Party of Five” in the 1990s.

Synthetic has the resources to juggle multiple projects. “I’ve always been a long-term planner,” Gerhard says. “You never know if you’ll get one movie [contract] or 20.” Some of the projects are conceived by Synthetic, pitched to studios “and then we produce and deliver them,” the producer explains. Other times, “a studio gives us the script and we make it.”

Since Synthetic does post-production work as well, and since that end of the filmmaking process does not involve anyone on strike, the company has been able to spend the last few months finishing up those four movies they were able to film in time.

“We planned it that way,” Gernhard says. “Doing the movies in Mystic was almost like doing a TV series. The crew loved doing two shots back to back, and what better place than Mystic? We are able to do longtime hires for the crew. We have been working to build up a strong local union crew and make Connecticut a viable state for them to live and work. Then the strike happened.”

“Normally, summer’s a busy time for us in Connecticut,” he says. “We would’ve had two to three films in production, at least two of them probably in Connecticut. That means constant employment, work for local crews, hotel rooms…”

The Hallmark movies will keep Gernhard and his post-production team busy until October, by which time it’s possible the strikes will be over. Gernhard says he’s “not in any particular inner circle” concerning how long the strikes will last, but worries that they may go into the new year — which would affect his real Christmas as well as his pretend ones.

Courtesy of Synthetic Cinema International

Synthetic Cinema International was able to film four Christmas movies before the Sag-AFTRA strike hit: one in Scotland, one in North Carolina and two in Mystic, Connecticut.

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