(KGET) — The cast and crew of holiday movies often have to deal with climate problems. Storylines traditionally unfold in a winter wonderland but have had to be filmed in a summer heat spell to be ready for viewing in November and December.
Cast and crew of the new Lifetime offering “Feliz NaviDAD” tried to avoid the heat problem by starting the filming in mid-March. That got stalled because of the quarantines that went in place because of COVID-19.
Melissa Joan Hart, a veteran of numerous Christmas movies who directed “Feliz NaviDAD,” found herself dealing with both the heat and the virus once filming started. And, the start of filming on the cable movie – set to debut at 8 p.m. Nov. 21 on Lifetime – was a milestone for the industry as they were one of the first to go back to work during the pandemic.
“It was challenging and had its challenges for sure. I’m very proud to say we were the first union show up and running for DGA. And, I believe we were the first maybe to complete for SAG so it was a big deal,” Hart says. “All eyes were on us. We were starting this protocol. We were being watched and I took that very seriously as a director and as a producer.
“We had some snafus on set. We held up for a few days, but we had our medic and we had our protocols in place and we worked with the unions closely. We worked with the state in Nevada. The governor came to visit. And we were able to get this movie up and made, which was amazing.”
The film Hart was able to get made looks at David Morales (Mario Lopez), an Arizona high school principal and single dad who has lost the holiday spirit after also losing his wife a few years ago during the Christmas season. Morales will do anything to avoid Christmas so he moonlights as a delivery driver during the holidays.
His 14-year-old daughter, Noel (Paulina Chavez), and his live-in sister, Marissa (Marycarmen Lopez), are determined to bring the yuletide spirit back to the family and help David find love again via online dating. So when Sophie (AnnaLynne McCord), a witty musician and customer on David’s delivery route, swipes right on him, something magical happens between them.
Hart kept busy while waiting for the signal that they could start filming. She stayed in touch with her cast to make sure they would be ready to go to work as soon as she needed them.
The way Hart was able to keep the production alive and complete filming under strict safety rules helped soften McCord’s feelings about Christmas movies.
“I actually used to hate Christmas movies, so I’ve come a long way. I was not so keen on love and anyone who found it, I was so keen on them either so Christmas movies is not where you were going to find me. Thankfully, I’m a lot less jaded and I’ve also found love and I’m a very happy person now, but my mental issues aside, the first Christmas movie I ever did, I cannot tell you what it meant to my mom,” McCord says. “Working with Melissa and her mother. Seeing how women are being given these opportunities to not only star in the film but produce, direct, create. I love that. I love development. I think it’s amazing.
“There’s so many elements of being a part of even the development side or the creative side, the acting in it and just doing it for your mom.”
Everything went so smoothly with “Feliz NaviDAD” that Hart had no problem going directly to work on “Dear Christmas.” In that Lifetime movie being broadcast Nov. 27, Hart is in front of the cameras and stars with Jason Priestley, Robin Givens, Ed Begley Jr., Faith Prince, Hilarie Burton and Antwon Tanner.
She followed that up with Vanessa Lachey’s movie “People Presents: Once Upon a Main Street” scheduled to air Nov. 29 on Lifetime. She loved working on all three projects but has great pride in the film she directed.
“I think we did a great job and we’re able to help get the industry back up and running, I feel like. So I’m really proud of these movies and you’ll see little Easter eggs, which is really fun like in ‘Feliz NaviDAD’ you’ll see some reindeer out in the front lawn with a mask,” Hart says.