With Christmas less than two weeks away, people across the country are decorating trees, hanging wreaths and preparing mugs of hot chocolate as they get into the Christmas spirit. They also watch Christmas movies.
Holiday-themed films have become such a ingrained part of the cultural zeitgeist that more than a hundred will premiere this season alone, according to news writer Rebecca Alter.
Alter is an expert on the Christmas film genre, having recently had the opportunity to be part of a Christmas film herself by playing a role as an extra in the film.Santa Bootcamp.”
She wrote about that experience – and the wider world of Christmas movies – for New York Magazine and joined the Texas Standard to talk about it. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: After years of watching those Christmas movies, how did you end up on the other side of the camera?
Rebekah Age: Well, this is one genre where it feels like they’re going to come out in such large numbers every year it feels so inevitable, and they are inevitable. You have a feeling it’s Santa’s workshop logic, right? It’s like, “Oh yeah, they just magically came into existence.” But I wanted to know what this set was like. Are they made similar to other films? How on earth did they figure all of this out so quickly and in such a large quantity? And how did they create Christmas all year long? Like as a job.
So, in the spirit of research and development, you were indeed cast as an extra. did this happen
Absolutely. I guess that was like doing a bit of a mole, except I kept telling everyone exactly what I was doing there. So it wasn’t really covered.
So the movie we’re talking about here is “Santa Bootcamp.” I believe this is part of this year’s Lifetime Christmas series.
Yes it is. And that’s one of their bigger ones, I think, because there’s always quite a few – like dozens – that seem to be filmed in Canada. It’s a whole different industry up in Vancouver and Toronto making these Lifetime and Hallmark movies. So if there’s one that’s actually filmed anywhere in the States that has a big American star in it, that’s a big deal.
Well, in your article you describe something called the “Christmas Movie Industrial Complex,” which sounds like Eisenhower warned us. But I think that’s a little different. What exactly is this “Christmas Movie Industrial Complex” and how big is the industry?
I’ve had a hard time getting actual numbers in terms of budgets for these things. They like to be a little low key and keep the Christmas magic alive, you know what? Secure. But I know for a fact that these films don’t have the biggest budgets. They don’t have very long shooting schedules. They now have just over two weeks to shoot these feature-length films, months before they come out. And that’s what these movies are about, because people have traditions around the holidays and they expect something every season that meets their expectations but is still interesting. So it’s about delivering films that are kind of consistent, that hit the same tropes, that are reliably programmed for around 30 days or 45 days that people might be tuning into during the holidays.
What you’re describing is almost like some kind of background noise that happens in houses when friends and family come over and you turn on the TV, and it’s one of those movies, right?
Yes, and I mean “background noise” as the highest praise because it’s all about setting a scene, setting the ambiance, and setting the mood around the holidays. An executive at Lifetime told me that her ideal vision is who the archetypal Lifetime Christmas movie viewer is, and it’s someone who, you know, the kids come home for the holidays. Maybe she writes Christmas cards or puts up decorations, or they all cook together and the family is over. So it’s something that wants to be built into your traditions rather than, you know, not being aired in a theater. You are not expected to turn off your phone and turn off the lights while you watch.
Yes, exactly. And these won’t win big prizes. But honestly, it sounds like you’re saying that mom is the goal of these movies.
Absolutely: mom. After I wrote this article about being in the film, a great aunt contacted me and said that she had already seen the film 3 times and that she plays it in the background throughout the season. And we are Jews!
Oh man I love it. I feel like there has to be some kind of competition with all these movies that are being pumped out. Like Lifetime vs. Hallmark Channel or something. I mean, is there some kind of race for the most popular film lineup?
Ah, I think so. And you know, Hallmark, someone said to me the other day, “I think of a Hallmark movie like you say ‘Kleenex’ instead of ‘Tissue’ or ‘Band-Aid’ instead of ‘Glue.’ It’s like the brand name you use to describe this whole genre. And so I guess by that definition, Lifetime would be the Pepsi to Coca-Cola. But you know, they really are level. And now the great thing is that the major streaming platforms are putting these out too. And they don’t necessarily have to follow the same rules as Lifetime and Hallmark, I don’t think. And these really are the big, lively ones like Lindsay Lohan’s this year. So many people I know have seen that.
Well, what’s the deal with the holiday film, not just as a kind of playback for everything that goes on in a house. But I mean, people are really looking at these – as much as we poke fun at them. And I think part of that has to do with some sort of pattern right there. You know, there seems to be a romantic interest in all those nominal Christmas or holiday movies.
Oh yeah. As if it’s Christmas first, but then these pretty-set romances, or if not first. And these things always have some beats they hit, right? It’s always about a workaholic woman who never takes time for herself or for family or for romance or vacations. And often she goes to a small town and bumps into a rough guy who’s often involved in some kind of family business. There are so many inns in this universe that are struggling just like the inns in these fictional universes are not doing well and they need to be rescued. And, you know, they bump into each other and then they fall in love.
Yes, take that, Charles Dickens. Good. Now, with all that said, do you have any Christmas movie recommendations for our audience this season, or would you like to stay away from them?
Oh yeah. I will advertise very selfishly”Santa Boot Camp” – in it is Rita Moreno. It’s excellent. It was so cool to watch her work. And I would also say every time Dolly Parton does one of these, which is every year at this point, it’s always going to be a good time and have something musical in it. And I would also tell people that these films are becoming more diverse now too. And there are now many with same-sex love stories. And I would say you could totally diversify your palette for watching Christmas movies these days.