For me, the single biggest help in getting a review out in a timely fashion (ideally right at the conclusion of its premiere) is access to screeners — copies of the (sometimes not quite finished) movie for reviewers and other press types to see ahead of time. Nothing is more conducive to garnering a review than giving me a chance to watch it at a time that is both convenient and far enough in advance that I don’t have to rush.
Although I’ve applied for years to have screener access at most of the holiday movie cable channels, only Hallmark has made any available to me. Needless to say, they get the benefit of most of the reviews because of it. It’s not fair but that’s the reality of the situation. It also works against Hallmark as well — if they don’t provide a screener at all, I start to suspect their confidence in the movie.
My advice to the other channels: if you want to increase the odds of a Holiday Watch review, then give me something to review…and press photos.
Don’t Scrimp Too Much
Because of the number of holiday movies made in a year, and the standards they’ve shown they can usually deliver, this probably affects Hallmark more than anyone. There were several movies this year where it was clear that budget margins were slim.
While the over-reliance of stock footage is mostly forgivable, the over-use of snow blankets is not. I accept that production schedules require that most holiday movies get made in weather that isn’t exactly in the mold of what most think of as winter (the lack of breath fog pretty much gives that away). Even so, when the crew lay down blankets of fake snow, care must be taken to ensure it doesn’t just drape. Not only do the vertical surfaces not look quite natural, sometimes there are visible, large wrinkles. Not good.
On a related note: if you are going to have characters make snow angels, make sure the ground beneath the pushed-away “snow” also looks like snow. If it looks like the floor of the studio, it sort of kill the verisimilitude.
Make it About the Holiday
This is one of my peeves: that a holiday movie’s story isn’t dependent on the holidays in question. If it could just as easily be an Easter movie or Labor Day movie, then it really shouldn’t be marketed as a winter holiday movie. (Having “Christmas” in the title and a decorated tree in some shots doesn’t qualify.)
This is one area where Lifetime, Up, and other outlets are far ahead of Hallmark. On these channels you see ethnic communities and/or a mix of races and ethnicities that makes Hallmark look white as the driven snow. I’m not saying that Hallmark never does this, but for something as easy as casting choices, it certainly can do much much better.
But I’m not just talking about skin color or culture here. We also don’t see much in terms of LGBTQ or non-Christian stories. What about some Chanukkah stories, or Yule, or Kwanzaa (a few more Thanksgiving stories…maybe one or more with a Native American slant would be interesting)? You can still be more-or-less secular while still laying out the table for everyone — perhaps not all in one season, but some obvious variety would be nice.
Another casting peeve: height differences between lead characters. Normally this is neither here nor there, but when the height difference between romantic leads is more than 20 cm (8-inches) or so, then it starts to look ungainly. Too many times we have female characters having to crane their necks to look at their partner standing more than 30 cm (a foot) taller than they are, and tall male characters having to curl over to kiss the object of their affection often looks uncomfortable. What if he has a sore back and can’t bend? Guess no snogging for anyone, I suppose.
I’m working on revamping my ratings criteria. Over time, I’ve found that certain elements of the movies keep determining what their final rating should be. Something new will definitely be how strong the story’s ties are to the holiday(s). I’d also like to make some sort of rating be accessible in the main Holiday Watch page listing. I’ve wanted it for a while and it’s been requested by a few of y’all as well. I don’t want to make it all over-complicated, but I do want to make it easier to find the gems.
If you guys, gals, robots, and holiday zombies have any suggestions, I’ll be happy to entertain them. Just post them in the comments below.
Wrapping Up and Putting a Bow on Top
For the most part, I thought this was a better than average season. There were a lot of movies. A. LOT. I’ve recorded most of them, but DVR limits are likely going to find me deleting them soon. Before then, if I have the time, I’ll try to get a couple of late reviews posted. Needless to say, none of these movies had screeners available to me so I couldn’t do them ahead of time. Go figure.
I felt the most entertaining/best movie was Crown for Christmas. Though it relied on the increasingly familiar pauper-in-the-palace trope, this year it worked well. My surprise of the year was On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, which was an unexpectedly endearing light romance.
And that’s pretty much it. I may post more 2015 reviews if I find the time, but it’s not going to be comprehensive. So, until next November my holiday junkies, stay cool and be nice to folks who cross your path.