Sarasota arts leader decorates new Hallmark holiday movies
Christmas is a 24/7 event for more than two months on the Hallmark Channel and sister cable network Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, with non-stop original movies and past favorites keeping viewers in the holiday spirit.
While familiar stars like Lacey Chabert, Allison Sweeney, Ashley Williams, Nikki DeLoach, Tyler Hanes, and Ryan Paevey appear on screen, another name is being seen more frequently, Andy Sandberg, who is also the artistic director and CEO of the Hermitage Artist Retreat in Englewood
Last year, Sandberg co-wrote the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries film “Five More Minutes,” which was inspired by a hit song by country star and 2011 “American Idol” winner Scotty McCreery.
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This season, he has crafted the story for a spinoff film, “Five More Minutes: Moments Like This,” which is scheduled to debut on Dec. 17. And he also wrote the screenplay for the recent Hallmark Channel film “Haul Out the Holly,” in which Chabert plays a woman who returns to her family home on a cul-de-sac, where the neighbors are crazy about Christmas decorations and are secretly playing matchmaker with her now-grown childhood friend, played by Wes Brown.
According to theTVRatingsGuide.com, “Haul Out the holly” had the best ratings for Hallmark since 2020.
“Moments Like This” stars Ashley Williams as a young widow whose “Christmas wish for her son is answered in unexpected ways when she returns to their old home,” according to a description from the cable channel. She co-stars with Lucas Bryant.
The new film and the original were designed to capture emotions expressed in McCreery’s song “Five More Minutes,” which deals with the loss a grandparent and a wish that he had just a few more minutes with him.
Sandberg said the song had nothing to do with Christmas. “We took the narrative of the song and the sentiment that he was going for in his lyric and figured out how it could best apply to the holiday season,” he said.
“Moments Like This” is more of a spin off than a sequel he said, because it’s “taking that concept of what it means to want five more minutes with someone special and putting a different twist on it.”
On a recent interview with Jimmy Fallon on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” Chabert described “Haul Out the Holly” as “the first time I’ve done a Christmas movie that’s a comedy.”
Sandberg said the story was created with a sense of humor about the holidays and obsessions with decorations.
“It was the idea of doing something with decorations being the focus and finding a world where we could capture the holiday spirit through a sense of community and a sense of neighborhood, which I felt like I did have a lot of connection and kinship with as a new member of the Manasota Key world,” he said.
In the film, Chabert’s character only wants to rest and relax during the holidays, but she gets swept up with the neighborhood association’s many rules about decorating, and along the way finds a renewed sense of Christmas.
Though he wasn’t involved in the filming process, Sandberg said the “festive tone and humor really came through and I felt the cast did a terrific job in bringing these characters to life.”
The cast includes Melissa Peterman (a veteran of “Reba” and “Young Sheldon”), Ellen Travolta and Stephen Tobolowsky as neighbors who have their own outrageous ways of celebrating the holidays.
Since Hallmark has produced so many holiday movies over the years with its annual Countdown to Christmas schedule, Sandberg said it can be a challenge to find new and original spins on traditions that still create the warm and fuzzy feelings viewers are looking for.
“There is a familiarity to them even though each one will have distinct characters and features,” he said. “There are some common themes that people gravitate toward and Hallmark’s brand is very strong and clear. It’s all about bringing people together and making people feel good, particularly around the holidays, which is when most of these new films are premiering.”
He has watched countless Hallmark holiday films himself, “to know the tone and spirit but also how to figure out what makes your own project or film unique within that world.”
Even though decorations factor into many Hallmark movies “this one is about how a community comes together and how someone finds that home through the more surface element of a decorating contest. And it’s a comedy.”
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This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: CEO of Sarasota’s Hermitage retreat extends ties to Hallmark films