SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Hallmark and holiday movies go hand-in-hand, and family-friendly stories of Christmas romance have become the staple of the cable-TV giant during the months of November and December.
“Love Always, Santa” is a new film produced by Evangel University graduates Mike and Lori Leahy, scheduled to debut on Sunday, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m. central on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel.*
The plot is classic Hallmark: “After losing her husband Bradley three years ago on Christmas day, Celia Banks never thought she’d fall in love again. Now, her entire world revolves around taking care of her daughter Lilly. Lilly writes a letter to Santa with one wish—for her mommy to be happy and find love again.”
Both Mike and Lori Leahy are 1985 graduates of Evangel. He earned a degree in communication and she earned a degree in music.
Mike produced 28 films in the 20 years he was with his partners at Neo Art and Logic, working with Universal, Miramax, Paramount and The Weinstein Company.
Productions include the critically-acclaimed “Infinity,” Matthew Broderick’s directorial debut; “Phantoms,” starring Ben Affleck and Peter O’Toole; and “A Wrinkle in Time” for ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney.
In addition, Mike produced some independent films such as “He was a Quiet Man,” starring Christian Slater, William H. Macy and Elisha Cuthbert, and the feature documentary series “Trekkies 1 & 2.”
“In 2009, we started their own production company called STRIKE ACCORD as a way to begin to tell stories that do just that,” Lori explained.
“Our first film was ‘A Buddy Story,’ about a singer/songwriter who takes a troubled neighbor on his journey,” she said. “Since then we’ve produced 3 films for MarVista Entertainment.”
“Girl Missing” was shot in Lori’s home state of Minnesota and premiered on Lifetime Channel; “Great Plains (A Mother’s Escape)” was filmed in Oklahoma and also premiered on Lifetime; and “Love Always, Santa” was filmed in Northfield, Minn., and premieres this Sunday on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.
Finding a location
“When I first read the script, I got a picture in my head of the town that would fit this sweet Christmas film,” said Lori. “Northfield, Minn., is a town fairly near to where I grew up, so we flew up with the writer/director, Brian Herzlinger to check it out.”
Not only did they find a good film location, but they found a welcoming community where everyone was invited to participate as extras to recreate Northfield’s annual Winter Walk.
“The fun of making these films is finding talent where ever we film,” she continued. “There was a small group of us from the Los Angeles area that teamed up with a local Minnesota crew and some local Minnesota actors as well. The temperatures could not have been much colder, but this town could not have been any warmer.”
The town had their own premiere on Thursday night (Nov. 3) at the middle school, and 800 people packed it out.
“We definitely were blessed to be able to film there,” Lori added.
Time to remember
Mike Leahy came from Chicago to attend Evangel, while Lori Bell came from New Prague, Minn.
“For both Mike and I, Evangel was the place that opened up doors of possibilities,” said Lori. “Beyond what we learned in the classroom, God began a journey of presenting stories to inspire.”
With their travels, the Leahy’s have been able to maintain contact with friends from that formative phase of their lives.
“We continue to be amazed at the journeys of all of our friends from Evangel,” she said. “We couldn’t be more inspired or proud of the variety of avenues we see impacted by their lives in this world. The love and friendships continue to run deep.”
With sister cable television network Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is the second 24-hour linear channel under the Crown Media Family Networks umbrella. Distributed in both (HD) and standard definition (SD) in 66 million homes across the United States, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is one of the fastest growing networks in cable and a leading destination for quality family friendly entertainment.
Launched in 2008 as Hallmark Movie Channel, the network was re-branded in fall of 2014, transitioning into Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
True to its name, the channel brings the lighter side of the suspense and mystery genres into focus with rich, dramatic, and thought-provoking storytelling. The network’s programming lineup features a unique mix of new, original movies, presentations from the acclaimed Hallmark Hall of Fame library, and such time-honored acquired series as “Murder, She Wrote,” “Matlock,” “Hart to Hart” and “Diagnosis Murder.”
The channel is also home to the annual, eight-week holiday programming event, “Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas,” which helps viewers celebrate the season with new, original movies and beloved holiday classics, including “A Christmas Carol,” “Holiday Affair,” “Babes in Toyland,” and “Christmas in Connecticut.”
Hallmark Cards, Inc. owns and operates Crown Media Family Networks.
* LOCAL LISTINGS: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries can be found on AT&T U-Verse (channel 366), DirectTV (565), Dish (187), and Mediacom (292).
A preview of “Love Always, Santa” can be seen here: http://www.hallmarkmoviesandmysteries.com/love-always-santa