Kelsey Grammer, right, and Mitch Poulos in a 12 Days of Christmas Eve scene at Bill Miller’s Castle in Branford. (Contributed)
Kelsey Grammer and Mark Jacobson star in a scene for The 12 Days of Christmas Eve at Keith’s Appliances Norwich. (Contributed)
Cinematographer Branden Maxham and director Dustin Rikert film The 12 Days of Christmas Eve at Norm’s Diner. (Contributed)
When the Christmas movie The 12 Days of Christmas Eve, starring Kelsey Grammer, premieres on Lifetime Saturday, the scenery will feel very familiar to residents of southeastern Connecticut.
The film was shot here over 14 days in September and October at locations including downtown New London and the Branford House at UConn Avery Point in Groton.
Grammer plays Brian Conway, who runs a large electronics sales company, and the Charter Oak Federal Credit Union headquarters in Waterford was his main office. A Mohegan Sun penthouse served as Conway’s New York home.
The film was produced by Synthetic Cinema International, which is based in Rocky Hill and has shot many productions in southeastern Connecticut in recent years.
Andrew Gernhard, owner and producer of Synthetic, described The 12 Days of Christmas Eve, a dark comedy where Scrooge meets Groundhog Day. Conway dies every day, and then he begins the day again. There are “a lot of digital effects for his wacky, outlandish deaths,” Gernhard said. Ultimately, the story is about a man who needs to return to his roots and rediscover the value of his family and especially his daughter. Play Grammer’s adult daughter? His real daughter Spencer.
Grammer’s company came up with the idea for “The 12 Days Before Christmas Eve” and starred the Grammers. The offer to produce came to Synthetic through Johnson Production Group, which handles project financing, production and distribution and often works with Lifetime.
Gernhard said Grammer, who is best known for playing Frasier Crane on “Cheers” and “Frasier,” and his people were great to work with.
“I cannot praise Kelsey and his daughter enough. They were great actors, they were great producers, really hand in hand with the production,” he said.
He’s not the only one who appreciates Grammer.
“People love Kelsey,” Gernhard said. “We went to these wonderful restaurants almost every night and people just loved him — as soon as we walked in it was like, ‘It’s Kelsey, Kelsey, Kelsey.'”
Filming at Keith’s Appliances and Norm’s Diner
“The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” spent a day of shooting at Keith’s Appliances in Norwich, where it served as one of Conway’s stores. Owner Jessica Burzycki said, “It’s just a great opportunity that they actually tapped into the local businesses in our area while shooting the film, rather than doing any kind of staging.”
The script originally called for the store to focus on electronics, but Burzycki said that since small independent electronics stores no longer exist, this has expanded to include home appliances and electronics.
This is, of course, a Christmas film, and by the time the film crew arrived at Keith’s Appliances at 6am on the first day and Burzycki got there at 7am, the film people had already got the store completely ready for the holidays.
“The entire store was decorated for Christmas – it was pretty awesome. … It was quite a production,” Burzycki said.
The 12 Days of Christmas Eve was also filmed at Norm’s Diner in Groton, where the crew hung garlands and wrapped pictures and mirrors to resemble presents.
Norm’s co-owner Steven Carmona Stoyanoff personally prepared some dishes that were used as props in scenes. He and server Dale Gregory were also extras.
“It was very nice to see and feel the concern they had for ALL the cast and staff to make sure everyone is tested for COVID and healthy before everyone is exposed,” Stoyanoff said. “On the day of the shoot, Mr. Grammer was very nice to us as he knew our names before even entering our building. He was a gentleman and a professional throughout the process.”
He added that the entire crew was very nice and helpful and that “the whole experience was a breeze”.
Stoyanoff said that he and his sister/diner co-owner Kerystal Stoyanoff were “very pleased and excited to have been offered this opportunity by allowing our little Norm’s Diner to be in a Lifetime film!”
Charter Oak becomes Grammer’s headquarters
According to Laurie B. Cormier, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources, “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve” was on view for four days from September 20-24 at the Charter Oak Credit Union location on Route 85 in Waterford and Marketing Director at Charter Oak.
A conference room was emptied and made into the company president’s office with new furniture and props.
Charter Oak’s boardroom, meanwhile, was being used as a conference room for a large on-story meeting.
Charter Oak also played the role of a hospital. The film crew put a “Surgery” sign over the door to the Lending Department, and Charter Oak’s lobby was the waiting room.
At one point, artificial snow and ice were placed in front of the entrance.
“It was like this little piece of plastic that they put on the sidewalk and pimped it with fake snow. That was one of the scenes, a slip and fall,” Cormier said.
Due to the weather, the production team occasionally had to adjust their shooting schedules.
“One day when they were shooting outside we had this terrible rainstorm and they were going in and out and green screens I think do a lot for them,” Cormier said.
They were filming outdoors and brought everything inside the building as the rain stopped.
“They seemed to be able to switch gears very quickly and get a scene going,” Cormier said.
Cormier said Grammer would casually drop by tomorrow morning and go to the credit union’s common room, which is in the basement. That served as the home base for production for the week. This is where the actors got their makeup done and the dressing rooms. The girl playing Grammer’s granddaughter would have her school lessons there with her tutor.
Cormier said: “This was a first for us so we didn’t know what to expect but it was really good fun. I think the staff and our credit union members enjoyed watching it when they came in to do their business… It was early in the morning when we were shooting outside. The doors weren’t open, but the ATM was busy. We’ve had members come through the ATM and they’ll drive by very slowly trying to see what’s going on. And we had some employees who were pretty crazy and wanted to see him (Kelsey Grammer). I think some of them have pictures of them.”
She added of the entire production, “It’s amazing what they can do and how quickly they do it. You are a very well oiled machine, I must say. They all come in, they know their job, they do it fast and they do it well. The day they left, you would never have known they were here.” Not only that, she said, “They were very pleasant to work with. Every person I spoke to was very, very nice.”
More holiday movies from Synthetic
The 12 Days of Christmas Eve is just one of the Christmas movies Synthetic is releasing this year.
The Noel Diary, which stars Justin Hartley from This Is Us, hit Netflix on Thanksgiving Day. The film was shot in Connecticut, with Essex being the furthest east. Filming took place around the Griswold Inn and at Olive Oyls, a sandwich shop that was converted into a gas station for production. It is based on the bestselling novel by Richard Paul Evans about a man who discovers a journal while going home to settle his mother’s estate.
Gernhard said that The Noel Diary “is a very intimate story, but it was filmed all over Connecticut, like Essex, Manchester, Greenwich, Darien – beautiful places.”
He said they essentially closed Essex.
“When you make these big Netflix movies, they have a much larger production footprint than Lifetime and Hallmark,” he said.
Gernhard also said that Netflix shot in the summer and used digital effects to make it look like winter.
“There are sequences where you see them walking outside and it wasn’t even snowing yet. (The Snow) is completely CG in this film. It’s amazing what they actually did with (the effects),” he said.
Gerhard said part of why so many Christmas movies are shot during the warm months is because stars are available then. And some of them are that there are so many Christmas movies being made right now that they need to be made when they can.
“I think this year alone between all the networks and studios there are more than 190 original films for Christmas,” he said, noting that last year there were about 140.
Another Synthetic production for 2022, “A Nashville Country Christmas,” starring music icon Tanya Tucker, premieres in December on the Paramount Network. It was filmed in Tennessee, and Tucker plays a country music star who escapes the madness that surrounds her life by returning to her grandmother’s farm. It is promoted during “Yellowstone,” which is also featured on the Paramount Network.
A few films that Synthetic did post-production work for are also part of this TV season. Ghost of Christmas Always is already out on Hallmark, and Haul Out the Holly, starring Lacey Chabert, will premiere on the same day and time – but on Hallmark – as The 12 Days of Christmas Eve.
What: “The 12 Days of Christmas Eve”
Premieres: Saturday 8 p.m