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Director Paula Hart (foreground, with production staffers Lisa Aldridge [left] and Ashley Gibson) took over Savour Café and Bakery last week to film her Christmas movie Kate Holliday. (Photo by Rita Christopher/ The Courier )
Centerbrook took on a bit of Hollywood shine last week as Savour Café and Bakery played the role of film set. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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If regular customers wanted morning coffee and pastry at Savour Café and Bakery in Centerbrook last week, they went away hungry. No croissants, no coffee, no muffins, no cupcakes. The bakery wasn’t closed; it wasn’t deserted. Indeed, it was full of people—but they were making a movie.
Independent producer Paula Hart and a movie production staff had chosen Savour as the locale for Hart’s latest movie, Kate Holliday, the Christmas tale of a baker who rediscovers her holiday spirit with the help of a Nutcracker who comes to life. (Now, as anyone who has ever seen the Nutcracker Suite will recall, that particular gambit with a live Nutcracker has some theatrical history. Hart’s movie is actually using some of the music from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet score.)
Kate Holliday stars Hart’s daughter, Melissa Joan Hart, best known for her sitcom role from 1996 to 2003 as Sabrina the Teenage witch.
Outside on a recent visit to Savour for the filming of Kate Holliday, the weather finally heralded the warmth of summer, but inside the bakery, it was December. The entire store was decked out with holiday garlands, Christmas ornaments, ribbon-bedecked wreaths, and banks of poinsettias. The display cases were loaded with trays of brightly decorated Christmas cookies. They looked good enough to eat, but Hart warned an onlooker not to taste. The icing-covered cookies were props, not snacks. They had been sitting on the trays since shooting began at the bakery four days earlier and were still needed for scenes not yet filmed.
Before she produced and directed movies, Hart started out in an entirely different role.
“I was a stage mother. My daughter wanted to be an actress,” she explained.
From there, by steps she became a manager, then on to making her own films. Her assistant directors on this production are also women.
“That’s rare, to have all women,” she said.
Andrew Gernhard of Synthetic Cinema International, a Connecticut production company working with Hart on the film, scouted different bakeries as possible locations. The story of how Gernhard chose Savour has as many ingredients as a recipe for an elaborate cake. Susan Malan, an economic development consultant for the town of Essex, heard about the search. She recalled suggesting Savour and alerting Kim Thomas who owns the bakery. Gernhard and other members of the production crew visited. Thomas was aware they were looking at other sites, and assumed Savour was out of the running because she had not heard back after the visit. All that, however, was before she got a call on a Wednesday saying that filming would start the following Monday.
“It had so much charm; it was the vision we wanted to bring,” production designer Robert Wise said of Savour.
“It was the first place we visited, perfect for a Christmas movie, happy, colorful, a clean nice shop,” Gerhard added. “And where else would you make a movie about Christmas,” he asked, immediately answering his own question: “New England.”
It might not have figured in the ultimate decision, but Gernhard also sampled the wares at Savour as he was scouting locations.
“They have wonderful pastries,” he said.
Hart had another explanation for filming in Connecticut.
“They have great tax credits; that encourages movies production,” she said.
However charming the crew thought the location was, they immediately changed things as they set up for filming.
“You wouldn’t recognize it; in the kitchen, all the equipment has been moved around,” Thomas said.
The movie makers are paying a week’s salary for Thomas’s staff of 19.
“It’s a mini-vacation for them,” Thomas said.
She herself has been at the filming, though she has no desire to appear on screen. Two of her three children, however, are serving as extras.
For Thomas, the real challenge comes when the crew leaves after a week of filming. She wants to open the bakery 24 hours after they depart. That will involve restocking supplies, since as soon as she knew the filming would take place, she canceled incoming deliveries. There are cakes and pastries to bake; spreads, dressings, salads and entrées to prepare.
“It’s a big job. I hope we can get it all done,” she said.
The sign on the front door explaining the bakery would be closed for the week has elicited different responses from customers. Thomas had to turn down a few people who wanted to place orders. Some people who saw the notice thought it meant that the staff at Savour was cooking meals for the movie makers, not serving as the site for filming. In fact, the movie crew has taken another office at Spencer’s Corner where Savour is located, for support services, including a resource no movie appears able to function without: huge trays of takeout food and coffee for the crew.
This is not the first time Essex has been a movie location. The 1959 movie, It Happened to Jane, starring Doris Day, was shot in Chester, Essex, and Deep River. The Essex Steam Train was used in the Doris Day movie as well as in a number of others, including Ragtime in 1980, Malcolm X in 1982, Amistad in 1992 and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2007. Later on, Old Saybrook will be a filming location for Kate Holliday.
Kate Holliday is scheduled for independent release in time for the Christmas, but by that time Hart’s focus will be far away from nutcrackers, wreaths, and cookies. She will be working on a horror movie.
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