Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Christmas films shoot in not-so-wintry Winnipeg

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The cast of Home Alone 5: Alone in the Dark, currently shooting in Winnipeg, includes a "droog," the ultimate TV boss, a My Name Is Earl alumnus and a frequent Jersey girl.

According to a press release from ABC Family and Fox TV Studios, the comedy sequel stars Malcolm McDowell (best known as the antihero Alex of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange); Edward Asner (forever Lou Grant on the classic sitcom Mary Tyler Moore); Debi Mazar (an actress whose body of work includes playing Ray Liotta's mistress in Goodfellas, a sharp-tongued press agent in Entourage and a handful of Madonna videos); and Eddie Steeples, "Crab Man" from the sitcom My Name Is Earl.

McDowell, Mazar and Steeples play a trio of thieves who find themselves trapped in a house in Maine by an eight-year-old boy (Christian Martyn) who believes his house is haunted and is actually seeking to trap ghosts.

The film also stars Canadian actress Jodelle Ferland as Martyn's sister. The Nanaimo. B.C.-born Ferland appeared in Terry Gilliam's Tideland, the horror film Silent Hill and will star as a one-armed zombie girl in the upcoming Cabin in the Woods.

The film will air on ABC Family at the end of the year as part of the network's 25 Days of Christmas programming.

Directed by Peter Hewitt (Garfield, The Borrowers, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey), Home Alone 5 is a sequel to what was once the highest grossing comedy of all time.

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"The weather is the story on this movie," says Michael Heaton of The Christmas Heart, a TV movie for Hallmark currently shooting in town. "My line is that the cast and crew are battling a lack of elements."

Heaton, the brother of co-executive producer Patricia Heaton (The Middle, Everybody Loves Raymond), acknowledges the unseasonably warm weather most of the city is enjoying has been a source of anxiety for the production, which has had to create snow to maintain a wintry feel to the story.

I don't resent him telling me what the story should focus on. Heaton, 55, has been a journalist for more than 30 years, the last 25 of which has been in his hometown, where he works for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

But arguably, the more compelling story of this movie for the Hallmark Channel, starring Teri Polo and Tess Harper, is that it got made at all.

The treatment for the story was first pitched to one of the major networks 13 years ago, Heaton says over coffee at the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe.

"It's been so long I can't remember which one," he recalls. "And the woman executive said: 'This is the best thing I've ever heard.' And we never heard from her again." The experience was disillusioning and left Heaton with a distaste for the pitching process.

"I thought, 'This is a big waste of time. You get all excited and then they never call you again!'"

But last Christmas, he got a call from his actress sister, who successfully pitched the story to the Hallmark Channel, which is how he finds himself in Winnipeg in awe that his script is being realized for the camera.

The story concerns a young boy who requires a heart transplant. The organ arrives on a fogbound night; a neighbourhood bands together to use their Christmas displays to light a path for a small plane transporting the heart.

On Wednesday evening, the scene was shot in which a Cessna tools down Woodhaven Boulevard, a spectacle that Heaton says left him "humbled."

"I randomly wrote 'a 1973 Cessna 175.' They found one! It was on the street when I got there," Heaton says. "It was so cool to see something I wrote come to life.

"And they're making it come to life," he says. "To see these people (cast and crew) are working so hard to make it even better than what I wrote. Despite the weather restraints and the budget restraints, everybody's been making it come together."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2012 G6

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About Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

His dad was Winnipeg musician Jimmy King, a one-time columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. One of his brothers is a playwright. Another is a singer-songwriter.

Randall has been content to cover the entertainment beat in one capacity or another since 1990.

His beat is film, and the job has placed him in the same room as diverse talents, from Martin Scorsese to Martin Short, from Julie Christie to Julia Styles. He has met three James Bonds (four if you count Woody Allen), and director Russ Meyer once told him: "I like your style."

He really likes his job.

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