It takes a lot of imagination and finesse to make a holiday movie during the shank of summer. Case in point, the new CBS Sunday movie “The Christmas Shoes” was shot in July in Halifax, Nova Scotia. But viewers will be hard pressed to realize that, since the picturesque city is snowy and decorated for the holidays, and the actors, Rob Lowe and Kimberly Williams, are bundled up in winter clothes.
“I am one of these people who are hot all the time,” Lowe says, laughing. “We joke about it on ‘The West Wing.’ I like [the set] like a meat locker, so it was extra tough for me.”
“The Christmas Shoes” is the second holiday movie in a row for director Andy Wolk, who made last year’s CBS yuletide flick “A Town Without Christmas.” Wolk says this time he knew how to deal with the snow factor and even the Christmas carol dilemma.
“Every bit of snow is manufactured,” Wolk says. “It is a combination of dry ice, foam, confetti. Now they have the technology where fire departments will come out and they will help you with spraying huge amounts of foam. They have little machines they use for flocking trees.”
Because one of the subplots of the film revolves around a school choir preparing for its holiday concert, Wolk also had to choose just the right Christmas carols. “You have to find carols that ... are in the public domain and that people can sing well enough to make it work and fit into your story line. Some carols are just so overly religious that you don’t want them, and some are too upbeat ... you find a Christmas carol not just for the value of the carol but for its symbolic value.”
“The Christmas Shoes” is the first television movie that began as an anonymous story on the Internet and then last year was turned into a bestselling song by the group New Song. Then it was transformed into a bestselling book by Donna VanLiere.
In the four-hankie weepy, Lowe plays the Scrooge-esque character, a workaholic attorney who has grown distant from his wife and preteen daughter. He finds the true meaning of Christmas when he comes across a boy (Max Morrow) in a store Christmas Eve. The lad wants to give his dying mother (Williams) a pair of beautiful Christmas shoes, and Lowe’s character helps him find the embroidered slippers before the store closes.
Executive producer Craig Anderson says that the key to making a movie like “Christmas Shoes” work is to avoid sentimentality. “My opinion is that the audience will be moved by it because they won’t be manipulated by it, so if you play it straight and the emotion is there, it will pay off in the long run. We wanted to make it a very character-driven piece, and even though this has elements of that terrible TV movie style of the disease of the week, we made a very upfront choice not to go into hospitals.”
“I read this movie and it made me cry,” Williams says. “I thought the key to doing this film is not hitting people over the head with it. I tried to find the humor in it. People even in the most dire circumstances can find humor.”
Lowe says that he worked closely with Wolk and Anderson in making adjustments and refinements in this character. “When he was angry, I wanted real uncomfortable anger,” says Lowe. “I didn’t want television anger, because real anger is not something that gets explored as much as it should on television. I kept saying that the tone I wanted from the marriage was more ‘Ordinary People’ and less ‘Touched by an Angel.’ ”
The actor, who is leaving “The West Wing” this season, welcomed the chance to be in a movie that was “proudly un-hip” and “not playing just to three guys who live on the Upper West Side of New York. I wanted to do this as a palate cleanser.”
“The Christmas Shoes” can be seen Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).
Cover photograph by Brooke Palmer.