How a Hallmark Movie Production Designer Brings Those Iconic Holiday Rom-Coms to Life
Another December means another slate of cozy Hallmark holiday movies. From meet-cutes to kisses under the mistletoe, part of the charm of these stories is how they play upon well-worn romance tropes with a festive flair. But because holiday rom-coms often tweak a traditional formula, adding small touches to give audiences a sense of who the characters are is essential. Just ask Jordan Ninkovich, the production designer of two new Hallmark movies: “The Holiday Sitter” and “Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas.” Both of these films add exciting new elements to the Hallmark holiday universe — “The Holiday Sitter” is the first Hallmark romance to center two LGBTQ+ leads, while” Time for Him to Come Home” features musical stylings from Blake Shelton.
In “The Holiday Sitter,” “Mean Girls” star Jonathan Bennett plays confirmed bachelor Sam, who reluctantly agrees to spend the holidays babysitting his niece and nephew — only to find himself falling in love with dreamy next-door-neighbor Jason (George Krissa).
Sam might live in a high-end New York City condo, but the set that stood in for his luxury home was anything but — after a last-minute location change, Ninkovich and his team were tasked with transforming a cobweb-filled former railroad service station into the picture of NYC luxury in just 48 hours.
“I had this beautiful airplane wing dining table with teak wood and leather seating, a royal blue L-shaped couch with a little reading nook, and this beautiful wood bar with a little bit of gold and black to get Art Deco accents behind it, with a bunch of natural florals and beautiful art,” Ninkovich said. “It really brought the space together and complimented his character very much.”
The designer got his start in the film industry as an actor and takes pride in taking what he’s learned to create immersive, camera-ready sets.
“I like to add a lot of layers. I don’t dress it as a stage production, I get to know the characters intimately,” Ninkovich adds. “In this case, I had a little speaker playing Frank Sinatra, and I had some incense going. You get transported into this world much more easily by connecting all the senses together.”
Connecting the senses was particularly important when it came to Ninkovich’s work on “Time for Him to Come Home for Christmas.” The Blake Shelton-produced film follows a woman named Elizabeth (Holland Roden), who’s returning to Seattle to perform in a Christmas Eve concert. However, her life is turned upside down when she receives a voicemail from a mysterious man pleading for the love of his life to give him a second chance just before Christmas. Because music is built into the movie’s DNA, Ninkovich found subtle ways to weave it into even the non-performance moments — particularly its Christmas market and candy store sets.
“I wanted to allow [the Christmas market] to flow as if it was musical tones, and notes. I layered and designed it in a way that almost felt like it was never-ending,” Ninkovich said. “I was able to corral about 16 or 17 local Christmas vendors into bringing their traditional goods, and fun stuff. Everywhere you turned, it was just an endless beautiful Christmas market, with Christmas music and that buzz of people going on in the background.”
Meanwhile, the candy store incorporated traditional European aesthetics and authentic, premium sweets.
“I was able to transform this very modern, sleek space, and integrate a lot of old traditions to it. Big candy ornaments and wood tones to create an old-fashioned candy store,” he added. “To tap into the senses of everyone on-set, I actually filled it with high-end chocolates. You’ve gotta think of what you can and cannot do, and put the cherry on top of all your sets.”