Inside the Canadian business of holiday movies

No holiday season is complete without gathering on the couch to binge cheesy movies. But you might not know those holiday movies are a Canadian enterprise… and business is booming

Make fun of them all you want, but holiday movies are one of the backbones of the Canadian film industry and economic drivers for small towns across the country From Squamish to Niagara-on-the-Lake, northern vistas set the backdrop of countless movies where hometown hunks teach big-city ladies about the spirit of the season. 

  • This year, 169 holiday movies were released in North America, about 5½ to get you through every day in December—most are made-for-TV or go straight to streaming. 

One name rules the landscape: Hallmark

Hallmark alone has 40 original movies coming out this year for the 85 million Americans and 14 million Canadians tune that tune into its channel each year—although via the W Network in Canada. It’s also the most-watched channel for women aged 18-54 during the holidays. 

The reason Hallmark and others make so many of these movies is their unparalleled return value. Most films cost only around US$2 million to make and typically film in just three weeks. The quick turnaround means that literally dozens of them can be made every year, all year round (not just in the winter).  

  • So if these things don’t film in the winter what do they do snow? A little insider secret for you. They’ll often take shaved ice from a local rink and put it on set or, just like a middle school production, use cotton balls. 

Why has Canada become the go-to destination for the big names in holiday entertainment? 

While it helps that Canada is rich in scenic, small-town locations that are ideal for the Hallmark holiday vibe, if you could back up to 60% of the budget of your film reimbursed, why wouldn’t you? Canada has generous tax incentives for film and television production. 

  • A Christmas Story, The Santa Clause, and Elf were all filmed in Canada, but Canada’s cottage industry of Hallmark movies didn’t start until well after, around 2010, or the time when Hallmark started cranking out holiday content, and someone realized that they were missing out by not filming in Canada. 

Through the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit, productions can get a tax credit for 25% of the cast and crew’s payroll, with a maximum allowance of up to 60% of the film’s total budget, in addition to province-specific tax incentives programs.

  • BC, with its temperate climate, is the top destination for Hallmark shoots, with one director estimating 75% of Hallmark movies are produced in BC.

However, to qualify for these tax breaks, a production must qualify as Canadian content or CanCon. The CRTC has a (kind of arbitrary) points system to determine what does and doesn’t count as “Canadian”. 

  • A production must earn at least six out of a possible ten points with each major role on set getting a corresponding point (i.e. two points if the director’s Canadian, one if the editor is). There are also must be a Canadian producer who is on set.
  • In addition, 75% of the services provided for the shoot (for example, catering) must come from Canadians, and at least 75% of post-production must be done by a Canadian person, company, or in Canada.

Why it matters: This process is mutually beneficial for Canadian towns. For each movie filmed in a town, between $1.2 million and $1.5 million of that budget goes directly to the local economy (not to mention the additional boost local businesses get). They’re also great employers, on average hiring Canadian crew members, 10 actors, and up to 300 extras culled from the local population.