Placencia’s Hallmark: The Ideal Tropical Set
I’m an unabashed Hallmark girl and my corny-loving cronies will know exactly what that means. It denotes donning a blanket, curling up on the couch with a pizza or a tub of ice cream for one, and watching a love story you’ve seen a thousand times before. The sense of security that comes from the familiar, formulaic plot is like taking a recess from reality. A recess you know will end with a happily-ever-after. So, imagine my excitement when I found out Hallmark was making a movie in Placencia! Premiering June 11th at 7 PM Central on the Hallmark channel, Caribbean Summer is the story of a career woman headed for burnout who is forced by her boss to take a vacation. Of course, due to a series of serendipitous events, she ends up in a combative-soon-to-turn-love encounter with the leading man, who in this case happened to be Ser’Darius Blain Ford from Jumanji 2, Welcome to the Jungle. And no, I didn’t get a private advanced screening; I just know that’s what will happen because that’s how Hallmark movies work. While filmed in Belize mostly on the Placencia Peninsula, the movie takes place on a fictional Caribbean Island that is home to a small community where the locals all know each other… just like here. Producers working with Hallmark and The Cartel Production Company, headquartered in Canada, chose to film on the peninsula because of the nearby cayes, the variety of easy to film locations with all the classic Caribbean props easily at hand. Golf carts and cocktails? You’ve come to the right place! The local village connections built momentum quickly starting with John ‘Skip’ Weaver who scouted all the locations for the film. The former union propmaster, has worked in the art department on such films as “The Sweetest Thing” and “Next Friday.” and who is closely connected to the Belize City-based production company, Fer de Lance Productions. He recommended local photographer Sarah Aly as Art Coordinator, a position basically encompasses selecting and arranging how everything will look on set, from the art on the walls to the flowers in the bike basket. Sarah then asked local entrepreneur, Jolie Pollard, if she would hire background actors as the Casting Coordinator. Having worked for the local tourism association as the local newspaper editor and reporter, and festival organizer for some years, Jolie just kind of knows everyone. “I liked how locals were represented in the script,” says Pollard. “They were portrayed as sophisticated, educated people, so I was excited and confident to cast people from our community knowing they wouldn’t be perpetuating any harmful stereotypes.” Pollard, who is also the founder of seaweed hair care line, IKOOMA, says that background actors bring the story to life, so even if they appear as the blurry people moving behind the main characters, they serve an important role to bring a sense of reality to the scenes.;.. She successfully cast over 115 people of all ages over the course of the three-week shoot. Because it was a Hallmark movie as opposed to a small Indie film, the pay for being an extra was $100 USD per day, which any Placencian will tell you is a very respectable wage and local production professionals will tell you is a generous deal for background actors. Pollard explained that timelines are king when shooting a movie, that everything has to be in its place and ready to go as per schedule It can mean an exhausting day as an extra because you have to be on set all day with a lot of downtime waiting for when you’ll be needed. Well, word on the street is that producers and crew members of Caribbean Summer were blown away by the friendly, positive, patient nature of our Placencia extras. It’s true that Caribbeans aren’t known for being on time, but what Belizeans may lack in punctuality, they can certainly make up for with their experience in waiting. When you see the film (you’ll enjoy it more under a blanket with ice cream, trust me), expect to recognize a few faces and places from around the village. Popular Belizean Tik Tok star Wani Arzu and a relative of Seine Bight was cast as “Eddy” in a celebratory scene at the Placencia Hotel. Herman Pollard, owner of the Burger Joint and local football coach, was cast as the chef in a romantic beach dinner scene at Rendezvous Caye, while Kennesha Burgess played the role of server. Linsdale ‘Max’ Avilez from Seine Bight,a line cook from Rick’s café and Naomi McLoughlin, Crystal Faux and Dylan Bernard of Placencia Village were hailed as naturals with great on set energy and on point pantomiming skills. The owner of Amik Kil Ha, Jim Humphrey, actually extended his time in order to make the third day of filming for his role as ‘cameraman’ to the leading lady and New York reporter. Craig Richardson and Karl Lange were both cast as investors important to the plot line while Taccara Bierley and Kenroy Westby shined for the camera at the yacht party and little Darius Muschamp won over the film crew with his curls at the birthday party scene. Belizeans also made the cast through recruitment efforts in Belize City. Those actors include the young K’shawn Parks, Placencia cousin Ron Sierra who directed parts of his film, “My Father Belize” (2019) on the Placencia Peninsula, and live theatre favourites Sandra McKay and Cliff Garbutt. In addition to Aly and Pollard the production crew also saw Karem Lampson of Maya Beach and Monique Vernon of Placencia Village working as busy body production assistants. Other local industry professionals such as Nick Perry. Jeremy Christoph and Skillz Fairweather who frequent the Peninsula were on set every day. Smoqiz Restaurant of Placencia Village catered for the big production for the entire three weeks. b Naia Resort and Spa, Cozy Corner, Detach, businesses along the Tipsy Strip, The Lucky Duck and the Placencia Hotel all snatch a little screen time as well. For so many on the Peninsula, it was exciting to have the opportunity to work with accomplished professionals in the film business and to be a part of something that would be seen in other parts of the world. “Brent Geisler, the Assistant Director was one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever seen. He demanded that we all level up!” Pollard said. “We were all inspired.” Pollard said that it became apparent to her how important art, especially performance art, is for a small community. “Creativity is an outlet that creates vital human connection and makes people happy,” she said. “There is something very magical about movie making and everyone working together towards the same end result.” She hopes the message gets out that the Placencia Peninsula is a great destination for movie projects that need a tropical setting. And who knows, maybe like Jumanji, Caribbean Summer will have a sequel or we just might become a Hallmark summer movies location favorite.