Mariah Carey + Vegas = Cincinnati?
If I wrote this as a TV or movie script, people would say it’s totally unrealistic and unfathomable, that it just couldn’t happen.
But it did.
This is how Mariah Carey ended up making “A Christmas Melody” in Cincinnati in October -- in warp-speed time, just three months! -- so it can premiere 8 p.m. Saturday on the Hallmark Channel.
The first meeting with Carey was in July; the final scene was shot in October. Compare that to Golden Globe nominee “Carol,” which filmed here for two months after six months planning, scouting and pre-production.
Here’s the truly insane truth:
TV producer Brad Krevoy’s first conversation with Carey was a chance meeting in her Caesars Palace dressing room in July, after he watched her Vegas show with his teen-age daughter.
Here’s what Krevoy told me in October at Kilgour Elementary School during a break in filming “A Christmas Melody,” in which Carey appears and makes her directorial debut:
“My daughter went to school with the daughter of Mariah’s manager. And I got invited to go see Mariah perform in Las Vegas by my daughter. At the end of the show, they said: ‘Do you want to go back stage?’ And my daughter said, ‘Lets do that! Lets do that!’ It was 12:45 a.m., and I’m usually long in bed by that time, but I said ‘OK, OK.’
“So we meet Mariah, and the first thing she says is: ‘I hear you make movies for Hallmark. I’d like to direct one!’ I was like stunned! I looked her in the eye. I wanted to make sure what I heard was accurate. And I looked at her and said, ‘You know what? You look like a great director to me! Let’s do it.’ And that was it.
“I got out my phone, and sent an email to my buddy who runs the Hallmark Channel,” said Krevoy, CEO of the Motion Picture Corporation of America and Brad Krevoy Television.
“I said, ‘Bill, Mariah Carey wants to do a Christmas movie for this Christmas, so we’d better get cracking. Call me in the morning.’
“He called me the next day and said, ‘What are you talking about?!?!’ And I said, ‘Well, Mariah Carey wants to direct and co-star in a Hallmark movie this Christmas. So let’s get a move on it!’ ”
Krevoy told me later: “Based on Mariah having acted in several movies and many music videos, and how smart she is, I knew she could be a great director. I’ve worked with many first-time directors, including the Farrelly Brothers (‘Dumb and Dumber’), Courteney Cox, Kevin Spacey and others.”
Sometime in August, they settled on a story. The Grammy-winner would play a PTA diva and rival of a single mother returning home with her daughter. The little girl would sing Carey’s “Oh Santa” in the grade-school Christmas pageant.
Needing a place to film, Krevoy remembered his good experience shooting Nicollette Sheridan’s “A Christmas Spirit” in Lebanon two years ago on a quick turn-around. So in August his companies again called the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky Film Commission. The commission helped find locations in Wyoming, Hyde Park and Kilgour Elementary School in Mount Lookout.
But Krevoy had to sell Cincinnati to fellow executive producer Jonathan Axelrod, who shoots all of his productions in Canada.
“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t want to come here. And Brad talked me into it,” Axelrod told me. “Most television movies today are shot in Vancouver and Toronto. Until Brad, I had never shot here before. I had never shot a TV movie in recent years outside of Canada.”
In early September, Carey came here for a meeting with local casting director D. Lynn Meyers from Ensemble Theater and local choreographer/teacher Lea Lachey.
“I met her for the first time in a production meeting here… in September,” Lachey said on WVXU-FM’s Cincinnati Edition” Tuesday. “They were casting two weeks before they started shooting, and had three weeks to shoot. It moved very quickly because of the timeline to get it on the air by Christmas.”
Lachey was given multiple jobs – providing 20 child actors for the school pageant scene; choreographing the school pageant with her husband Drew; and playing the school secretary.
Filming started Oct. 6 in Hyde Park with stars Lacey Chabert as the single mom, child Broadway star FinaStrazza as her daughter and Brennan Elliott as the school music teacher.
Lachey says Carey was very flexible and collaborative on the set: "She was fun to work with. She kind of works on the fly. If she sees something, and it’s not right, she’ll speak up. She was very vocal with me, asking: ‘Lea, does this look right? Is it believable?’ I liked that.”
The film wrapped Oct. 22 – two months before the TV premiere, three months after that dressing room meeting in Vegas.
As they filmed the school pageant finale at Kilgour School on Sunday Oct. 18, Krevoy marveled at how fast “A Christmas Melody” was composed:
“It was 90 days ago was when we first heard of this idea, and now we’re almost finished with production,” he said.
“It was a circumstance, as so often in making movies, that you connect the dots and boom! That’s one reason why I like this medium (TV) so much. If you have a good idea, you can move fast -- if you have the support of the network like we did.”