Hallmark has made a name for itself with feel-good, tear-jerking films over the years both on its cable networks and when it has a bigger budget with bigger stars, CBS.
Atlanta is home to the latest Hallmark Hall of Fame drama “The Lost Valentine,” starring Jennifer Love Hewitt and legend Betty White. It airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS.
Shot over 25 days last fall around metro Atlanta, the film features Hewitt as a TV newsmagazine host who is assigned a story about Caroline, played by Betty White. Caroline visits a train station every Valentine’s Day because it was the place where she last saw her husband during World War II six decades earlier. He was declared missing in the Phillippines.
Hewitt’s character, though dating someone else, falls for Caroline’s grandson, played by Sean Faris. She also helps Betty White’s character learn more about what happened to her husband. (This is White, known for her comedy, at her most earnest.)
“I’m a hopeless romantic at heart,” Hewitt said on set last fall. “I really loved that part of it. I liked the journey my character takes.”
White was reluctant to shoot out of town. But “I read the script,” she said, “and I was hooked.”
The movie is not set in a specific city or town. It’s not even clear if this was set in the North or the South. So Atlanta is not identified but camouflaged.
The coolest transformation is how they used the Atlanta Gold Dome interior. They turned it into Union Station, a convincingly quaint waiting area where Caroline’s younger self bids farewell to her husband. And later, it’s where she comes as Betty White to mourn her husband’s absence.
Governor Sonny Purdue stopped by to say hi during the shoot, said Mark Cottrell, the locations manager. “All the crew members thanked him for the tax break,” which enabled Hallmark to shoot in Atlanta and provide them jobs here.
The film also turned a portion of the Chattahoochee River Park by Whitewater Creek into a burned-out Filipino village where Caroline’s husband plays a World War II prisoner. It looks suitably convincing for what they needed to do.
Producers spent nine days at a pretty home in Druid Hills, used as Caroline’s abode. Each afternoon, Cottrell said, neighbors would bring by their dogs and stand across the street. White, a big animal lover, would take a break from the shoot every day and cross the street to pet the dogs and take pictures. “She was terrific,” he said. “Very graciouis.”
They had to change the house three times: when it was a wreck right after the couple purchased the home in the early 1940s, after they fixed it up and present day. “We took all the shrubbery away,” he said. “We then re-sodded the whole yard, front and back, re-shrubbed and replanted. The owners were a little concerned at first but I think they took it well. When all was said and done, the house was gorgeously repainted. Hallmark took care of the location.”
The other local scene set during World War II is off Auburn Ave. area near Martin Luther King Jr.’s home because the homes still look as they did in the 1940s. I actually saw part of that shoot as I drove by one day on my way to work.
One brief but touching scene, where the young Caroline bids her husband farewell forever at the exterior of the train station, was actually shot in Chattanooga.
“The Lost Valentine,” 8 p.m. CBS, Sunday January 30
By Rodney Ho, email@example.com, AJCRadioTV blog