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Fall Hallmark movie wraps up filming on Connecticut horse farm

Hartford Courant
Hartford Courant
 2021-07-26

The Hallmark Channel knows where to find romance — in Connecticut, where it has just shot scenes for yet another of its beloved TV movies.

Surprisingly, this one is not that Hallmark staple, a Christmas movie. It’s set in the fall. Andrew Gernhard of Synthetic Cinema International, the production company based in Rocky Hill that worked on the film, says that instead of fake snow, leaves will be digitally recolored to make the farm look like September rather than July.

The plot involves a horse farm, and was filmed at Meadowbrook Farm in Marlborough. Renee Dupuis, who owns Meadowbrook with her husband Ed Bennett III, thinks that around 75% of the movie was shot at the farm.

The working title of the film is “Love at the Steeplechase,” but it may be changed, Gernhard says. It is directed by Clare Niederpruem, the actor/director who directed and co-wrote the modern movie retelling of “Little Women” in 2018.

“Love at the Steeplechase,” or whatever it may be called, is scheduled to premiere Sept. 25, just two months from the time when its Connecticut scenes were filmed. “Sometimes it can be two years before a project comes to life, and sometimes it can be two weeks,” Gernhard says.

The film stars Nikki Deloach, a Hallmark stalwart whose other films for the channel include “Christmas Land,” “A Dream of Christmas,” “Reunited at Christmas,” “Cranberry Christmas,” “Two Turtle Doves,” “Love to the Rescue,” “Love Takes Flight,” “Sweet Autumn,” “The Perfect Catch” and “Truly, Madly, Sweetly.”

The male lead is Scott Porter, whose resume includes the underrated teen film “Bandslam,” voice work for numerous Marvel Comics animated series, private investigator Blake Calamar for 14 episodes of “The Good Wife” and is perhaps best known as Jason Street on “Friday Night Lights.”

Also in “Love at the Steeplechase,” playing the parents of Deloach’s character: Corbin Bernsen (of “L.A. Law” and “Major League” fame) and another “Friday Night Lights” alum, Janine Turner (who’s also known for “Northern Exposure” and the movie “Cliffhanger”).

“They couldn’t have been more lovely people,” Dupuis says of her encounters with the actors.

She and her husband also enjoyed hearing the stories from the film’s stunt coordinator, Artie Malesci, whose credits range from “2 Fast 2 Furious” to “Reno 911!”

“We looked at five horse farms before we found Meadow Brook,” Gernhard says.

“We got a call in late May from Andrew,” says Dupuis. “They needed a horse farm. They made an appointment, came out to see the farm and said ‘Thanks for your time, we’ll be in touch.’”

She was unprepared for how quickly things would happen once their farm was selected. “It’s all done in a super, super condensed timeline, we’ve learned,” Dupuis says. “We’d never done this before.

Dupuis says hosting a movie crew was was an exciting, very positive process, but that they had to keep the farm running during the shoot. “We were very very clear with them, “‘We have an active business here,’ we told them. Horses require care every day.”

Why does Dupuis think her farm was chosen? “I don’t want this to sound like boasting, but we do have a really beautiful farm. My husband works really hard to keep it looking beautiful. It’s just very picturesque.” She also came to understand that “Hallmark in particular is very specific about what kind of locations they want in their movies. They need to be neat and tidy and beautiful.”

There was one other consideration. “There are a lot of horse farms in Connecticut with a country flair. They didn’t want a rustic setting for this film.

“There’s some measure of satisfaction for me in how they found us. They wanted a dressage farm, so Andrew apparently Googled ‘dressage farm connecticut.’ One of my side hustles is that I do websites, and I did our own website, and that is how he found us.”

Changes were made in the movie shortly before and even during filming. “When we were originally approached,” Dubuis says, “it was a dressage movie, which is what we focus on. Then it changed to stadium jumping.”

Horses stabled at Meadow Brook are not the ones who perform in the film. Special stunt horses were brought in.

Weather conditions also occasioned small rewrites.

One happy outcome of the shoot was that the filmmakers really like the sign outside the farm, which incorporates the image of a large tree on the property. “So they ended up asking our permission to use the name Meadow Brook Farm in the film.”

In the film, Meadow Brook Farm is a farm that Deloach’s character grew up on and comes back to after a long time spent away from it.

Connecticut has been a popular location for movies throughout the history of cinema, particularly for romances.

Other Hallmark movies recently filmed in Connecticut include “Sand Dollar Cove” (which filmed in Noank and Stonington) and “Rediscovering Christmas” (which filmed in Hartford and Stonington).

Gernhard says his Synthetic Cinema International company has had eight films in production this year, not including five others for which they are doing post-production.

“Star talent loves Connecticut,” Gernhard says.

Depuis and the rest of the Meadow Brook staff were sworn to secrecy for the two weeks that the crew was at the farm. “We would read posts on Facebook saying where stars had been seen, and they were completely wrong, but we couldn’t say anything.”

Christopher Arnott can be reached at carnott@courant.com .

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