• Thomas Bonifield

Production Catastrophe for "Miracle on Christmas" Averted

One year ago today, the weather in Michigan turned and our inaugural faith-based feature seemed headed for disaster, but God remained in control.

Justin Mane (left) and Brett Varvel shoot a scene during the first half of production of "Miracle on Christmas" in Howell, MI in February, 2020. Image: Horse is Ready Productions.

Thinking back on this episode from production of Miracle on Christmas last winter still makes the pulse race - and fast. As writer, director and financier of the movie, we obviously had a lot riding on it, particularly in light of the fact that it was our first feature.


Long before production began, we had been lifting it up in prayer, and God clearly was blessing our efforts. The crew pulled together by producers Kevan Otto and Danny Roth was top-notch, and we landed an outstanding cast led by Christian actors Erin Bethea (Fireproof), Jason Burkey (I Can Only Imagine), Brett Varvel (Play the Flute) and Micah Lynn Hanson (Like Arrows). The icing on the cake was that we were getting loads of the snow we so desperately hoped for when we selected Mid Michigan as the location for the movie; there's no beating a white Christmas after all.


Through the first half of production in February, things could not have gone better. Cast and crew were clicking on all cylinders and we were on schedule, which was particularly important because budget restrictions simply wouldn't allow for any extra production days beyond the two-weeks allotted. As we reached the midway point, however, disaster struck: temperatures shot up, hitting the 50-degree mark (10-degrees Celsius) on March 2nd.


Micah Lynn Hanson and Erin Bethea during the 2nd half of production with nary a snowflake to be seen. Image: Horse is Ready Productions.

To say that our life flashed before our proverbial eyes over the weekend break would be but a slight exaggeration: that precious snow was disappearing as if in one of those accelerated time-lapse photography clips. And after all the careful preparations, money invested and blood, sweat and tears expended to get the movie to the halfway mark of production only to see it seemingly careening toward the abyss because of something so completely beyond our power to influence was a gut-wrenching experience in complete helplessness.


That may sound like hyperbole, be we cannot overstate the importance of continuity in moviemaking, i.e., snow throughout, especially for Miracle on Christmas, which is a one-script-day picture, meaning all the action takes place on the same day, Christmas in this case. You can't very well have half the movie covered in snow and the rest altogether devoid of it: that would be so jarring as to stretch credulity beyond the bounds of acceptability.


But being devout Believers convinced of the power of prayer, we spent the entire weekend beseeching God to help. And our prayer was a simple one: put the state of Michigan into a deep freeze, one, and bury the place in a blizzard reminiscent of the ice ages, two!


We laugh heartily as we write those words, but it sure wasn't funny at the time, because not only did no new snow materialize, the balmy temperatures finished off what was left of the existing white stuff already on the ground. It was a period of real angst and we even questioned why God would allow something like that happen to us when we were endeavoring to do His bidding by making a faith-based movie.


But our ways are not His ways, as He communicates in those very words in Isaiah 55:8. Though the entire second half of production had virtually no snow, it turns out that nearly all the outdoor scenes we had shot to that point with snow were nighttime shots, and that the exterior shots remaining to be filmed were daytime scenes. And as you will notice in the movie, it works virtually seamlessly with no snow in the day and a transition of snow falling at twilight (three cheers for the magic of post-production) to get us to the night scenes that feature all the snow we shot during the first week of filming.


In many ways, the production process itself reflects the hope-inspiring message of the movie: ours is a loving Heavenly Father and we can trust Him - come what may - because He is faithful in all things. If you haven't seen Miracle on Christmas yet, you can find it at Walmart and Amazon, and this link to the movie's website will take you to the relevant pages to get it. In the meantime, we hope and pray that you find the story of our filmmaking experience an inspiration in your own walk of faith.