Many people have broken the traditional rule of waiting until after Thanksgiving to start decorating for Christmas this year because, well … 2020. If you are one of those people (or one of the people who thinks the clock strikes Christmas at 0000 the night of Halloween), then you will be excited to know that your favorite Christmas movie channel, Hallmark, has a movie just for military families this year.
“USS Christmas” is a Hallmark holiday movie that tells the story of a Norfolk, Virginia news reporter named Maddie who goes on a Tiger Cruise during the holiday season. It’s there that she comes across a mystery in the ship’s archive room. And, of course, meets a handsome sailor along the way.
But if you are stationed near Camp Lejeune, you might see a few familiar faces in the movie from around your installation.
Navy Lt. j.g. Michelle Brown and Navy HC 3 Natalyn Thompson, both of whom work at the Navy Medical Clinic Camp Lejeune (NMCCL), were extras in the film. All military service members who played parts as extras in the movie were paid and participated on their own time. Both Brown and Thompson thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“Being on set was wonderful,” Brown stated in an email. “The sailors who came to participate were from all over North Carolina and included retired members, active duty members and reserve members, so it was a mix of people who I would not have been able to meet otherwise.”
According to Brown, all of the service members who appeared in the film played sailors attending the Christmas Ball. “Overall, there were four days of filming, so some of the sailors who worked for all four days played other small roles here and there,” she said.
As many military families know from watching movies that depict military service members, sometimes the entertainment industry doesn’t get things in military life quite right. But both Brown and Thompson praised the crew of “USS Christmas” for getting all things military correct within the movie.
“Prior to filming and on-going on set, the production crew had staff that were prior military that checked our uniforms and knew the standards for our uniforms,” Thompson said.
In particular, Brown was pleased with the attention to detail of the film’s military consultant, a local retired Navy petty officer 1st class. ” He inspected uniforms before we went on set and helped the cast members wear their uniforms correctly,” Brown added.
“We all had a great laugh when one of the crew members had said, ‘Grab your hats!’ and many people responded, ‘You mean our covers?’ Small things like that involving our traditional term for ‘hats’ made us laugh but for the most part they did a great job!” Thompson said.
Brown enjoyed meeting retired service members from across the country. “My favorite experience was meeting Navy sailors who I would not have had a chance to meet otherwise; hearing their ‘sea stories,’ and learning about their careers was a blast,” she said.
Thompson was blown away with how much production and planning goes into filming just one scene. “Every single person had a specific role in making this all come together perfectly. All the staff and the main actors were so nice and it was such a great experience being a part of it,” she said.
“USS Christmas” was filmed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Brown and Thompson praised the wide variety of health and safety precautions used on set, including mandatory mask wearing for the entirety of time on the set, except when the cameras were actually rolling.
“As someone who works in the medical field, I was thoroughly impressed with how they managed filming during this time,” Thompson said.
“We had to get a COVID test at Wilmington Health prior to reporting on set. Each day when we reported to set, our temperatures were screened … Props that touched our faces or hands (e.g. wine glasses or server’s trays) were swapped out between takes to be sanitized. The crew members wore face shields 100% of the time, and the cast members had the same rules as we had: masks at all times except for cameras rolling,” Brown explained.
Both Brown and Thompson think anyone affiliated with the Navy or other military branches will enjoy knowing that those attending the Navy Ball in “USS Christmas” are actual service members.
“Anyone with Navy pride will love to see sailors with all different rates/backgrounds represented, especially because they are ‘real’ sailors, not just actors,” Brown said.
“It’s not common to watch a movie and know that there are active duty members apart of a few scenes so it will be more meaningful that the ‘USS Christmas’ production crew actually wanted to include real sailors to play a part in this movie,” she said.
Overall, the entire experience was one to remember, and one that both Brown and Thompson will remember for a long time.
“I am a huge fan of Hallmark Christmas movies; some of my favorite holiday traditions are spending time baking cookies while watching these movies with family, so it is exciting to think that I could see myself in one,” Brown said.
“[Movie production] truly is a work of art and I’m thankful for the incredible opportunity that the USS Christmas crew gave to us Navy sailors to participate in the Navy Ball scene,” Thompson said.