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Troy stars in two Hallmark Channel Christmas movies

The illuminated sign for DeFazio's in Troy, NY
Lucas Willard
The DeFazio's Italian import shop was used as a filming location for the Hallmark Channel's "A Holiday Spectacular"

Two Christmas movies airing on the Hallmark Channel this month have something in common – the City of Troy, New York.

The Hallmark Channel’s new holiday movie “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”is based on a mock trail staged in 2013 and 2014.

In 1823, the Troy Sentinel first printed the now classic poem of the same name, though it was first published anonymously and its authorship has remained in dispute.

Fourteen years after its debut, bible scholar Clement Clarke Moore was credited with authorship and officially claimed the poem as his own in 1844. Decades later, the family of New York farmer Henry Livingston, Jr., who died just five years after “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” first appeared in print, said it was Livingston who actually penned the poem.

The mock trial that the new film is based on, called "The Trial Before Christmas," was written by Troy authors Duncan Crary and Jack Casey. It was first staged in Troy’s historic downtown courthouse in 2013, with a retrial in 2014.

Crary says while there are some differences between the movie – filmed in Canada — and original mock trial, both stories put Troy in the spotlight.

“They actually do it in a theatre in the movie, not in a courthouse like we did, but a theatre set up like a courtroom. But it has the ‘Trial Before Christmas’ on the marquee, it’s all set in Troy, New York, they talk about Troy, New York, and they even have the Victorian Stroll happening outside during the movie,” said Crary.

Casey, who has long been an admirer of the original source material, said the project has been very precious to him.

“You know, I remember reading it to my kids and watching their eyes get big – you know, they put the cookies and milk out for Santa – and it just, we’re paying it forward, really. We’re reinforcing the whole myth and we’re trying to give a new vehicle to get that message to a wider audience – the public, the United States, and even international,” said Casey.

Last month, the Hallmark Channel began airing another Christmas movie that features the Collar City.

“A Holiday Spectacular,”which follows the story of an aspiring Radio City Rockette, is set in 1950’s New York City but was filmed in Troy.

Featured in the production is Fourth Street favorite DeFazio’s pizzeria and Italian import shop.

Owner Rocco DeFazio, whose parents began operating the store in the 1950s after purchasing it from its original owner, who built it in the 1930s, recalled two women scouting for locations who appeared at the store.

“Scoping it out, taking pictures. Next day, six people came in. Ten, 12 people came in. You know, the head director, because he wanted to see it, said, ‘Can we shoot here?’”

DeFazio gave the OK, of course. With “A Holiday Spectacular” now on the small screen, he says customers have been proud to see their regular pizza shop on TV.

“They love it! They tell people, ‘Oh, that’s where I’ve been going since I was a kid.’ It’s unique, it’s warm, it’s different. Our customers are absolutely tickled pink,” said DeFazio.

The Hallmark Channel’s focus on Troy comes after the filming of the second season of HBO’s “The Gilded Age,” which used the Capital Region’s historic architecture as a stand-in for Victorian-era New York City.

Deputy Mayor Chris Nolin credited New York’s film production tax credit, in part, for bringing new projects to Troy, but also said the city’s residents have been especially welcoming.

“I do think what happens is it is a snowball that goes downhill. As the different entities come in and do filming here and recognize how special Troy is, then they talk to their peers and we get more and more phone calls, and that’s one of the great things to see. And we’ve definitely seen an uptick in the last few years,” said Nolin.

But Crary calls the influx of projects in Troy part of a larger shift in the film industry.

“It’s the return to small American cities. And especially during the pandemic, people left the big city – around here, [what] they call the city is New York City – and a lot of people left the big city to come back to their small towns. People kind of make fun of Hallmark movies because that’s a common structure for their narratives, is a woman leaves the big city, goes back to her small town, and reconnects with some of the values that exist in smaller communities, but that is now happening,” said Crary.

The Hallmark Channel movie "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” premieres Saturday at 8 p.m.. “A Holiday Spectacular” will next air on Christmas Eve.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.