“I just want to drink hot chocolate and watch Hallmark movies.” It’s a holiday catch-phrase printed on everything from shirts and socks to mugs and blankets. But, behind the scenes of the movies—which have grown to have a huge fan base—is hard work that extends well beyond the holiday season.
Auburn alumnus Jimmy Holcomb is part of a large team of people who bring the holiday magic to life through movies that capture the spirit and love of the season.
“It is extraordinary just how much the 110-year-old Hallmark brand means to people,” said Holcomb, who is the vice president of physical production at Crown Media, which is part of the Hallmark brand.
For a certain group of people—the small Alabama community of Beauregard—the Hallmark brand is extra-special. This month, the channel aired a special, “Project Christmas Joy,” on Beauregard, which highlighted the community’s efforts to rebuild after a devastating March 3 tornado left 23 people dead and countless homes destroyed. The Fuller Center for Housing’s 2019 Miller Fuller Legacy Build worked to build 11 homes in Beauregard after the tornado, and their efforts are the focus of the television special. Altogether, 18 homes were built in Lee County—three of which were paid for by the Hallmark Channel.
“Coming back to Auburn for our program ‘Project Christmas Joy’ was a special moment in my career,” Holcomb said. “It is an emotional project on many levels—the truly inspirational stories of the Beauregard community coming together when faced with such a tragic event will touch me forever.”
Personally, he said, it was great to come back to the Auburn area again.
“My connections with the university helped our company navigate and find the right people to start the process for this project,” he said.
Those connections to Auburn began in the ’80s when Holcomb was a high school student in Tennessee.
“I searched a few colleges around the Southeast, but when I visited Auburn, I loved the environment,” he said. “I remember watching on TV the Auburn-Florida Halloween game in 1987, and when they showed the student section having a raucous time, I knew that is where I wanted to go.”
Thus began his affection for Auburn—the place that would send him on his path to the entertainment industry.
“Tim White, who was a professor in the Radio, Television and Film Program, was probably the most influential professor who influenced my decision to pursue the entertainment industry,” Holcomb said. “George Plasketes also was an inspiration and generally a fun professor to learn from. For me, a mentor has the ability to make the curriculum enjoyable for the student and the professor. Both Tim White and George Plasketes created a wonderful classroom environment.”
After graduation, Holcomb found himself back home in Tennessee—but not for long. He moved to Nashville and worked on music videos and movies that came through the Music City, but he quickly realized that key positions in the entertainment industry were in Los Angeles.
In 1995, he made the move to California. He started as a production assistant and worked his way through the ranks as production manager, line producer and producer.
“In the mid-2000s, I was the chief operating office for the Documentary Channel, which launched on DirecTV and Dish and grew to 30 million subscribers,” he said. Primarily, he has worked as an independent producer until he began his career with Crown Media and the Hallmark Channel in January 2018.
His current role has him overseeing the production of movies, series and specials. That includes more than 100 movies of the week and four series: “When Calls the Heart,” “Chesapeake Shores,” “The Good Witch,” and “When Hope Calls.”
“As head of physical production, I oversee the budgets, logistics, locations and service producers,” he said. “In a sense, I would say that I make sure all the trains leave and arrive at the station on time, as well as keeping them on budget.”
For Holcomb, one part of the job is bringing Christmas to towns across the United States and Canada.
“We love filming our projects throughout the year. One of our partners is the Elvis Estate, and believe it or not, we shot our ‘Christmas at Graceland’ movie in July,” he said. “We created a winter wonderland in Memphis in peak summer! We love decorating small and large towns for Christmas.”
The love seems to be reciprocated. Holcomb said sometimes consumers and fans reach out to see if they can decorate their towns like a Hallmark movie.
“In David City, Nebraska, Hallmark Channel brought Christmas early to the residents there who had been struggling through some economic hardships,” he said. “We found the same emotional connection to people in Beauregard, Alabama. The reflection of love and joy that we received back cemented in my mind just how much the brand means and where our success on television and other platforms comes from.”