“Livingston County, it was a beautiful backdrop,” filmmaker Thomas Bonifield said.
Bonifield wrote and directed a Christmas movie released Tuesday that was filmed in the Brighton area earlier this year.
The film, “Miracle on Christmas,” follows protagonist Mary Boyce, played by faith-based film actress Erin Bethea, and her family on Christmas Day, as she navigates personal trials and grief over the death of her father and has her faith in God tested.
A mysterious stranger comes into the family’s life to help her find her way.
The film is available for purchase on DVD or you can rent or buy a digital version on streaming platform Amazon Prime Video.
“The protagonist is wavering in her faith because of a crisis in her family, dealing with medical issues,” Bonifield said.
Bonifield, 53, worked in journalism for about 20 years. He is the founding editor of Christian Film Blog, a website covering Christian film news. He was previously CEO of Ihlas News Agency in Istanbul and worked for NBC as a bureau chief in Moscow and deputy foreign news editor.
He said while he has written eight screenplays, “Miracle on Christmas” is his first to be made into a movie.
Bonifield said he is a faithful Christian who attends a non-denominational church in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. He said he wanted to make a faith-based movie that would inspire viewers.
“I had two main goals. I wanted to tell a faith-based Christmas story, but I also wanted it to be something accessible to a general audience,” he said.
He said he threw in a bit of humor, but the film also tackles serious themes, like “love and fidelity, marriage, and support of family through thick and thin.”
On location in Livingston County
The entire film was shot in Livingston County.
“Most of it was at a house in a neighborhood in the Crooked Lakes,” just northwest of Brighton in Genoa Township, Bonifield said.
He shot three scenes at the Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brighton Township.
He said one of the scenes is a church scene on Christmas day that features at least 150 extras from the county and other Michigan communities.
Bonifield’s film crew also made the church’s office look like a doctor’s office for another scene.
The film also features a scene of a pick-up football game. It was shot on the church’s soccer field.
“I was stunned at the level of talent in your state when it comes to movie making, virtually all the crew Michigan and half the cast are local to Michigan,” Bonifield said.
Gabrielle Ahlborn traveled about an hour from Lake Orion with her best friend, Jack Mantint, 17, to participate in the shoot as an extra in the Christmas Day church scene.
“Mostly they had us sit in pews and sing along to some Christmas songs, and then get up and leave at the end of it,” she told Livingston Daily in March.
Producer Danny Roth lives in Howell. Bonifield said he decided to shoot the film in Livingston County because he knew Roth was finishing up a Christmas movie filmed in Brighton and Whitmore Lake.
He also said he wanted to shoot in a place that had real snow.
Roth produced a Lifetime channel TV Christmas movie starring singer and actress Ashanti, “A Christmas Winter Song.” That movie premiered on the Lifetime channel in December following an advanced screening at the Brighton Center for the Performing Arts on the Brighton High School campus.
Another producer, Kevan Otto, has directed and produced multiple Christian movies, according to his IMDb page.
Snow, no snow
Bonifield said Michigan’s unpredictable weather posed challenges.
“It’s funny in retrospect. We wanted to go there because we wanted real snow, not fake snow. …When we got there it was blanketed in snow. It was perfect. But one weekend, it was 55 degrees and all the snow virtually disappeared,” he said.
He said he prayed to God to send a blizzard, but it didn’t happen.
He said he used some movie magic to make it work.
“It turned out all the stuff we shot outside was the first week, when there was snow, and it was at night. Then there was none in the day. But everyone knows in Michigan it can all blow in at night and melt the next day,” he said.
He said Michigan in winter reminded him of Russia as people were bundled up. He said he lived in Russia for about 10 years.
He said filming at the Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church was a blessing.
“What lovely people. I can’t say enough good things about them. They gave us the run of the place. … and the sanctuary has a beautiful stained glass window,” he said.
Screening planned at the church
Two screenings of the film are set for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at the church at 9455 Hilton Road in Brighton Township. The screenings are free, but you must sign up for tickets on the church’s website at cornerstoneforlife.com/miracle-on-christmas/
Childcare is available at the church for the 3 p.m. screening.
The church is also hosting a live nativity outside from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., which is free and open to anyone who wants to see it, whether they attend the screenings or not.
Contact Livingston Daily reporter Jennifer Timar at 517-548-7148 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @jennifer_timar.