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Interviews

Mandy-Spencer Phillips Talks Producing Hallmark Movies, Netflix Trilogies, and More 

Mandy-Spencer Phillips Talks Producing Hallmark Movies, Netflix Trilogies, and More

Last month at the Television Critics Association event, we learned that the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries (soon to be rebranded Hallmark Mystery) franchise, The Cases of Mystery Lane, will return with a second installment later this year called Death Is Listening. The film, starring Aimee Garcia and Paul Campbell, is now in production in Vancouver. I recently caught up with one of its producers, Emmy Award-winning Mandy Spencer-Phillips, whose nearly 40-year career spans TV and film projects as varied as Hallmark Christmas movies, Netflix’s Ivy + Bean trilogy, the OG version of R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, and The Chronicles of Riddick.

Spencer-Phillips grew up on film sets in British Columbia, with her father, another successful producer and production manager, laying the foundation for her to naturally fall into the industry when she was 21. Working her way up from production coordinating to unit managing and producing, Spencer-Phillips has become a trusted resource when projects need a logistical straight shooter. She helps navigate everything from locations to budgets to visual effects, whether shooting in her native Canada or elsewhere in the world. 

The Cases of Mystery Lane

It’s a role Spencer-Phillips seems to have an innate ability for. Understanding the constantly moving variables and labyrinth of ideas involved in filmmaking, she loves the minutiae of the process involved in bringing a script to screen. “I love the little details, the puzzle. I’m given a script, and from that script, I’m telling [the producers] what it’s going to cost, how it’s going to be broken down, and what the best way is to do it,” she explains.

Spencer-Phillips says producing titles can vary from production to production but her job is typically the same, regardless of the formal credit. She normally works with a creative producer, leaving her to the more technical details of the production, although on the new Cases of Mystery Lane: Death Is Listening, she’s wearing both hats. “Once you get everything up and going, then we start shooting, and I make sure that every day goes smoothly, logistically wise. I have my eyes and ears everywhere. It’s part of the job,” she shares.

Since Vancouver is a production hub, crews and locations have historically been easy to come by, although the recent tandem strikes in the US impacted that in a big way. Production is only just now slowly resuming. When everyone’s working, Spencer-Phillips explains that that’s where the creativity comes in. 

The Cases of Mystery Lane

“You can always find a crew and locations. They get a little trickier with more restrictions because it’s busier in town. Or there’s a moratorium on certain areas to shoot in. [You might have] a place that’s perfect for the script, but all of a sudden you can’t shoot there [so you transform] a small car dealership that was in an older building into a police station,” she says. 

This is exactly what she and her production team did on the Cases Of Mystery Lane: Death Is Listening, turning a boutique car dealership into a set that serves as a police station, interrogation room, and even a prison cell, by enhancing the existing structure and building in additional set and construction pieces.

She also works with Tennessee-based producer Phillip Glasser, which served her doubly well on the Hallmark holiday project Christmas at Dollywood a few years ago. “[A decade ago], a producer came into town to do a show called Life on the Line, about electrical line power workers. We hit it off and we’ve done a number of shows together since then,” she points out.

On teaming up with Glasser on Hallmark’s Christmas at Dollywood, Spencer-Phillips says, “Down at Dollywood, they were so amazing, so wonderful. They were just getting themselves decorated for Christmas. Our timing was perfect. We were running around behind them as they decorated certain areas [of the park],” she recalls.

Christmas at Dollywood

“They went and bought all these extra Christmas decorations for us, they were all into it. And having Dolly Parton make a cameo in the movie at her theme park made the experience a real highlight of my career.”

Spencer-Phillips brought her insight and experience to Netflix’s Ivy + Bean. The massive production benefited from her expertise right out of the gate when she tipped the team that their trilogy would have to be block shot (filmed concurrently) to capture a point in time for the young cast, maximize available locations, and avoid a COVID shutdown. 

“We started talking about it in 2020. But then of course with COVID, we waited until 2021 to film it because we had a lot of young kids. We wanted to make sure that they would be safe and all the protocols and everything [were] worked out,” she points out. “Back then, if you had a COVID case, you were shut down. [That’s] a huge expense.”

“When I read all three scripts, originally they wanted to do them each as individual films. And I said, ‘Logistically we can’t do that because we have to go back to the same neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are not going to welcome us by the time we get to the third [production]. And, you’re going to want to build certain sets because you’re not going to be able to be in someone’s house for a month.”

Ivy and Bean

Another challenge in shooting Ivy + Bean was working with children. “You’ve got seven and eight year-olds that have to learn three scripts in one day. We were always trying to balance their hours, fitting in time for them to attend school, and jumping between three completely different storylines. [We were] trying to figure out the scheduling, and working with the assistant directors and the producers to figure out how to prepare the kids in the best way while getting what we needed for production.”

In the end, she says, “Those kids were amazing! I’ve done a lot of kids shows and a lot of Disney movies as well. My brain really loves the logistics of it. [Ivy + Bean] was lovely for me because it was a new challenge.”

Spencer-Phillips is proud that her longevity has helped her identify things less-experienced producers might miss, and that she can offer guidance based on insights they don’t yet have. “Nowadays, people are moving up so quickly. With my years of experience, I can pinpoint where I foresee a problem before it even happens,” she explains.

“I bring a lot of expertise to the table. From simply reading a script, I can give producers an honest opinion on their project and underscore small things that should be considered. I can make decisions a lot quicker, whereas someone newer to production wouldn’t necessarily know what to do if something [unexpected] happened.”

Beyond the practical aspects, Spencer-Phillips is also an emotional support outlet to help calm nerves in a sometimes stressful environment. “I always try to bring some levity and laughter to the sets, and keep reminding everyone that as much as this is a business, which is really important, we are only making two hours of popcorn,” she shares. “So you have to put it all into perspective.”

Ivy and Bean

From the sound of things, she and her crew are having a lot of fun making The Cases Of Mystery Lane: Death Is Listening for Hallmark’s newly rebranded channel, Hallmark Mystery. Having worked on multiple projects for the network over many years, she offered her thoughts on why she thinks Hallmark movies are so popular, saying “I think they are always consistent in their product. Hallmark movies are enjoyable and a nice escape from the world.”

As a final thought before heading back to the set, Spencer-Phillips told us what she thinks audiences will love about this newest mystery, “I think they will enjoy the chemistry between the two leads. It is infectious! There are lots of twists and turns throughout the movie that I know everyone will love.”

The Ivy + Bean trilogy is now on Netflix. The Cases of Mystery Lane: Death Is Listening will premiere later this year on the rebranded Hallmark Mystery. The first The Cases of Mystery Lane is in regular rotation on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, including an airing on March 13th at 7 pm/6c , and you can stream it anytime on Hallmark Movies Now.

Photos courtesy of Mandy Spencer-Phillips, Phillip Faraone/Getty Images, Curtis Hilbun, and Allister Foster for Hallmark Media, and Bettina Strauss for Netflix.

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