A giant Christmas tree stood on the premises, wreaths adorned the facilities and large boxes were wrapped and tied with ribbons to look like gifts.
The elaborate decorations all seemed appropriate for Christmas time at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, except for the fact that it was June.
The holiday scene wasn’t the result of a colossal calendar mix-up. Rather, it was evidence of filming activity at the Santa Monica church, which was used this summer as a set location for a Christmas-themed movie called “How Sarah Got Her Wings.”
Dozens of actors, designers, production assistants and other crew members convened at the Ocean Park Boulevard church for three days and nights of shooting for the film, the debut broadcast of which is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 6, on ION Television.
“We’re excited,” said Reverend Eric C. Shafer, the church’s senior pastor. “I’m sure it’ll be something we like. … To have the church used for a positive experience about Christmas, why wouldn’t we be happy about that?”
At least some of the credit for the selection of Mt. Olive as a shooting location for the movie goes to Shafer, who arrived at the local church in 2014 after leaving his job in New York City as a senior vice president at multi-faith nonprofit media company Odyssey Networks.
One of the few people Shafer knew in Southern California when he moved was his college roommate, Ric Enge, whose son Scott works in the film industry as a production designer.
“He was involved in this Christmas TV movie, and he knew I was here, so he called up,” Shafer said. “It’s a small world.”
Shafer acknowledged that churches in the Los Angeles area, because of their proximity to Hollywood studios and entertainment industry professionals, are often used as filming locations.
But he said the recent shoot was a significant coup for Mt. Olive, which to his knowledge had never been chosen for movie work before. The church, located near the corner of Ocean Park Boulevard and 14th Street, has about 200 members.
The church was founded by A.O. Aasen in 1942 and started in a rented space on 16th Street but moved to its current location in the early 1960s. Its preschool opened in 1973.
Filming took place at Mt. Olive’s sanctuary, narthex and kitchen, as well as outside in the parking lot, at a nearby bus stop and on Ocean Park Boulevard, Shafer said. The parish hall was transformed into a utility space for clothing and food.
“There were a lot of scenes filmed in the church itself,” he said. “We’re not just a backdrop.”
The movie crew worked closely with facilities manager Max Diamond and parish administrator Susan Skinner, who previously worked as a video producer and coordinator in the film industry.
Edmund Entin and Gary Entin are directing “Wings,” the title of which is possibly an allusion to the ending of holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when Zuzu Bailey tells her father, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” The film was written by Damon Hill.
The movie’s cast features Kathleen Rose Perkins, who had a role in the David Fincher-directed hit thriller “Gone Girl” with Ben Affleck, as well as Derek Theler (ABC Family’s “Baby Daddy”) and Lindsey Gort (The CW’s “The Carrie Diaries”). The acting cohort also includes Melanie Liburd, who was recently cast for a supporting role in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Mt. Olive received financial compensation as part of the arrangement, the details of which were not disclosed. The church plans to organize a viewing party, Shafer said.
“It’s a win-win for us,” he said. “It was very sweet. It’s good for the congregation, it’s good for the community and it’s good for Santa Monica.”