MHU Students Cast as Extras in Hallmark Movie at Biltmore

Several Mars Hill University theatre students and a professor had the opportunity to work in the production of a TV movie being filmed on Asheville’s Biltmore Estate and the surrounding area. Sue Fair, chair of MHU’s theatre arts department, was contracted to work on the Hallmark Channel’s “A Biltmore Christmas” production. She says she’s always on the lookout for opportunities to get students involved in professional work being produced in the area. She was able to get six current students and one alumna hired as background artists. They are:

  • Jared Benain, a junior theatre arts major from Marietta, Georgia
  • Angie Borbon, a 2021 theatre arts graduate
  • Jamie Garcia-Lopez, a junior English major and musical theatre minor from Graham, North Carolina
  • Fernanda Guerrero-Resendez, a first-year musical theatre major from Asheboro, North Carolina
  • Hosanna Guess, a junior zoology major from Irmo, South Carolina
  • Righteous Luster, a senior theatre arts major from Greenville, South Carolina
  • Sarah Wheeler, a junior musical theatre major from Oxford, North Carolina

There are two types of background artists in film production. One type includes people who design backgrounds using traditional or digital art. The Mars Hill students’ roles were the other type: performers in non-speaking roles in the background of a scene, sometimes referred to as “extras.” They were on set for two days in January, filming in four locations around Asheville and Hendersonville.

“Once we arrived at the set everything felt so surreal,” said Guerrero-Resendez. “The costume, make-up, and hair people, as well as the actors and the crew, were amazing. They are very nice and very accepting.”

“We were on set for about eight hours every day, and we even filmed outside!” said Wheeler, a veteran of several MHU theatre productions inside Owen Theatre. “We were pampered and primed by a wonderful hair and makeup team, and the assistant director was amazing; he made us so comfortable while filming.”

Benain hopes to work in the film industry after college. “It was my first time on a movie set,” he said. “I loved seeing how everything works and all the many jobs on set. I am so grateful that the theatre department was able to acquire an experience like this for me because the film industry is the field I want to pursue in my future.”

The movie’s storyline involves a screenwriter hired to write a remake of a classic Christmas movie filmed at Biltmore in the 1940s. While touring the estate, she is transported back in time to 1946, to the set of that production.

“The students and I really enjoy having our hair and makeup done for us daily,” said Fair. “Having costume fittings and 1940s period costumes to wear on set was also exciting.”

Luster described the experience as a dream-come-true. “My favorite part about being on set was the collaboration of the entire cast and crew,” he said. “Everyone communicated with each other to ensure the product they were creating was as close to perfect as possible. I got to meet amazing people and even got the chance to speak to the lead, Bethany Joy Lenz, who was such a sweetheart.”

“It was interesting to see the ins and outs of what goes on behind the scenes of a movie set,” said Guess. “Seeing the time and dedication that it takes to get the best shot or scene will make me appreciate every movie that I watch from now on.”

“A Biltmore Christmas” is scheduled to premiere this fall during Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” programming event.

“Seeing what it takes to produce a film was enlightening for the students,” Fair said. “Having students on set with me was such a wonderful experience, seeing the excitement and joy they had was such a gift as an educator. I hope to continue to offer these experiences for our students.”