Blue screen filming Mrs. Santa Claus in the red sleigh being pulled by a herd of reindeer was filmed first in an independent effects stage located in Van Nuys, California. The stage had high cove sides and rear wall, with a deep floor area to move the sleigh (a rental from Disney Studios Property) and reindeer pack around the stage. The cove walls and floor were painted with Roscoe's specific blue effects paint, $75.00 a gallon! Which had been specified by the D.P., and his gaffer had their electric crew hang rented overhead lighting equipment for the three day filming schedule. At midnight, looking at dailies, the gaffer had rented light instruments that had a warm (red) lighting effect which created a major problem with the red costume, the red sleigh, and all the effects editing/overlay screen work to follow. The "red-warm light" turned the chroma- blue a shade of purple! Early the following morning, new "cool light" fixtures replaced all the overhead lighting and the first days work was re-filmed. After the third day, the company moved to Universal Studios for filming the NY back-lot street exterior scenes in the middle of July, 1996.
Establishing the 1910-1912 era was a major decision for the costuming, because Terry Hughes had also suggested the 1919-1920's to establish the period musical. The '20's meant the Flapper period in costuming. Bob Mackie determined the "teens" was a better period "skirt look" than the '20's shorter hem line which would effect Angela's appearance, hair and wardrobe. Bob Mackie's Christmas green and red costume color palette dramatically determined the set's color range. Production Designer Hub Braden was confronted with the Universal Studios New York back-lot exteriors' color condition. The previous film company using the NY Street had painted all the exteriors in fresh coats of "city slicker contemporary" whites, grays, bright paint colors. New York City research for 1910 established "a look for" the NY City streets' building facades awash with a coal dust dirty patina. Specific building facades-exteriors chosen were repainted with variations of warm values either in muted rose or mistletoe green shades, alternating with beige and the color of "reindeer tan" shades. Iron fire-escapes added to the exterior buildings for cast members to be elevated above the street level for the production value in the musical street choreographed marches and dancing patterns. Establishing a conglomeration of Irish, Italian and Jewish neighborhood celebrating the holiday spirit, strings of bare bulbs were strung across the streets. With period Street Lamps, to justify a source light for all the night filming. 1910 dictated horse drawn wagons, carts, carriages instead of vintage motorized vehicles. The December snow required more selected areas for set dressing effects, which included watered down streets from melting snow... allowing planes of water pools reflecting for camera angles. Rehearsing the group marchers for the women's suffrage liberation issues were scheduled for morning activities, with summer morning temperatures near mid-90 to 100 degrees. Progressive filming of the street sequences required much patience for both cast, crowd and dance extras, animals, crew, and production personnel. Scheduling the day and night street filming became a critical lighting factor because of temperature, the sun and shadow path angles reflected for the point of view shooting direction for the multiple - main camera, for second and third camera positions.
To cheer up Santa (Durning) during the absence of Mrs. Claus (Lansbury) the elves come in playing "We Need a Little Christmas." This song was first sung by Lansbury during the Broadway musical of Mame. The music for Mame was written by Jerry Herman who wrote the music for "Mrs. Santa Claus."
Prior to preliminary production, Jerry Herman invited the production's cast and department heads to his home in Bel Air for an informal evening gathering. Bob Mackie had his costume sketches with him. Jerry used Bob's sketches for his and Angela Lansbury's initial presentation "Mrs. Santa Claus" for their CBS-TV Christmas project. Jerry's enthusiasm in showcasing his music established an energetic creative rapport. Following this gathering of their creative team, Jerry Herman's presence attending every meeting, being present at cast and dance rehearsals, (conducted at the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio, two miles from Universal City Studios); Jerry's interest, his attention during the filming day and night schedule, established a creative energy with each individual's participation. Every individual involved had a spark of energy to accomplish their best effort in performing their job in the filming of this production. The crew asked for Jerry's cameo appearance performing on an upright piano. Terry Hughes put the post-card shot into the musical sequence.
Upon completion of exterior Universal Studios' New York Street filming, the company moved to the distant Valencia Business Warehouse Valley district, to a warehouse converted into a stage, where interior sets were built. The first set filmed was Santa Claus' interior workshop. Mr. Santa Claus' office set, which sat adjacent to the workshop, filmed after the workshop set area was finished filming. To expand the office set, the left wall, (with double doors leading into the workshop), had to be re-set in the middle of the workshop set. The actor, Charles Durning, playing Santa Claus, had an extreme weight problem which didn't allow him gracefully to move around the set. Durning's scenes were performed/played as he sat at his desk, with Mrs. Santa Claus charting her Christmas Eve sleigh route on a standing easel map adjacent the fireplace. After this set was filmed, the exterior of the main workshop entrance was filmed. The sleigh and the "pack of live reindeer" were positioned in the front foreground area of the exterior set facade. Evergreen pine trees and shrubs dressed the facade, which trailed off to each side, where black duvyteen drops masked the stage walls. Reverse angles were filmed with the black drops as background, with over head snow drop-boxes shaking particles of plastic snow swirling in the air, assisted and/or directed with giant wind/fan machines. Reindeer wranglers worked the herd to move off stage with the sleigh in tandem for Mrs. Santa Claus' departure. The sleigh loaded with tons of toys, dolls, games, cookies and fruit-cakes, and assorted treats! matching what had previously been filmed in the "effects blue screen stage" adjacent the Van Nuys Airport.
The Debbie Reynolds' Dance Studio, located on Lankershim Boulevard, adjacent Universal Studios, was the rehearsal studio used by choreographer Rob Marshall, and (sister) Sarah M. Miles. The art department brought into the rehearsal space, and rotated all the necessary prop tables, stools, front bars, benches, which were used in the production dance numbers. The director Terry Hughes, the director of photography Stephen M. Katz, and Jerry Herman, attended every day of the six week preliminary production dance rehearsals and staging routines developed for the musical.
After arriving In New York City, Mrs. Claus' sleigh and reindeer are berthed-stored in a city barn (which is the Universal Studios' back-lot Western barn). Stephen M. Katz, the cinema photographer, asked Braden, the Production Designer, to "open" up the interior barn with windows, which allowed a justification for "more interior lighting" of the dark wooden finished barn stalls, and assisting lighting the "faun-brown" reindeer herd of extras! Doug Vlaming, construction boss and "his hammer-tones" reconstructed the barn's wall siding, adding six barn window-wing-outs to each barn side, providing the interior with sunlight filling the stalls, thus enabling the additional interior lighting effects Stephen M. Katz required for filming. This additional budget expense had not been approved by the Halmi-Hallmark Producing team, but was overlooked after dailies were reviewed.