The Hallmark Channel recently wrapped filming at Meadowbrook Farm – a horse farm located in Marlbrough, CT – owned by the husband and wife duo of Ed Bennett III and Renee Dupuis. The movie – now titled Taking the Reins – will air on The Hallmark Channel on Saturday, September 25, 2021 at 9 PM EST.
The Hallmark Channel knows where to find romance — in Connecticut, where it has just shot scenes for yet another of its beloved TV movies.
Surprisingly, this one is not that Hallmark staple, a Christmas movie. It’s set in the fall. Andrew Gernhard of Synthetic Cinema International, the production company based in Rocky Hill that worked on the film, says that instead of fake snow, leaves will be digitally recolored to make the farm look like September rather than July.
The plot involves a horse farm, and was filmed at Meadowbrook Farm in Marlborough. Renee Dupuis, who owns Meadowbrook with her husband Ed Bennett III, thinks that around 75% of the movie was shot at the farm.
The working title of the film is “Love at the Steeplechase,” but it may be changed (note: the movie is now titled Taking the Reins), Gernhard says. It is directed by Clare Niederpruem, the actor/director who directed and co-wrote the modern movie retelling of “Little Women” in 2018.
“Taking the Reins” is scheduled to premiere Sept. 25, just two months from the time when its Connecticut scenes were filmed. “Sometimes it can be two years before a project comes to life, and sometimes it can be two weeks,” Gernhard says.
The film stars Nikki Deloach, a Hallmark stalwart whose other films for the channel include “Christmas Land,” “A Dream of Christmas,” “Reunited at Christmas,” “Cranberry Christmas,” “Two Turtle Doves,” “Love to the Rescue,” “Love Takes Flight,” “Sweet Autumn,” “The Perfect Catch” and “Truly, Madly, Sweetly.”
The male lead is Scott Porter, whose resume includes the underrated teen film “Bandslam,” voice work for numerous Marvel Comics animated series, private investigator Blake Calamar for 14 episodes of “The Good Wife” and is perhaps best known as Jason Street on “Friday Night Lights.”
Also in “Love at the Steeplechase,” playing the parents of Deloach’s character: Corbin Bernsen (of “L.A. Law” and “Major League” fame) and another “Friday Night Lights” alum, Janine Turner (who’s also known for “Northern Exposure” and the movie “Cliffhanger”).
“They couldn’t have been more lovely people,” Dupuis says of her encounters with the actors.
She and her husband also enjoyed hearing the stories from the film’s stunt coordinator, Artie Malesci, whose credits range from “2 Fast 2 Furious” to “Reno 911!”
“We looked at five horse farms before we found Meadowbrook,” Gernhard says.
“We got a call in late May from Andrew,” says Dupuis. “They needed a horse farm. They made an appointment, came out to see the farm and said ‘Thanks for your time, we’ll be in touch.’”
She was unprepared for how quickly things would happen once their farm was selected. “It’s all done in a super, super-condensed timeline, we’ve learned,” Dupuis says. “We’d never done this before.
Dupuis says hosting a movie crew was an exciting, very positive process, but that they had to keep the farm running during the shoot. “We were very very clear with them, “‘We have an active business here,’ we told them. Horses require care every day.”
Why does Dupuis think her farm was chosen? “I don’t want this to sound like boasting, but we do have a really beautiful farm. My husband works really hard to keep it looking beautiful. It’s just very picturesque.” She also came to understand that “Hallmark in particular is very specific about what kind of locations they want in their movies. They need to be neat and tidy and beautiful.”
There was one other consideration. “There are a lot of horse farms in Connecticut with a country flair. They didn’t want a rustic setting for this film.
“There’s some measure of satisfaction for me in how they found us. They wanted a dressage farm, so Andrew apparently Googled ‘dressage farm connecticut.’ One of my side hustles is that I do websites, and I did our own website, and that is how he found us.”
Changes were made in the movie shortly before and even during filming. “When we were originally approached,” Dupuis says, “it was a dressage movie, which is what we focus on. Then it changed to stadium jumping.”
Horses stabled at Meadowbrook are not the ones who perform in the film. Special stunt horses were brought in.
Weather conditions also occasioned small rewrites.
One happy outcome of the shoot was that the filmmakers really like the sign outside the farm, which incorporates the image of a large tree on the property. “So they ended up asking our permission to use the name Meadowbrook Farm in the film.”
In the film, Meadowbrook Farm is a farm that Deloach’s character grew up on and comes back to after a long time spent away from it.
Connecticut has been a popular location for movies throughout the history of cinema, particularly for romances.
Other Hallmark movies recently filmed in Connecticut include “Sand Dollar Cove” (which filmed in Noank and Stonington) and “Rediscovering Christmas” (which filmed in Hartford and Stonington).
Gernhard says his Synthetic Cinema International company has had eight films in production this year, not including five others for which they are doing post-production.
“Star talent loves Connecticut,” Gernhard says.
Dupuis and the rest of the Meadowbrook staff were sworn to secrecy for the two weeks that the crew was at the farm. “We would read posts on Facebook saying where stars had been seen, and they were completely wrong, but we couldn’t say anything.”
Getting started in motorsports can be a leap of faith for those who haven’t done it before, but it sure gets easier when there’s someone there willing to help you through the process.
Renee Dupuis is one of those faces. After participating in arrive and drive programs over the past 15 years, she jumped into the Track Night in America fray at the inception of the program in the Northeast, including at Thompson, Palmer and New Hampshire.
“It’s a sport that I love, so it’s been really rewarding to introduce the sport to new people and then encourage them,” Dupuis said. “From that point of view, it’s been very satisfying. It’s near and dear to my heart. To be involved for six or seven years, I see people that were once in my novice group coming back and running the advanced group. It’s pretty cool to have gotten that hooked as well.”
And she’s done it well.
“Anybody with a street legal car is basically welcome to join us,” Dupuis explained. “Some of them have never done a track day, period, or maybe they’ve done some autocrossing or another one of SCCA’s offerings. Then you get a wide variety of vehicles, low weight and low horsepower or high weight and high horsepower. So you take not only their experience levels but whatever their vehicle might be, and we ask them to get out on track all together and have a positive experience. What we’re doing is a very tall order, but I think we do a spectacular job of doing that.”
With a focus on the Novice group, Dupuis’ strength is encouraging new folks to try it out and feel welcome. Her strategy is to encourage consistency over speed, as taking little bites and making little improvements lessens the learning curve than just going for speed straightaway. That comes through loud and clear in her Novice meetings.
“If we set the tone at the beginning of the day, it goes a long way toward sending people home with a good experience at the end of the night,” she explains.
Not coincidentally, that plays nicely with two other opportunities.
The first is SCCA’s Women on Track program, which is led by a strong group of female SCCA participants in every discipline. The goal of the program is exactly what the title states – to get more women on track, in a manner that is open and less intimidating. In short, exactly what Dupuis does for each and every new participant at Track Night in America.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better coach to guide me through my first few track night events, TNiA participant Kayla Densmore said. “Renee’s approach is not only knowledgeable and confident, but also humble. As a female participant in a prominently male sport it was encouraging and empowering to have her as our instructor.”
The second, of course, is the track time and opportunity. As the events continue to gain popularity, especially in the Northeast, the slots fill up fast. The challenge is that many drivers who may be comfortable moving into the intermediate classes remain in Novice simply for the available space. This isn’t a bad thing – but it does lead to those still on the fence to miss an opportunity because they were a step behind.
But the SCCA has noticed this, and is actively doing something about it. For the October 5 Track Night in America at Thompson Speedway, the Club has splurged on an extra hour of track rental time to open up a second Novice session for that event in an effort to encourage more new-driver participation.
Even better news? Our pal Renee Dupuis will be the coach for both Novice sessions – the perfect opportunity for those who have been “just browsing” to get started.
For those who are still not quite sure, it’s a great opportunity to come as a spectator and take part in the 3:20 pm Paced Laps, for free, in a street car – no helmet required (this happens at almost every single Track Night in America, by the way – so it applies to all of you!). While you’re there, chat up Dupuis and get a feel for the event so that you’re ready to strike the next time.
“When they designed this program, I think they did an incredible job of encouraging people that don’t have any experience to dip a toe into the program,” she told us.
In late April, 2019 Renee participated in an Unmuffled podcast with RaceDayCT’s Shawn Courchesne.
Renee conducted the interview on the 20th anniversary (April 24, 1999) of her history tour-type Modified win at the now defunct Riverside Park Speedway (Agawam, MA).
While they reminisced about her win, the highlight of their discussion was the current status of women in racing, in comparison to what Renee experienced in her decades making her way in the sport.
During the podcast they also discussed Renee’s absence from on-track activity (attributed in part to the purchase of a horse boarding farm) and what she and husband, Ed Bennett (who is now the Managing Partner of the Tri-Track Open Modified Series), have been up to over the last few years. And their intent to eventually get back on track.
“It kills me when I go to a race and watch. I want to be out there. It’s hard to be a spectator when you think you can be out there and still be competitive,” explained Renee.
The Podcast – Episode 52 – is available on RaceDayCT’s PATREON account (subscription required content). Renee’s 15-minute interview starts at the 26:50 mark.