Philip Craig stories head to the TV screen

With a little help from an Edgartown Police sergeant.

Edgartown police Sgt. Jamie Craig (right) with actor Eric Keenleyside (left) on set in Canada. — courtesy Edgartown Police Department

There’s a new murder mystery movie coming to the Hallmark Channel, and its setting may look familiar to those who know Martha’s Vineyard.

The Hallmark Channel is adapting several novels by Vineyard mystery writer Philip Craig for straight-to-television movies. Craig’s son, Edgartown Police sergeant Jamie Craig, has signed on as a consultant for the films.

While he doesn’t watch many Hallmark Channel movies, Craig was excited Hallmark reached out to him and wanted to adapt his father’s novels. The first movie is based on the elder Craig’s 1989 novel, “A Beautiful Place to Die,” but with a modern twist.

“They take the basic mystery, and then they’ve injected some new characters, maybe eliminated some other ones,” Craig said. 

Part of his contract with Hallmark has Craig traveling to Victoria, B.C., to consult on the films.

Americans can’t be on the set for more than 20 percent of the time, otherwise the movie isn’t considered a Canadian film, and the film loses its tax credits. Craig traveled to Victoria in September for a few days, but has been working remotely to review scripts and send notes.

The Victoria set is complete with pretend Martha’s Vineyard bike rental shops, fake brochures, Chamber of Commerce posters, and other Vineyard decorations in the background of many scenes.

Victoria was a prime location for filming not only because it was cheaper to film than the Vineyard, but because the climate and architecture are similar.

“The hotel we film at looks like it could be at Oak Bluffs. It kind of looks like a white version of Peter Norton’s house,” Craig said referring to the Queen Anne–style Corbin-Norton House in Oak Bluffs.

It was on the set of the second film that Craig met Eric Keenleyside, a prolific actor who stars as the movie’s chief of police. Craig brought Keenleyside one of the vintage patches the department sells to raise money for the police association as a gift.

“It was kind of comical. [Keenleyside] heard I was on the set, and scrambled over to meet me, had a thousand questions, super-friendly guy, and they kept having to drag him back to the set because he just wanted to talk and learn as much as he could.”

The first film is being edited, and is expected to be released in January. Craig said the movies are more like a television series, because they film for three to four weeks at a time for each one.

While much of the movie is filmed in Canada, some B-roll footage of the Island was filmed, so there may be a few spots locals will recognize.

“One of the opening shots is the hero driving over the bridge on Beach Road,” he said. “He drives around, they film shots of the car driving past iconic Vineyard locations and stuff, so they can edit that in with the British Columbia footage and they can look Vineyardy.”

For that opening scene, Craig got a man from Plymouth to bring his Maroon 1987 Jeep Wagoneer to the Island, a car emblematic of both the character and the Island.

Being on movie sets and working on screenplays are nothing new to Craig. In the 1980s, Craig earned a college degree in motion picture and television production before serving in the Navy. He joined the Edgartown Police Department full-time in 1996.

A few years ago, he attended a veterans writing workshop with the Writer’s Guild of America West. The yearlong workshop was for veterans looking to tell their stories through film: “It’s just an opportunity for me to kind of get some experience in the industry, to see how it works, and work with some other writers, which is always fun.”

When Hallmark reached out to Craig, he asked to be a part of the screenwriting process, and worked out a deal where he would consult on the first few films before writing the story for the fifth.

Craig said his father was always open to film adaptations of his novels, and was not concerned about changing details or storylines. 

“It was nice to be up there on the set saying my dad wrote this book 30 years ago, and there are 75 people making a living now by making this movie,” Craig said. “I think he would be pleased to know that.”