The making of Annabel Lee
An interview with Angel Parker
Photo by Neil Oseman
25 November 2019
The original Edgar Allen Poe poem was written in 1849 but the Annabel Lee film project began in 2018 as a Kickstarter. Fifty-three backers funded the production of this Gothic short film, written by Angel Parker, who appears as Annabel in the film.
After speaking with actor/co-producer Nathaniel Parker, today I interview the film’s writer and lead actress:
1. What about Poe’s Annabel Lee poem inspired you to write a script?
Well, I first had the poem handed to me when I was in my teens and a friend suggested we develop it, so that was my first intro to this! For the longest time after that, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s such a beautiful portrait of love and grief – it felt so visual.
I really liked the idea of making a film that was not a direct transcription of the source material but could be one of many interpretations of it. Edgar Allan Poe is obviously such a master of mystery and that it leaves endless space for interpretation. And I’ve always been so interested by the lines between fantasy and reality, which is probably why I’m drawn to Poe’s stories and poetry, so I found the idea of getting to explore that in this project really exciting!
2. The poem is 170 years old – why do you think it endures?
I think that humans are always trying to find ways of expressing both love and grief, because every person experiences them differently. And what’s beautiful about this poem is it doesn’t try to be universal, it focuses on the narrator’s specific, unique experience and I think people are really drawn to that.
3. What were the most challenging parts of writing and filming the Annabel Lee short film?
In the process of writing, that would have to be the constant job of balancing the fantasy with the reality. One of the major themes that interested me was how grief, fear and obsession distorts people’s perception. So it was a constant game of paralleling what E. was seeing versus what Annabel was seeing versus what I had decided was actually happening. After that we could get to the fun bit of deciding what to tease out and show to the audience. So it was a massive learning experience for me as a storyteller!
Then when it actually came to filming, the hardest part for me was honestly the cold! Because by that point my job of writer was essentially over and I just had to turn up as an actress. The crew looked after us so well, but at the end of the day we were shooting in Devon in December and most of the time I was running around barefoot in a white nighty and getting into the sea.
I’m clumsy as anything as well so when I couldn’t feel my feet things got a bit problematic. One day I managed to do a spectacular trip headfirst into the camera, dragging Alex along with me. But it meant I learned there are many many ways to store hand warmers in your costumes. At one point when I had to lie down in the sea, the team actually built me a little bed of hot water bottles to lie on and would just pile coats right on top of me in between takes which didn’t stop our lovely medic having to take me off set because I went blue!
4. What parts of the process did you love the most?
I really love the process of redrafting. It was so cool to get to sit down with people who cared as much about this story as I did and get to hash out the themes and the characters and all the backstory for hours. I found that process really good fun.
And then the adventure of shooting down in Devon in such mad conditions and to be amongst people who were just throwing themselves into it was really special. Oh, and I got to fall off a cliff backwards in the dark which made me feel pretty badass.
5. Did you learn anything about your art (or life) while making it?
I definitely learned about the importance of hot water bottles! But I think, if anything, doing this project really gave me the confidence to make films without the use of conventional storytelling. Being passionate about the story you want to tell and finding other people who are passionate about it too is really liberating. And that kind of supportive environment can create really exciting ideas.
It was also one of my first forays behind the camera, so I got to experience first hand the work and dedication that it takes just to get a project to filming, never mind through post and to being a finished product. Lots of actors don’t get the chance to see that because they’re there for so little of the process, so I feel really lucky to have had that experience.
6. What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
One thing I really hope they come away with is questions! So much of the story is there for interpretation, and even though I wrote it with my own idea of what’s going on, I like that we’re giving the viewer space for their own perception.
But I mostly hope that people remember the characters and their love story because the idea behind the ambiguity and strangeness of the world we’ve put them is to symbolise that we live in an unknowable world, so what really matters are the connections that we make with other people. The only solid thing throughout the whole film is Annabel and E’s relationship, so all we have to follow is their reactions to things we don’t understand and the way that changes them as individuals and people who love each other.
In the end it doesn’t really matter what is chasing them or even if they are being chased at all in the eyes of the viewer, what matters is that they’ve found something really sacred and that will still have its own life even when one or both of them are gone.
Find out more about Annabel Lee:
Host a Screening
Love Annabel Lee and want to show our film at your short film festival?