We were excited to sit down with Paul Serafini, who has one of the most ‘Nantucket-filled’ films in this year’s program with his feature debut, ANNABELLE HOOPER AND THE GHOSTS OF NANTUCKET. This family friendly adventure features both Bailee Madison (who’s also a producer on the film) as Annabelle, and several of Nantucket’s most iconic locations. We spoke with Paul in advance of the film’s World Premiere at the Festival!
NFF: Annabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket is your feature debut. What was it like to work on a film with such an amazing location?
Paul Serafini: I came up with the idea for the storyline a few years ago while doing a ghost tour with my then 10-year-old daughter. Nantucket was where my movie education began in the Dreamland when I was very young. I went every night in the 70’s and 80’s and saw all the iconic films from then--like Jaws and Star Wars. When I came up with the idea I thought “why don’t I shoot my first feature there?” We wrote the script around locations that already existed, so we didn’t have to spend a lot on building sets. So many told me to shoot a few days on Nantucket and double it elsewhere but I wouldn’t. The entire movie was set there and couldn’t be duplicated anywhere. As a result the film looks more expensive than it was.
NFF: You’re also a producer on the film, along with Bailee Madison. Talk about the development process (from when it was a script) and what it was like to work with Bailee both as your lead and a production collaborator.
PS: As I mentioned, I came up with the concept “Nancy Drew meets the Goonies” kind of mashup. Once I had that and an outline, I partnered with a screenwriter for a first draft. And it was two or three years to get it from good to great; it had to be great or there was no reason to make it. After that we got Stefne Miller (our screenwriter) involved to polish the script, add story elements and age it up (Annabelle was 12, but when we shot, Bailee was nearly 16.).
As to working with Bailee, I can’t say enough. I’ve never met a more down-to-earth kid. The crazy industry she works in can cause one to get lost, but boy she is so mature and has a wonderful family that keeps her grounded. She only wants to be involved in wholesome and creative projects. I wanted Annabelle Hooper to be a girl for younger girls to look up to and be inspired by, and that’s right in line with Bailee’s creative outlook. It was Bailee’s first time producing. She went out there know she was starting out and was keen to learn, but was also unafraid to speak her mind (as you must!). I don’t think there was a suggestion she made that I didn’t take.
NFF: Were there any particular challenges to shooting on an Island; how did the Nantucket spirit contribute to your set?
PS: One thing that was paramount to our production, this being a low-budget film there weren’t going to be bells and whistles in comforts, but the environment people worked in would be happy; there’d be no drama allowed. Period. I wanted everyone to have a great experience. Making movies is hard and we do it because we love it, and there’s no reason it can’t be a good experience for all no matter your position on the film. In terms of the island, they couldn’t have been more accommodating. When we got there, two big productions had already filmed, so the Islanders were perhaps weary, but I’d begun building relationships years ago with locals and when we finally got funding those relationships were in tact.
I wanted to showcase Nantucket’s iconic sights: the Whaling museum, Dreamland, the Sankaty Lighthouse, the First Congregational Church and of course the Athenium Library. Not that Nantucket needs any help in tourism, but the film was kind of a ‘love letter’ to the Island. That’s how Basil [Tsiokos; NFF’s Film Program Manager] referred to it when we were invited. I’ve never thought of it like that, but it fits!
NFF: Can you recount any favorite memories you have from your time working on Nantucket?
PS: Oh boy! I don’t want to give the cliche “every day was memorable,” answer, but truly, every day there was something special to experience. I remember a lot of laughter and smiles. The people involved with the movie did it because they thought it was something worthwhile. Working on a set like this, away from home on an island, it’s like summer camp. You’re thrust into this family environment, which we became. Bar none, Nantucket is one of the most special places in the world and it’s why I wanted to shoot my first film there. Maybe this movie is my way of giving back to the Island all the wonderful memories it gave me.
NFF: Please tell our audience why they should come see Annabelle Hooper and the Ghosts of Nantucket at NFF?
PS: I think the movie has something for everyone. It will appeal to younger audiences and parents will enjoy it with their kids. And it touches on a lot of universally important themes. It looks beautiful. If you like Nantucket, you’ll get a kick out of seeing all the locations. It has scares, mystery, romance and will take you back to your childhood. And I’ll be there, Bailee will be there and several of the actors, production team and crew will be there. We used local actors and crew, so locals can see their neighbors on screen!
ANNABELLE HOOPER & THE GHOSTS OF NANUCKET plays the Nantucket Film Festival Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26. Stefnee Miller, Paul Serafini and Bailee Madison will be in attendance for both screenings.