The Making of Annabel Lee: An Interview with Melanie Roylance

Nathaniel Parker, Angel Parker and Melanie Roylance

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.

In my previous posts, I interviewed actor Nathaniel Parker about his dual role as producer and performer in the short film and then writer/actor Angel Parker. This time I interview an old friend who found herself co-producing the film with Nat.

Melanie Roylance

1.       What inspired you to become involved in making Annabel Lee?

As you know, we had some eccentric yet brilliant English teachers at high school who introduced me to Poe’s works. I was fascinated by his stories, especially his early forms of my favourite genre, detective fiction, which he is largely responsible for popularising.

When Nat announced he was filming Angel’s adaptation of it, my curiosity was piqued. Some friends were contributing to the film in different ways, and I initially intended to make a small contribution. So, to be honest, it was more an accident than a conscious intention to become so heavily involved.

People may call it fate, or serendipity, but sometimes in life things come along that you simply have to do, and this was one. I have respected the Parker family for many years. I first saw Nathaniel Parker as an actor in Piece of Cake back in the late 80s, and in the 90s I wrote an essay for uni about his father, Sir Peter Parker, former chairman of British Rail. What struck me about both was that in industries not renowned for honesty or compassion, they valued social justice and family above all else, and over the years managed to stay true to their principles.

So when Nat announced he wanted to do a project with his daughter, I admired that. My father died when I was in my mid teens, so I knew it would be important for Angel in later years to have the memories of making it with her dad. I also understood why it was important to him, so wanted to help make that happen. I thought of a way to help them raise money, so wrote to Amy and it went from there.

After Nat recovered from the shock that someone half way around the world wanted to help, he treated me like an integral part of the team, and I soon became involved in a lot of the non-creative aspects of bringing it together and marketing it.

2.       The poem is 170 years old – why do you think it endures?

Interesting question. Poe’s obsession with the macabre and the link between love, loss and death that are exemplified in Annabel Lee is compelling. As social creatures, I think people from any era are motivated by a need to be accepted and loved. To quote from the poem, people harbour a desire to love “with a love that was more than love”.

The poem touches on so many common emotions – happiness, passion, hope, anger, despair and that horrid nagging fear that love and happiness are illusory and will be snatched away. Everyone can identify with the poem and empathise with Annabel and E.

3.       What were the most challenging parts of producing and filming the Annabel Lee short film?

For me, being based half way around the world was difficult. The time difference meant most communication was asynchronous, which was frustrating at times. More annoyingly, I would have loved to be a part of it on the ground, and to have been able to go to Devon to see it being filmed. I am a very hands-on, practical person, so would have happily been the general dogsbody around the set doing whatever was needed.

But raising funds, creating the website and providing moral support and encouragement can be done remotely, so it worked out okay. And I was fortunate that the initial screening was in London at a time I was there, so it was wonderful to see it for the first time with everyone else.

4.       What did you love the most about making it?

That’s an easy one. I loved being involved in something creative and completely different to other work I have done. To be able to work with engaged and interesting people like Nat, Angel and Amy was a bonus. It was exciting to see all the elements come together. The night of the cast and crew screening, everyone was nervous and worried that their bit would be what let the whole thing down. It was great to see the pride on their faces watching the film and seeing it all fall into place.

Art, whether it be painting, music, literature or film, is about creating a moment where people are transported into another realm and return somehow enriched. I think Annabel Lee accomplishes that in spades.

5.       Did you learn anything about your art (or life) while making it?

Everything we do teaches us something, and often things we never expect to discover. As a newbie to filmmaking, I learnt an enormous amount about the technical side of it, particularly all the post-production work.

With a background managing industrial supply chains, I tended to see the film as a project with tasks and resources that needed juggling to meet deadlines. Working with creative people I soon found that they view things in a much more holistic manner where the art is paramount to the task. So I learned the value of patience, which has never been my strongest trait, and one I need to keep working on – a lot. But I also hope I helped others see the value of planning and thinking about contingencies. Art, and life for that matter, need flexibility and are enriched by the input of a diverse range of people.

And perhaps the biggest lesson was that if you want to do something different, go for it. YOLO might be a cliché, but I don’t want to be on my deathbed regretting not seeking out new experiences. Besides, you never know where opportunities lead.

6.       What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

Two things. Firstly, that Angel (Parker) and Alex (Bhat) are impressive young actors, and in Angel’s case also a very promising screenwriter, and I hope the film promotes their careers.

Secondly, I hope audiences look beyond what is presented on the screen and think about the complex issues the film raises about love, sacrifice and trust. In an increasingly manic world, we need to hold true to certain values, perhaps the most important one being the enduring power of love.

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