The star of the recently released romantic comedy, ‘Stars Fell on Alabama,’ gives us the inside scoop on filming in Beaufort.
Story by Lucy Elam
Hollywood descended on Beaufort in late 2019 to make the Lowcountry city the backdrop for the recently released indie romantic comedy, Stars Fell on Alabama. The first feature film to come to the town in 20 years, Stars Fell on Alabama showcased all of Beaufort (renamed Willow Valley in the movie), filming along Bay Street, at Beaufort Academy and the Beaufort Inn, to name a few. With the recent release of the movie, LOCAL Life interviewed one of the stars to talk about her experiences filming in the Lowcountry.
Directed by V. W. Scheich, Stars Fell on Alabama tells the story of Madison Belle (Ciara Hanna), a Hollywood actress on the brink of making it big, who agrees to play the girlfriend of her successful agent, Bryce Dixon (James Maslow), at his 15-year high school reunion in his Alabama hometown, Willow Valley.
For Ciara Hanna, a California native who has worked on projects like the Nickelodeon show Power Rangers: Megaforce, and the supernatural horror movie, Pernicious, the film was a big change compared to her previous projects. Hanna had never worked on a romantic comedy before, which is what drew her to the project in the first place. After acting in primarily horror films, she was ready to be in something that her grandma would want to watch.
“It is different from anything I’ve ever done, and I found out that I actually really love doing little romantic comedies,” Hanna said. “You get a good feeling watching it, and you get a good feeling doing it — it’s interesting.”
Despite the very different nature of the film, Hanna says it wasn’t difficult to transition into playing Madison Belle.
“With Madison, she’s very much me,” said Hanna. “A lot of times I’ll take little parts of me in roles and just amplify that side of me. With Madison, I took the whole shebang of me and put it into her. So it wasn’t hard at all, it was like I wasn’t even acting. I was just kind of hanging out with friends. I’ve known James (Maslow) forever, so I just felt like I was being myself.”
Filming finished up in November 2019, but Hanna has vivid, fond memories of her time in South Carolina. Other than a weekend trip to Myrtle Beach as a teenager, Stars Fell on Alabama was Hanna’s first real experience on the East Coast.
“I loved it. I’m not really from a small town, so I’m fascinated by small towns,” she said. “I liked the idea of everyone knowing each other, everyone knowing what’s going on. It was just very charming.”
Hanna found herself drawn to the many stories of the South. Living in the Lowcountry sometimes feels like there’s something of historical significance on every block, and it’s easy to take that for granted. For Hanna, it was one of the most interesting things about her time here.
“I’m from the West Coast, so anything back East is so fascinating to me because it’s old and has a lot of history,” she said. “I just love knowing that so much happened there.”
Hanna was intrigued by the depth of history at her fingertips. She was fascinated to learn while filming at the Beaufort Inn, called the Willow Valley Inn in the movie, that it was used to house wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War. During downtime, Hanna’s favorite thing to do was walk around Beaufort and explore the cemeteries.
“I’d never seen so many in one place,” she said.
Another favorite for Hanna was the Herban Market Cafe, which opened on North Street in Beaufort in 2019. Rather than having whatever was catered on set that day, Hanna would order her lunch and dinner from Herban Market Cafe, and on her days off she would walk over to eat there again.
“It was so fresh and delicious,” she said. “They put capers in their tuna fish, and ever since then when I make it at home, I’ve been putting capers in my tuna fish. It reminds me of Beaufort every time.”
When she’s not acting, Hanna likes to spend time on other artistic pursuits. For the past six years, she has found a lot of pleasure in painting and writing poetry. “It became very therapeutic for me in my 20s,” she said.
Right before she started filming Stars Fell on Alabama, Hanna’s dog Kokomo passed away.
“He was my everything, and it was really hard coping with it because of how sudden it was.” Hanna took that emotion and decided to channel it into writing. “I am currently working on a children’s book series under the “ruff” name of Kokomo and Razzle’s Adventures.” They are all based on the years of her watching Kokomo and her other dog Razzle, and what she imagined they were up to. “If you like rhyme, imagination, and two cute fluffs, keep a lookout!”
After Stars Fell on Alabama wrapped, Hanna filmed a horror movie called The Call and worked on a project called the Legend of the White Dragon. But this year, Hanna is taking on what she says might be her biggest role yet.
“My biggest role that I’m working on right now is creating a child,” she said. “I’m eight months pregnant. I gotta focus on the little chalupa!”
While Hanna is going to be pretty occupied out West for a little while, she sees herself coming back to the Lowcountry in the future. “Oh yeah, for sure. Whether it’s to Beaufort, or anywhere in South Carolina, I love the South.”
Ciara Hanna’s favorite scenes
Slow and Steady Wins the Race “There’s one scene where Madison and Bryce are outside Bryce’s childhood home with the tortoise, Bear. I had so much fun filming that scene because Bear (the tortoise) is supposed to just be chilling and hanging out with us, but if you look closely, you can see James (Maslow) holding onto him to keep him in the scene because he kept trying to go in the bushes. For every take, he had to pick him up and put him back. And tortoises are heavy! It was the funniest thing, and I had to try not to laugh while James was straining to hold on to him and trying to make it look casual.”
Everything goes better with barbecue (Old Town Dispensary) “I loved filming the scene where we’re eating barbecue and hanging out the night before the big high school reunion. It was just a lot of fun doing that scene, and I love any time when I can eat and just relax. I was eating ribs and french fries the whole time, dancing and playing games. That was a lot of fun hanging out with everyone.”
Touchdown! (Beaufort Academy) “The football scenes were a lot of fun. We did a lot of running that day, I was very sore, but I like watching guys get together and just kind of get rowdy. It was a good time.”