AMESBURY — Cider Hill Farm co-owner Karen Cook remembers well the moment in the mid-1990s when her young employee, Alexandra Boylan, told her her future plans for Cook’s Amesbury farm.
“We were walking up the road arm in arm and she said to me, ‘Someday I’m going to make a movie here,’” Cook said. “When she was working here, all she wanted to be was an actress. I knew that she would do it someday. By golly, she did it.”
The 145-acre farm Cook owns with her husband, Glenn, has been no stranger to film work recently. Universal Pictures scouted it for “Ted 2” two years ago, and the Cook property was the site of a Staples commercial just last year.
But it was when Boylan made her Cider Hill homecoming to shoot the faith-based family comedy “Wish For Christmas” late last year that turned out to be the Cooks’ largest and most personal production yet.
“It was a pretty sentimental experience for me to go back home and make a movie in the place I grew up and was dreaming to be a movie star in,” Boylan said.
A minister’s daughter and a member of Georgetown High School’s Class of 1998, Boylan began acting in high school, and eventually moved out to Los Angeles, where she found work both in front of and behind the camera.
Boylan and her husband, John K.D. Graham, wrote and produced last year’s “Catching Faith,” which Graham also directed. The pair had the same arrangement for “Wish For Christmas,” which stars Anna Fricks as a high school student who wishes her family’s inconvenient religious faith away, only to awaken the next day to find the lives of her family and even her community thrown into turmoil.
Co-starring with Joey Lawrence, Leigh-Allyn Baker and Bill Engvall, Fricks spends the rest of the film desperately trying to make things right again.
“It’s like ‘Mean Girls’ meets ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” Boylan said.
Boylan reached out to the Cooks about shooting on location at the farm through her mother, a Cook family friend, last October, and the crew arrived by the end of November.
“The whole experience was surreal,” Boylan said. “It was a one-in-a-million life experience.”
While the production shot at Georgetown High School as well as in the center of that town and at Byfield Parish Church, most of its time in Massachusetts was spent in Amesbury shooting interior scenes in the Cooks’ farmhouse as well as exterior scenes in the orchard and in front of the Cider Hill Farm store.
“It is gorgeous,” Boylan said. “We even do a drone pull-out shot at the farm’s highest point with that great view of Amesbury where we see the characters and we go into the sky.”
With its great common room and 21-foot bedroom ceilings, the Cooks’ farmhouse stood in for Fricks’ home for seven shooting days last November, which made for an awkward moment when Glenn came home after a hard day’s work.
“They wouldn’t even let him in the house,” Cook said. “They had already started the shoot. He just needed to run in.”
While Cook herself spent most of the shoot at a retreat in Texas, she did have a strange moment of her own when she returned to find Joey Lawrence emerging from her bathroom, brushing his teeth.
“It (the filming) was absolutely fascinating to watch,” Cook said. “They use every room in your home. There is a staff cooking food on your stove, and they are eating in the dining room.”
With a 40-person crew camped out on his property for almost two weeks, Glenn Cook said he was very surprised by the level of production.
“I didn’t expect the big trucks and all the equipment,” he said. “They had lights outside to make it look like daytime inside at night. They were pros, so they would do a scene over and over and over again. It was amazing to see how many times they would have to do something and look natural and keep the same energy, every single time.”
Once shooting was over each night, everything in the farmhouse would be put back exactly where the crew had found it.
“They were very good about that,” Glenn said. “They even took photographs of all of the rooms so that they could put everything back the way it was.”
For Cook, the production was “like old home week.”
“The crew was just phenomenal,” Cook said. “They work very hard, but they were just right at home. We really were all just a big family. They loved the cider, they loved the doughnuts. We are friends for life.”
Scheduled for release on DVD and Video on Demand as well as streaming on Pure Flix on Nov. 1, “Wish for Christmas” will also hold a premiere showing in the Georgetown High School auditorium Oct. 24. Given their pleasant experience with “Wish for Christmas,” the Cooks said they are open to more potential productions in the future, which Boylan thinks is a good idea.
“They should make sure they do,” Boylan said. “Right now Massachusetts has huge film incentives. A lot of films are going out there, and I think they should find a way to make sure that they are on the radar.”