Starring Traci Lords, whom Roe represents, the film is set in 1949 around a fading Hollywood star who mourns the loss of her sister on the year anniversary of her death. But there’s a ghostly twist that involves revenge, jealousy, and otherworldly justice.
Shot lovingly in black and white in the former home of Frankenstein director James Whale, Lords shows off her chops that Roe knew that she had – and it paid off. A Tale of Two Sisters has since won many film festival awards, including several for Lords.
AMFM Magazine: This film played so well at Texas Frightmare Weekend to a largely horror-loving audience and to a seasoned festival audience at USA Film Festival in Dallas. Different crowds, but we keep hearing the same thing: Traci Lords is perfect for this role and so good in it. And now she’s winning all of these awards – but you knew didn’t you?
Chris Roe: I wasn’t surprised one bit. Traci looks like she belongs from the 1940s or 50s. She has that energy, that look – she looks like she belongs there. I knew this before I ever saw her in costume. I started taking preliminary shots of her just at the home before she was full makeup and I knew. Once you got her on full makeup and hair and the outfit, it was absolutely fantastic. I didn’t have any doubt on it. And as far as her ability to play a character like this, I completely support Traci 500% on her endeavors. She’s very underrated. And people don’t think of her playing that sort of a serious role. And I actually saw her play an incredibly serious role in a movie called Excision, which was an indie horror film came out a few years ago, I was blown away with it. It was something that I had never seen her do. And I knew from that moment that she could handle a serious role no problem. And I think she delivered that beautifully.
AMFM: You’ve spent a lot of time with her, which has probably given you an insight as to what she’s truly capable of.
CR: I had been spending a lot of time with her and submitting her for film work every day, so I knew what she’s capable of doing. Unfortunately, casting doesn’t always see it. You know, you’ll call and pitch a client and they’ll say, “Oh no, we really don’t see it.” And I’ll say, “But you don’t understand: she’s hilarious, she can really go to emotional depth that you can’t imagine or he can go to emotional depth that you can’t imagine and they don’t get it. And a lot of people don’t get that with her. They just think, you know, she does comedy. She does these kinds of voluptuous parts with not a lot of emotion to them. I know the complete opposite of that. I know she can really deliver. Same thing happens with Malcolm McDowell all the time. I’m Malcolm McDowell’s manager and they’ll say, “Oh, I don’t see Malcolm playing that part.” And I’ll go, “Well, are you familiar with everything in his career? Because he’s really a master at comedy. You just don’t realize it because a) you haven’t seen the comedic work he’s done and b), you’re so set on the villain side of him; that that’s all you can think. But there’s an entirely different human being. Not just a villain, but pure comedy.
AMFM: He’s actually one of the most naturally funny actors I’ve met and interviewed.
CR: He’s hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. And Traci – she’s hilarious, too, but there’s this very sensitive side to her and as side to her that is really deep with emotion and feeling and sensitivity and she was an absolute thrill to work with. So when this came about, if she wouldn’t have agreed to do this, I wouldn’t have done it. I would have scrapped it and moved on to a different project. I had the outline of the movie already, but I hadn’t cast anyone for it. She was specifically written in mind for that character.
AMFM: Well, you’re the guy to ask: now that people are seeing this and she’s winning awards, will we see her in more serious roles?
CR: I hope so. I hope they get a chance to see what she’s capable of doing. I’ve already sent it to a few casting directors just when I’ve been pitching her for things. I know currently she’s pinned for a project right now – a pretty serious role, actually. The casting director always felt that she could do it. But sending that a movie along for producers to watch was great. So hopefully they take her seriously and say, “Wow, she can really do this.” And I hope so because she deserves it. She’s quite good. AMFM: With all of this hype, I understand there may be more in the series now?
CR: I hope so. I mean, the plan always was to do like a limited series with it. Do six to eight episodes and see if we can get a deal and, of course, make more. But I always kept in the back of my head that if for some reason we can’t sell it as a series, that we take the best of the six to eight that we make and release it as an anthology movie if we have to. So it’s really a win-win situation no matter how you look at it. But I think it best serves its purpose as a series – not necessarily for network or cable, but probably streaming. There’s a lot of streaming channels right now that’s dying for content. And I think we can deliver really good content. I’d be very pleased just to have an online streaming presence with an order of 8 to 12 episodes per season. That would be a dream come true.
AMFM: We don’t always get to see great short films of a certain length. And at festivals we’re seeing this play with 3 and 8-minute shorts that have one quick burst and this is not that. This is a 21-minute fully realized story.
CR: Well, I think it’s probably hurting with some festivals because a 21 movie is hard to fit in when you’re doing a block of shorts. It takes up one third out of it. So it probably cancels it out unfortunately at a lot of festivals. That being said, it does play well when you’re at a festival, even if you have five minutes shorts. What people often say is, “Wow, so the pacing of it is really good. I had no clue 21 minutes had gone by.” Sometimes it’s hard to keep your attention with a short film and if you can keep the attention and you’re not looking at your watch and when it’s over, the audience still wants more. That’s a great feeling to know that you did your job properly. And I haven’t had anyone complain about the pacing. Everyone’s really liking it, basically saying, “Geez, if I had been flipping through the channels and had come across this, I would have absolutely thought I was watching an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits or something like that,” which is a great compliment. Really.
AMFM: Traci isn’t the only client you got to use here, either, right?
CR: Well, the great thing about being the man in charge was I got to cast who I wanted to and since I own a pretty successful talent agency, I cast every single role with my clients. So you had Bruce Davison, who is just an absolute dream to work with. He’s a Hollywood veteran actor with 50 years of solid credits – Oscar nominated and he has two [Golden] Globes. He’s been nominated for two Emmys. We had Monte Markham, another Hollywood veteran of TV, film and stage. I didn’t get to cast Monte on the screen, but to hear his voice and, as you know, he’s got this fabulous voice that you just immediately recognize the moment you hear it. And Roslyn Gentle, who played the housekeeper, Rose, is a marvelous Australian actress. Very talented, had a very successful career in Australia before she came to America. She’s been a client of mine for almost 10 years and she works continuously. And Michael Broderick, who played Dr. Osborne – same thing, just a hell of a talented man, a former Marine, who decided to take up acting and he’s never stopped. In fact, many people are recognizing him from this most recent season of “True Detective.” He had a really nice recurring character on that show for four or five episodes. And it was a great thrill to cast my own people. And I didn’t have to have a casting director say to me, “Oh, I don’t think she’s right” or “I don’t think he’s right.” I got to do it the way I wanted to. And each role was written specifically for each of those people.
CR: Yeah, it is. It’s great. Wonderful to have the control and it’s wonderful to be able to have the confidence in the people that you represent and say, “I know he can do this. I can bring it out.” And for that to happen, I think the big problem with a lot of films – especially indie films, you sometimes have a great idea or fabulous concept and have really good script, but you have really bad actors because everyone’s throwing their friends in these parts and their friends couldn’t act their way out of a bag. And that hurts the quality of the project. Or you’ll see a movie where you got a really good, good actor in there and he’s just chewing up the scene and then all of a sudden someone comes on and they’re so bad that it tips the flow. And you immediately look at it and you go, “Okay, well that person must be related to one of the financers.” You know, they promised to give a job to that person if they financed the movie. And people make that mistake and it’s a death to your project because it really kills it. My advice is don’t make any promises to financers and cast the right people and hire real actors. Don’t hire your friends. You’ll be happy that you didn’t when it’s all done and over with.
AMFM: According to IMDb, you have a couple of interesting projects coming up. Can you tell us a little about those?
CR: Sure. The Curse of Matusita is a great project. I hope we’re able to get it off the ground. It’s a legend down in Peru and I think it’s really creepy. It’s a really good script. The producers of it have had some problems getting the financing in order. I hope they’re able to do it because that’s a really great project. We’ll just have to see, so I can’t say too much more about that one. As for Lullaby, I own that script. I would say it’s kind of a combination of, of a Hitchcock and maybe mixed in with some of Stephen King’s Misery. It’s a great story. And that one right now is optioned. And we’re hoping at some point this year to get some good news on it. People like it; they’ve liked it for a long time. It took me a long time to really see its brilliance. I had a client who would always say, “Hey Chris, I’ve got this great script, look at this.” And I would be like, “Yeah, yeah, okay.” And she sent it to my hotel and I checked in at the hotel and they said, “Mr. Roe, we have a package for you.” And I opened it up and there’s this script and by then it’d be like, “Oh my God, stop this.” And one day I was on a flight connecting to Denver and I grabbed a different briefcase and I didn’t have anything to read. And this script was, like, shoved down the bottom of that briefcase. And who wants to read those air airline magazines? Forget that. So I just thought, “Okay.” I started flipping through this pretty messed up script from being crammed in there and it completely pulled me in. And as I landed in Denver, I had about 15 pages left and I called my client when I got off the plane and I said, “Look, I’ve just almost completed Lullaby. I’m running to my connection, I will call you the moment I land. Bye.” And I landed, I called her and optioned it immediately and then ultimately ended up buying. So I’m very, very happy about that. And, there’s a few other projects, too. I was George Romero’s manager for 15 years and George and I were really close and there are a few Romero properties that I have in the process of trying to get off the ground. I’m attached to those as a producer as well. And I have a documentary in there that I’m working on. So I have a full plate of projects!
AMFM: And somehow you’re still managing to make the fan convention rounds.
CR: Yeah. Well, it’s tough, especially this year. I’m bouncing all over the place for the conventions. I don’t go to as many as those now. I pretty much just send staff to those, but I go when I need to, certainly for more of the high profile clients. But it’s been great because Texas Frightmare Weekend decided they wanted to screen it and it was beautiful because Traci was there. And so that was really nice because sometimes she’s not always there. Very often if I’m flying all over the place with the movie, Traci isn’t always there. So it’s always nice to have her with me. And we always have a good time doing the Q&As.
AMFM: So when will people be able to watch this at home?
CR: Well, I don’t know when they’re going to be able to see it at their home. Right now I’m playing the festival circuit and I’m leaving for Charleston, South Carolina this Thursday. It’s playing this weekend at a festival called Crimson Screen Festival there in Charleston, which is a beautiful city. And I’m excited about that one because we picked up four nominations. We picked up a Best Picture, Best Actress for Traci, Best Director for myself, and Best Cinematography. And that’s exciting because there was a lot of really good craftsmanship in this movie and I don’t think people always see it, especially younger audiences. They almost never see it. They look at it and they go, “Oh, okay. It’s black and white. God, can we get through it?” But they don’t realize the time that it takes to make a black white film stand out. They don’t understand that the colors and the textures you have to use in order to make things pop; they don’t understand the lighting that has to be done. They don’t get the film score content. You know, this isn’t a cheap thousand dollar synthesizer score. This is an actual film score written specifically for it with Bernard Hermann in mind, and we have fabulous harpist and cellist and violinist, and have an Emmy-winning editor-producer, and this beautiful costume designer. So those are the things that this younger age demographic just don’t get it if my film is shown in a block of short films with some splatter film before mine with obscene jokes. They don’t even see the quality of what we’ve done. They laugh at the jokes and the bad work of some of the others. And I don’t say that to degrade a lot of the others, but some of them just are not good. They’re poorly lit, poorly directed. They’re poorly acted. But the young age demographic, they love jokes and punch lines and whatever else was going on. The older age demographic get mine 100%. They come up afterwards and go, “Wow, where do you get that car?” That costume -was that an authentic 1940s costume? It looks spot-on. My grandmother had one of those.” Those are the kinds of questions I get from an older age demographic. Occasionally you’ll get a younger age demographic that will surprise you, but when it really knows film really well, will come up and go, “Wow, that was really cool. Where did you shoot that? The house is incredible.” And then I get to tell him where I shot at, which was a home that was owned by [director]James Whale for a while. And so there’s a whole history there. I have pictures throughout the whole movie of James Whale scattered throughout the house as a homage to him. So, you know, sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t.
AMFM: Yeah, absolutely. Well, did you have any James Whale ghost sightings?
CR: No James ghost sightings. I think he lived in the home for a short while in the 30s. Well, you saw at the home – it’s absolutely breathtaking. We shot in two different locations for the home. The only interior scenes we did at a different location. It was for just the stair fall and everything else was shot in a large Tuscan villa up in the Hollywood Hills. And then, of course, we shot at the cemetery. I also have to say, speaking of the stair fall scene, that was brilliantly done by a wonderful actress/stuntwoman named Spice Williams-Crosby. People who are in the sci-fi world, they’ll know her as Vixis from Star Trek V, the Klingon officer on that film. She was so good in it, but she’s also been such an accomplished stuntwoman and, you know, blown out of cars, drug behind cars, hanging from helicopters. She does it all and Spice did that stair fall three times, throws herself backwards down this spiral staircase – and she was 64 years old. You would never know it. She’s one of the most professional human beings I’ve ever worked with. And if you ever need a stunt coordinator – even though she doesn’t do a lot of that anymore – that’s who I would pick up the phone and call. That’s why I will always call because she’s so precise, on-point, informative, and just so professional…and is so profoundly there. And what a trooper to do that fall three times. The last time I was so scared because that scene at the end of the movie when she goes down the stairs backwards, you hear this smack up against the wall with her head. That was really the sound of her head smacking up against the wall. The sound editor told me I didn’t have to add one thing for that. He goes, “In fact, if I had added more sound to that, it would have been really out of place.” So you see her smack her head and then her body turns sideways and her feet go in between the rails of the bannister. It could’ve snapped her feet right at the ankles. And because it was a wooden staircase and she was wearing silk pajamas, she slid through the bars and then her feet slid right out and down the stairs and it was just the most perfect stair fall. But so scary. [Laughs]
AMFM: That must have been horrifying to watch as a director.
CR: It was very, very scary. So scary that I just stood in front of the monitor watching and when she hit the floor, no one’s to move – everyone’s to stay still and no one’s to run to her. The only person that’s supposed to say anything is me. I’m supposed to say cut and then everyone goes to her. Anyway, you know, she just was absolutely incredible and it was scary as hell to witness something like that.
AMFM: With your attention to detail, I’m sure we’ll see something amazing when you do a feature length film.
CR: Well, the detail was important. If I couldn’t sell the audience that it was 1949, which is the date that it takes place, then I was in trouble. And so we had about 200 props for the film that were of that time period. So all of the clothing was from the 1940s. All original clothing with the exception of Traci’s – those we had custom-made. But everything from her jewelry to the ashtrays to the books, picture frames – all real 1940s props and some people have really noticed that. They’ve really picked up that. And so that’s really great when someone comes up and says that. And the other component of it, too, was even though this beautiful Tuscan villa up in The Hills – it was this old gorgeous mansion with a lot of modern amenities that had been put into the home. So from the air vents in the ceiling to light switch plates that have been updated. So anything with the flip switch, I had to have all of that digitally removed. So if you saw the movie before the entire film and then of when you see the final product, none of that is there. Everything had to be digitally removed, which took weeks and it was very costly. There was no way of shooting around that. You just don’t do that.
AMFM: Will we see you uncover any other of your clients that are genre favorites in future segments or episodes?
CR: Well, the next few episodes of Cemetery Tales is being written right now, so we have the synopsis and the stories for each, but the actual scripts are being written now but each script, each character is written for the person that I hope to be playing it. So I think you’re definitely gonna see Meg Foster, you’re definitely gonna see Courtney Gaines, you’re definitely gonna see Mariette Hartley, you’re definitely gonna see John Franklin, probably Malcolm McDowell, and you’re going to actually see Monte. So there’s different great stuff and some really fun characters for some of these folks. One thing that I did do a on the last script, which was really important to me because I represented them: I didn’t want them to do it out of feeling like they were obligated to do it. So when they received the script, each of them received the script with only the title on it and not a “written by” credit. I didn’t want them to do it just because I was their manager and their friend, but because they really liked the material and each person received the script and said, “Wow, this is really good. I would love to play this character.” And that’s how it was presented to them. Now that the cat’s out of the bag and I think most of my clients have seen the film, this next round they’ll probably be a little bit more suspicious. If they see a script come with no “written by” credit on it and it’s a short, they’ll probably know it was me.