The Interview October Built: A Chat With Genre Icon Bobby Roe

Image courtesy of Bobby Roe

At the very beginning of the spooky season, the hit genre writer/director Bobby Roe took the time to sit down with me and chat about things ranging from sports to going toe to toe with Kobayashi in a veal brain-eating contest! It was an absolute blast to talk with him, and I really hope you enjoy this insightful conversation. You can also listen to the audio version of this interview over on the Ruminations of Redrum podcast, on the Ruminations Radio Network. Enjoy!

Bobby and the crew interview Haunt actors during Houses 2
Bobby and the crew interview Haunt actors in Houses 2.

Brendan Jesus: Today I am sitting down with horror icon Bobby Roe, writer and director of the instant cult classic The Houses October Built 1 and 2, and the writer and director of one of the segments “Pacific Northwest” in the prolific pandemic film Isolation. Bobby, how are you doing? How are things going?

Bobby Roe: Doing good. We just got back from London two weeks ago and [are] looking forward to the North American premiere [of Isolation] in the middle of October.

BJ: And which festival is that at?

Bobby: Isolation was just asked to have the North American premiere at Screamfest in Los Angeles. What’s really cool is that it will play at the Chinese Theatre, Grauman Theatre, which is really cool and iconic. I’ve never had a movie play there; that will be a really cool introduction for the US, and I think it will be fun to bring the kids. I’m going to bring my kids down to have them walk the red carpet and kind of experience that, which I think will be a lot of fun because they worked really hard on the movie.

BJ: That will be really cool! I do want to talk Isolation, but I wanted to get some background stuff out of the way first. One of the things I thought was interesting was that you were an All-American pitcher in college, correct?

Bobby: That’s correct.

BJ: Was film always an end goal for you? Or were sports an end goal, and you switched to film? Or did you just love doing both?

Bobby: It’s always been film as far as I can remember since I was five years old. What baseball did was open up a nice window for school like UCLA, to be able to kill two birds. And, you know, I don’t regret not playing it anymore. I miss pitching, and I had opportunities with the Texas Rangers out of school, and I chose to go to film school instead. It’s something that I do miss, but in a weird way, I think pitching wired me to be a better director. And by that, I mean a pitcher—you win the game as a team, you lose the game as a pitcher, and I’m fine putting that on my shoulders, I’m used to it. So I kind of tackle movies that way. I think sports are really good at keeping you aligned with that team atmosphere, and I think that’s a lot of what a cast and crew are on a film. It gave me some opportunities, which I am very grateful for, and I loved pitching there, and I had a really good [pitching] career that I’m proud of at UCLA, but it got me into the right city and the right town.

I actually branched off after school and did a bunch of sports stunts in movies. So I did, they called them stunts, but it was just playing baseball; they needed pro guys to do it. A lot of the guys, the household names, they aren’t going to do it for x amount of money, so they needed real pitchers. When you’re running film, you can save a production thousands of dollars by being able to throw a strike. And they need that. It was something I never thought about before until I got actually picked to stunt double for Roger Clemmons, and I didn’t understand because I was like, I’m pretty sure you can do it better than I can, what do you need a stunt double for? He was pitching the next day so I had to do all the scenes with Randy Johnson which was really cool for me.

I’m left-handed and I’m kind of built like Roger Clemmons, so they flipped the shot. They wrote my name backward [on the jersey]. What was even cooler, so I got my SAG card on that from Zack Snyder—he was the director of that commercial. So that was really neat; we got to go to his house. At the time, I didn’t know what it was, but he had all these storyboards of Spartan warriors everywhere around his house when we would go for costume fittings, and it was for 300. It was right before he started 300. So that was great, I loved being able to watch him work. I worked for Gavin O’Connor through the television show Clubhouse, that Aaron Spelling and Mel Gibson did. But you know watching him do Miracle and Warrior, he’s such a great sports director. I got such an education on watching a lot of those great directors on how they work. So I tried to use my time the best I could, after I had shot my scenes I would just kind of hang around set and watch. Most of that experience was better than any film school, to be honest.

BJ: That’s an interesting way to look at it. This wasn’t initially a question, but what is your fastest pitch?

Bobby: My fastest pitch? You know what, I hit 89 three times, I never hit 90. I tried so hard. But pitching is funny like that, it doesn’t matter if you’re the strongest guy on the team, it just depends on your delivery and form, Luckily I’m left-handed so there is more natural movement as a leftie. I have a lot of movement on my ball, so it didn’t really matter that I wasn’t throwing 95, but it would have been nice! Would have probably been a different story if I could, but 89 was the top of the ladder.

BJ: Still faster than me. Before we talk Isolation, the one last thing I wanted to bring up is that you wrote a children’s book.

Bobby: I did. Narah and the Unicorn: The Original Narwhal Story.

Cover art for narah and the unicorn: the original narwhal story
Image courtesy of Bobby Roe

BJ: Which I think is a very interesting juxtaposition from what we’ve seen you film. Where did you get the idea for that from? And why Narwhals?

Bobby: You know what, it’s funny. Through all the darkness and as much as I love horror, both Zack [Andrews] and I have been in that world knee-deep for 12 to 15 years, and I don’t want that to be the only genre I tackle. To go back to baseball, I’d like to hit the cycle. I’d like to have a Rom-com, a Sci-Fi, as long as it’s original and someone walks out of that theater like, “Oh, I’ve never thought of that idea before,” that would make me proudest. So with that, I’ve always wanted to do an animated movie, which is a whole different field. That’s a five-year process. People like Pixar, and stuff like that is always done in-house, so I never how that would play out. Maybe one day it will. The best thing that I have learned through this journey is you need to put pen to paper in some form, or it’s not real. You can talk all day about your ideas, but if you don’t go execute something and let it live and breathe, then it doesn’t exist.

By doing the book, it’s out there and on shelves. Maybe someday someone will pick it up, and it could be an animated movie one day. I wrote it for my daughter when she was born because I was always fascinated with Narwhals, and they’re one of those animals that you can’t see in person. They can’t be in an aquarium. The acrylic, like with those horns, you’re never going to see one at the zoo or at the aquarium. So I just kind of wanted to give an origin story for it, and I really liked those children’s books when we were kids that taught you a lesson but [are] not hitting you over the head with it. But I liked the idea of just because you’re one of a kind doesn’t mean you’re alone. I think the uniqueness with, especially kids, to deal with a lot of that stuff is that you’re not by yourself, but there are people who are one-offs by themselves. So that’s why I incorporate Big Foot and the Loch Ness monster, etc. because that is the stuff that has always fascinated me. I love cryptozoology, that kind of stuff’s fun. I thought it was a gateway origin story for kids ’cause my kids can’t see anything that I’ve made. Even the stuff they’re in they haven’t seen.

The whole premise of the movie was about a disease they eradicated years ago, but it’s mutated and comes back stronger. […] You look out into a neighborhood and just think, there could be kids on their own, there are corpses in the home. I thought that was terrifying. It’s one of those things—I wouldn’t call it hyper-real, but it’s not far-fetched. That to me was a very grounded approach to what is scary.

BJ: So the premiere of Isolation will be their first time seeing it?

Bobby: Yes, but I’m not letting them see the rest of the movie. There’s some gross stuff. That’s not gonna happen. So that [book] was kind of my gift to her. And I was thrilled with people’s reactions on it because the nice thing about, you know, with horror movies, some things scare some people, but this one is right down the pike of what kids enjoy and so the response has been great, and maybe one day it will be an animated movie. That’d be great.

BJ: What would you consider to be your favorite genre? Do you have a movie that has inspired you more than any other movie?

Bobby: Horror is still my favorite genre, for sure. You know, Nightmare on Elm Street, I thought it was a smart device. I mean, I remember as a kid thinking that was really smart to use something none of us can avoid—sleep. I remember always kind of thinking that way, and gimmick is the wrong word, but you need that device in horror that works really well. That always got me into that area, but Saw, the original Saw, changed the game for me because it was the first time. I know a lot of people roll their eyes at horror, and Saw was this cerebral and smart version of these horror movies where I’m like, to some, you don’t want to normally go see horror, it’s a thriller then, or however you want to look at it. But it was so smart; the twist is just perfect. That was, to me, felt like this escalated, a kind of higher-brow version of horror. That you could make a really smart movie mixed with, at that time they were using the word torture porn all the time. To me, that was just a straight-up smart movie, and it didn’t matter what genre it was in. I liked knowing that horror could be perceived that way.

BJ: Let’s jump into Isolation. Obviously, the first two movies that you made you had free range to make a movie, the way people have been doing for a long time. What was the difference between filming a movie under pandemic guidelines rather than just going out and filming a movie?

Bobby: It was tough. In the beginning, I turned it down. I didn’t…there’s so much time for me to travel throughout the year, usually, pre-COVID, and my kids are young. I wanted to be around. So if everyone was going to be in lockdown, this was an opportunity for me to be around them in some very influential years. I also didn’t have, like, an Alexa camera at home. I didn’t want it to look bad, especially if I didn’t have a crew. We’re not lighting this the same way, and I knew that some of these people were married to their cinematographers. So I was like ahh, I just don’t know how this is going to look. That was important to me, but I also thought, this could be a cool experiment, a cool family film. Worst case scenario, we could have a really cool home video.

Then I started thinking backward, like if I use the kids and my wife came up with more of a Lord of the Flies scenario, maybe we could do this all together. It wouldn’t be dad leaving and taking away all this time. When we did that as a family for about two months, it was actually a really cool bonding experience. I’m very fortunate for that time. And you know, in some way, especially with my daughter, she was able to kind of see what dada does; she picked things up so quickly. She was five years old, and she understood continuity. I don’t know how she knew to think this way. We shot out of order and she was like, “Dad I have mud on my shoes, but I didn’t have mud on my shoes in the scene before.” I had no script supervisor, I’m running around with my head cut off, and I wouldn’t have caught things like that. She did. I was super impressed by that. It was really cool to watch.

BJ: Like I said in my Isolation review, when it comes to children acting in movies, it can either really be hit or miss, but your kids really just knocked it out of the park. I would honestly say it is one of the better performances from children in a horror movie. Kudos to you guys—you absolutely nailed it.

Bobby: Thanks, that means a lot.

BJ: So you directed this [segment], but it was written by you and Zack Andrews. How exactly did you come up with this story?

Bobby: Well, we kept going back and forth on how to incorporate—at that time it was the height of COVID, where it was scary to go to the grocery store. All the stories [in the news] were about the elderly being affected, right? If you were 60, 65, and up, you were the most at risk. We started thinking about it and even watching Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman. The whole premise of the movie was about a disease they eradicated years ago, but it’s mutated and comes back stronger. We kind of used that idea to figure what was really scary to me, maybe more as a parent, was what if the age bracket went all the way down to 12 and people were dying off that were above 12. There could be a newborn baby with two dead parents sitting in the living room, and that baby doesn’t stand a chance, but it’s not affected—it’s still alive. You look out into a neighborhood and just think, there could be kids on their own, there are corpses in the home. I thought that was terrifying. It’s one of those things—I wouldn’t call it hyper-real, but it’s not far-fetched. That to me was a very grounded approach to what is scary.

BJ: Did you guys have full creative control over your segment?

Bobby: Yeah, for the most part, we did. We just had to come in at a certain time. That was, like anything, a fight. But Nathan Crooker who brought us all together did an amazing job of finding a good team. He worked with all the filmmakers to make sure that their vision is still there, and you know, he has a bigger job of making sure all nine spots fit and what order they go in. He was conscious of all that, but he was great as a producer and working with everybody. We had creative control; it was just the time limit. Oh, and zombies! That was the rule. You couldn’t use zombies—that was the big thing. There may or may not be an alternate ending to mine that I had to delete.

BJ: You said production was about two months long for filming?

Bobby: Yeah. About two months. We went through—well, my daughter lost her first tooth. Thank god for masks, ’cause in a lot of scenes, they’re wearing masks. Shooting that out of order, her brother and her were wrestling, and she got a black eye. If you notice, I shoot her from one side through a lot of the scenes; she had a really bad shiner. We shot it in about two months. We tried to do as much as we could with zero crew. My wife was great at helping out. She’s a still photographer, so she handled all the stills and also helped out a lot. We did what we could. There was a motorcycle chase in the movie and things like that that you wouldn’t expect out of such an experimental film with a lack of crew.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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