Interview with Alexander Roman, Director of ‘Queer Blood’

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As I’m sure the majority of our readers may know, the world of short films is not one where you are going to make a quick buck. Nor are you likely to find a widespread audience, but this means that a filmmaker’s true intention and flair is allowed to flourish. Here at London Rocks Film Festival we embrace independent cinema and those who push boundaries. ‘QUEER BLOOD’ by Alexander Roman epitomises both the indie and the more unusual, and this director is a prime example of what you can achieve if you put your mind to it. Roman has drawn together influences such as the great Tarantino (who some might argue should be a category of films within itself) and set his short in a city synonymous with the U.S. film industry. He is a filmmaker who takes pride in who he is, and writes characters we might not expect to find in their particular settings. This is one to watch until the very end!

A purposeful film including stunning sets and the threads of violence and desire.

S.S: How did you go about the creation of ‘QUEER BLOOD’ and your characters within that world?

A.R: In November of 2019 I had just come back from filming another project and everything happened very quickly. That’s sometimes what’s interesting about my work, some of the ideas will come through very quickly and writing the script is fast with ideas just pouring out of me and other films can take me much longer. In regards to ‘QUEER BLOOD’, I often feel that artists in general are chanellers and I think we become vessels for ideas that flow and come to us and so. I think it’s always up to that artist when they get an idea if they want to paint it, if they want to write it, if they want to photograph it or film it. It really kind of depends on when you get that idea what you’re going to do with it. 

For ‘QUEER BLOOD’ everything happened, very quickly and very fast, it wasn’t something that I was doing over for a long time. I started having a vision of myself and another guy, both of us being bloodied up. Sometimes, you’ll get one idea or vibe or pick up on some kind of energy and that’s how a lot of my films start. I pick up a vibe or an energy which I want to create and then the story comes through and seeps through. For some people the story comes first, but for me as a filmmaker it’s kind of the reverse. 

This idea about creating a car mechanic who’s homosexual was an interesting dynamic to play because that’s something you often don’t see. A lot of my film work represents homosexual characters and gay story lines and I try to create films that place these characters in situations that maybe you don’t always see in films. 

Jesse Tayeh as “Reggie”

S.S: What do you think can be learnt from creating gay characters such as those within ‘QUEER BLOOD’? Do you feel there is an under-representation? 

A.R: Keep in mind, the amount of LGBTQ content prior to 2010 I would say (roughly speaking) has been limited in relation to other films & TV shows that represent heterosexuality (for lack of better words) so it’s nice to fill in the gaps by creating films & TV shows from previous time periods featuring gay characters & storylines, expanding the cinematic expression! 

Since the 2010s we’ve seen a lot more gay filmmaking and a larger acceptance of seeing homosexual characters in a much bigger and more dynamic way than in other time periods which has been great. Within my little efforts as a self-funded independent filmmaker, I’ve created my own little small niche of films that are artsy, experimental and often vintage in terms of the expression and the vibe that I want to create, I’m very old-school in terms of the type of films that I like to make. I don’t know if it necessarily speaks to the LGBTQ audience per se because I’m drawing on what inspires me and sometimes I’m not always sure that what I create is in alignment with the community, I just do my thing as an artist. I’ve completed four films this past year and the film process is very multi-layered and a big journey every time you take on a film. 

I think LGBTQ+ content has expanded a great deal and will continue to explore stories and characters that an audience member may not always see in a particular setting and/or environment. What can be learned from various gay characters is simply homosexuality exists within every part of society.

Director and actor Alexander Roman as “Nino”

S.S: You are quite a prolific filmmaker with at least 4 this year, how do you balance all of the ideas and “vibes” you have coming to you at once to channel into the various films?

A.R: Boy, that’s not an easy question to answer and honestly … I don’t know how I do it. I have a full time freelance job that pays for my indie filmmaking so it’s always a juggle for me in terms of coming up with the idea … story (screenplay) … vibe … setting and then doing my own scouting, travel coordinating, food, transportation, and many other details that come along with creating a film. I cut many corners and stretch every dollar I have to make it happen. The four films completed this past year in 2021 were all shot in different locations: San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, & New Orleans. How I was able to hop scotch to all of these places within a year roughly speaking with my last film “Cats of the Bayou” wrapping up shooting in New Orleans late January 2020 before the chaos of COVID 19 taking over the world. I can only thank God for keeping my engine running.

S.S: You talk of a vintage feel in your work, it’s a theme I love in ‘QUEER BLOOD’ why did you set the film in this time and how did you find the right sets to film in?

The look and style from various time periods prior to 2000 I find very appealing, and with ‘QUEER BLOOD’ I decided to create that whole montage sequence of combining stock footage shots of what Los Angeles looked like specifically the San Fernando Valley back in the 1940s that relates to the owners of the car repair shop and also to give people that vibe and the energy and that masculinity that’s often associated with people who repair cars. That sequence kind of birthed itself during the post-production process. And then that’s also where I decided to change the story and kind of structure it a little bit differently. 

The idea of the film was incorporating the car mechanic world which is a very hyper straight masculine world which is what I’m drawn to, then also creating the gangster world and showing the people that live under the grip of the underbelly of society. I think in that underground, underbelly of society you deal with extreme emotions and extreme extremities in human behavior and actions and so I thought it would also be very interesting to have my character struggle with these themes in a time where it was more hidden.

The car repair shop was owned by two guys, who worked in Hollywood and repaired picture cars for the movies, so the place comes with a lot of history and nostalgia and you could see that in the décor of the car repair place.

S.S: Tell us more about your casting and any challenges you find acting in your own films? Is it a hard line to cross?

A.R: I always feel I could do better as an actor.  As the editor for my movies, I’m always wanting more from my performance and wishing I could have played scenes better, however most actors feel that way when reviewing their work. I’m pretty hard on myself, but that’s also a good place to be because you’re always pushing yourself. 

The actor who played Sean, Kyle Williams did a great job. His audition really stood out from other performers. What I really liked about Kyle Williams is that I felt that we would have good chemistry and I felt that he brought a sense of danger and threat and that really came out in in his audition and that really stood out.  As the filmmaker, director and co-star I could visualize us having a good chemistry and contrasting each other very nicely. For the role of Reggie, which was initially written for an African-American, I auditioned several black actors, but Jesse Tayeh who ended up playing Reggie is Hispanic and he was another performer, very similar to Kyle, who just brought this sense of danger, a vibe and that boss energy that really stood out amongst the other auditions. This led me to going in another direction and it ended up going to Jesse because he really delivered that role and I think he did such a great job with creating that hip, tough guy who is tough enough to go up against  these criminals who live in LA and do things that are not necessarily law abiding. 

Kyle Williams as “Sean” & Holgie Forrester as “Grandma”

For the actress who played grandma, that was incredibly serendipitous. Holgie Forrester had auditioned for me for a film that I shot back in 2018 called ‘Blackmail’ and I ended up not casting her but when she submitted her picture and resume for my film, I called her up fairly quickly and spoke about her previous audition for me. I knew how she worked as an actress and asked how she would interpret the character. She was the first person I selected for grandma and the first person I cast because it was so immediate and that often happens with me with my projects. I’ll have actors audition for me I may not cast them or have the time to reach out to them, but you know if they follow up on another project that I’m in or if I happen to think of them or remember them, I will definitely reach out and oftentimes I really don’t need to audition them again because I already have that gut feeling that they’re gonna do a great job. When I’m casting my films, I visualize and I feel the chemistry because I don’t often have the time to bring in actors to do chemistry reads and so it has to go based on how I feel and so it all just kind of came together very quickly.

S.S: To delve into your sound a bit more –  where did you find those old sound effects and how were they mixed in?

A.R: The sound effects in the opening montage sequence incorporated effects from the 1930’s thru 1940’s to go against the vintage archival footage of Los Angeles that plays into the history of the car repair shop as well as representing LA’s past while exploring this masculine world of car mechanics. Finding the sound effects is a combination of libraries and doing my own recordings. My incredible sound editor and re-recording mixer Chris Orsi did a great job cleaning up the dialogue and adding wonderful sound effects we worked on together. He goes down the rabbit hole of detail when it comes to sound effects & design, he may answer that question better than I in terms of how it’s all mixed together. It’s a back and forth process with making various changes and tweaks. 

In the past, I didn’t pay as much attention to sound effects & design until I wanted to start incorporating ASMR into my film work, opening up a whole new world for me. I’m deeply grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with Chris on these projects. Each film we do has a different touch … approach … flavor … it’s not cookie cutter style … but I must say I really do give all the credit to Chris because he takes all my ideas yet still makes it his own. With each pass of the sound mix, he always goes deeper … richer with his interpretation along with taking in my notes and suggestions.  It’s always a big treat for me to hear:) what Chris will come up with next leading up to the final mix. When we were working on ‘QUEER BLOOD’ he added in other details that I didn’t even provide or think about. Chris added mood and enhanced the storytelling. Finding the right music for the film that created the kind of the vibe and the energy, that also takes some time. I’ve worked with composers in the past. But the past couple of years I’ve just sourced out music to license, which makes it a little bit easier on my end. I hope to at some point maybe work with a composer once again. But we’ll see what happens. 

S.S: What are your end goals for your films and how do you want to develop your work?

What’s my end goal … to reach completion and thanking God that I made it. Indie filmmaking is rough, it’s a very crowded playing field with endless content from everyone and I do mean EVERYONE so it’s difficult to build an audience in our hyper critical social media world especially when you’re artsy experimental and don’t fall into a commercial category. The amount of time it takes to promote and get one’s content out there is exhausting. There’re only so many hours in the day, especially for indie artists who often have other jobs to pay for their artistic expression, and receiving monies back from the art is a long road especially if a streaming platform is only offering 1 cent for every hour your content is watched minus other “factors” they use to determine final compensation, so I work hard for every penny I get and operate on a low scale.

S.S: What are you working on next?

I do have my irons in the fire … I don’t like to give too much away … but it will be something along the lines of spies, a birthday wish, AI, a different shade of spooks & chills during Halloween, and a disappearance in New York City.

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