Your new movie Tales
of Poe - in a few words, what is it about?
is an anthology feature based on the writings of
Edgar Allan Poe. We adapted 3 of his stories: The Tell-Tale Heart -
written and directed by Bart Mastronardi. The Cask of Amontillado written
and directed by Alan Rowe Kelly. And Dreams, directed by Bart Mastronardi
and based one of Poe’s poem of the same name with a script co-written
with Michael Varrati.
Alan Poe is one undisputable great of horror of course ... but still, what
drew you to his writings, and to the stories represented in Tales
of Poe in particular?
Since I was able to read I have been fascinated by
stories of the macabre. I was introduced to Poe's writings in high school
and I remember I couldn't read enough of his work. His approach to writing
is artistic, dark, gothic style and vivid. Poe is more psychological and
character driven. When I wanted to make a new movie, a short film, I
wanted to adapt a source of literature. I had worked with actress Debbie
Rochon [Debbie Rochon
interview - click here] and knew I wanted to direct her in something. The Tell-Tale Heart
was the perfect story to do with her in. The Tell-Tale Heart is my
favorite of Poe's work. The Cask was something I thought would be great
for Alan, but I gave him two of Poe's stories to decide on, the other
of the Red Death. With budgetary constraint Alan chose to do The
Cask, which feels so much more the style of Tales
of Poe. Poe's poem Dreams is a beautiful poem that he had written and it is unknown by many.
It contained all of the aspects Poe was known for and it is just so
lyrical. I knew it would be a challenge to make it into a short. It is
rare filmmakers make movies based on poems, but working with Michael
Varrati as he adapted it was a dream.
Related to the last
question, how did the project fall together in the first place?
Alan Rowe Kelly: Tales
brainchild. Originally he wanted 3 tales directed by three different
directors and I wanted in! Once he agreed, I had him pick which stories he
thought appropriate to my style of filmmaking, so he offered me The
Cask of Amontillado or Masque of the Red Death. I love Masque
of the Red Death but quickly realized that it would need a larger
budget to convey the colorful, grandiose background of the story. At the
time I was trying to develop a script for myself and Randy Jones (The
Village People) for another anthology, but my story wasn’t jelling
and I put it on the back burner. Once I read The Cask of Amontillado,
I immediately realized that this was the answer to completing that tale.
It was a definite sign to me that we were on the right track. Bart
received funding through Nicole Alexis Kane to do The Tell-Tale Heart. We
filmed that and spent many months together in the editing room. The
following year we were both hired as line producer and cinematographer for
Mike Watt [Mike Watt interview -
click here] & Amy Lynn Best’s latest feature Razor Days. Thanks
to that film and Mike and Amy’s enthusiasm on viewing The Tell-Tale
Heart, they put us in touch with Robert Kuiper who funded many of their
features. We made proposals and, after Robert viewed The Tell-Tale
he gave us the green light to complete the rest of the film. Amy Lynn
& Mike came onto The Cask as producers and also appeared in supporting
roles. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their help. It’s not everyday
you find filmmakers willing to help other filmmakers out of shear kindness
and belief in what you do - VERY rare!
Bart: I truly wanted to create an anthology film that was different than many
of the other anthology films out there. Going into a more classic
style of movie making and having it feel like a classic Hollywood film and
book of literature is where my mind went when thinking it out. I thought
that by bringing on different directors to the project it would allow us
to do just that. Since I was creating Tales
I thought it be a great
idea to be the first to make The Tell-Tale Heart and the rest would follow
after me. Alan then went on to make The Cask. Once the other directors
were unable to make their Poe adaptions due to budget constraints did Dreams
come about. The film will always tell you what it needs and Tales
only wanted these 3 pieces for this film. Looking at what Alan and
I were able to produce and direct, I can say it is a beautiful film.
writing your respective stories, to what extent did you actually feel
forced to stay true to Poe's writings, and what were your other sources of
inspiration of course?
Alan: I never felt forced by his writing.
I was actually inspired by it when it came to re-adapting The Cask. I did
know it would be viewed widely and whatever liberties we took in expanding
the stories and characters would be watched by the discerning eyes of Poe
aficionados. Will both the Poe enthusiasts AND the horror fans enjoy it?
We did feel a responsibility towards the writings but also not
make ourselves slaves to it by producing another carbon copy. In my mind,
what Roger Corman [Roger Corman
bio - click here] created with his Poe series in the 1960’s was so
brilliant, why bother even attempting to touch it? So Bart & I brushed
off the slates in our heads and used the stories as templates for the
films we really wanted to make. That's what readapting is all about - a
fresh new approach. You have to make it yours. Poe’s writings leave so
much open for interpretation and we didn’t want to fall into the gothic,
‘corset cinema’ stylings of so many previous films. Our goal was to
create something unexpected and different. Bart and I worked very closely
and in different capacities for each chapter. Bart would direct The Tell-Tale Heart
and I would follow his direction as an actor and see to his
needs as production designer and art director. Then I would direct The
Cask and Bart would become my chief cinematographer and producer. On Dreams
we collaborated on all the creative areas to ensure Bart’s
vision. We passed the hat of responsibility for each chapter so the
pressure would not be solely on one person ALL the time. And that is a
very comforting feeling having another shoulder to lean on and know
they’re watching your back as well.
Bart: When writing an adaption to any writer's work I feel that you have to
keep true to a degree. The skeleton of the story must be there, but making
a movie you have to remember that it is a visual story for the audience.
Keeping it cinematic is the challenge. When I began adapting The Tell-Tale Heart
I knew this story has been done cinematically many times
theatrically, on radio etc. I needed to bring something that others had
not done. I read a great book on Martin Scorsese and he happened to discuss
adaptation and his exact words were: "Keep it cinematic!" I kept
Poe's story but began putting my own muscle on the skeleton: 1950's, Old
Hollywood, silent aged film star, insane asylum, deranged nurse. All this
just layered what Poe had already written. I only embellished for
cinematic purposes to visually tell his story. On Dreams Michael
Varrati [screenwriter] had the task of creating an original story out of a poem,
which was quite challenging. Michael wrote a beautiful script. Once I was
directing Dreams it just spun itself through the costumes, sets,
performances, editing, sound and all great ways to visually bring it to
life. "Keep it cinematic!"
What can you tell us about your
third writer, Michael Varrati, and what was your collaboration with him
like? And given he has taken the associative route to tell his story, what
were the challenges to put this into pictures?
Michael is an incredibly hard working writer. He
loves writing, so to ask him to adapt Dreams into a short screenplay was
such a great way to collaborate with him. Michael and I have been friends
for years, so I knew how he worked. We would have discussions on other
filmmakers, movies, art and writers who inspired us to create the world of
Dreams. With our discussions Michael went off and then wrote Dreams.
Michael put so much beauty into the piece that Poe had given us in his
tone. Dreams is a beautiful and tragic story filled with surrealism and
fantasy. The challenge for me was to then take what he wrote and fit it
into a budget, which looking at the film works so greatly. Since Alan was
also producing Dreams with me, we spoke about how to make costumes and
sets on the budget we had.
you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your stories at
hand? And since you both had a hand in the making of each other's
segments, to what degree did you share creative control in one another's
Alan: In respect to theme, plot and
characters, we both took off in our own directions by changing locations,
character genders, time periods and adding a more surreal touch. Poe has
been adapted on film each decade by the dozens since silent pictures
So it was challenging to find a new approach and tell it through
both of our individual filmmaking styles. For The Cask I wanted a story of
betrayal, deceit and revenge. So instead of 2 main characters, I developed
3 and put them into a twisted love triangle. I wanted a strong ensemble
cast and had the events take place during a wedding celebration on a
vineyard estate. Bart looked at the sets, characters and locations and
lensed it into a giallo. He approached the lighting with an Argento-esque
Euro styling; bold colors, indirect beams of light in blues, reds,
indigos, greens and golds. He distorted his lenses and used a lot of hand
held movement (there’s no arm steadier than Bart’s…lol!). As
artistic as I am, Bart is equally so with his camera. I would never hold
him back from a new idea while shooting and I always give him free reign
because I know his eyes will capture the beauty of the moment, be it
terror, dread, sadness or joy. He paints with his eyes and I love the
atmosphere he created for The Cask. Creatively, making Tales
very gratifying. I’ve worked with Bart for 10 years now and we have been
fortunate enough to share and create on many features and shorts since
then. Our approach to filmmaking is very different and yet very much the
same - if that makes any sense! Lol! We do tend to finish each other’s
sentences on set and balance each other’s stress levels very well. When
Bart is in charge of a production, I gladly follow his lead to provide him
with everything he needs. Working with him has been one of the great
pleasures of my career. So as for art directing on The Tell-Tale Heart and
Dreams, I will let him elaborate…
Bart: First off working with Alan is one of the great pleasures in this
business. This man works! And he works damn hard. In this business that is
a rarity to have with a collaborator and business associate. I am truly
blessed. I love making movies the same way Alan does, so that creative
passion we have to make Tales
comes from our own love of movies,
art and our work ethics. Whether the budget was high or low we would
figure out how to create the visuals and use cinematic techniques to tell
our stories. Alan and I have worked together for over 10 years on each
others projects and various projects for other fellow filmmakers. We
understand one another’s needs and wants on our projects. We also listen
and know what the project needs. I may come up with something and he might
be able to transform it into something better and vice versa. A director's
job easy: "yes" or "no". We are there to serve the
needs of the project. The best thing about it is that we balance each
other out creatively on the project. There is no ego here between us. We
want what is best for the project, not for our careers. We know that if
the project is successful then we have moved our career forward. Either
way we are going to make movies regardless, so by sharing each other’s
strengths we do can only benefit our work.
Working on Alan's film as cinematographer as he directed and acted
in is a great experience because he trusts me and with Alan there is no
ego involved to crush the work. He simply wants what is best for the
project. As myself a director, he too trust me enough to offer any
performance advice I can give since I am also behind the camera seeing the
role form. When I am directing, Alan, is there to do the same for me when
challenges arise on set. At the end of the day we walk away laughing and
totally satisfied with what has been wrought for the day's work.
Alan, you have played lead characters in two of
the three segments - so what can you tell us about your characters, and
what did you draw upon to bring them to life?
Alan: I have to admit I was very lucky to
fulfill two of my acting dreams with this film. Peggy Lamarr in The Tell-Tale Heart
was a great character to play and Bart made it very easy for me
- he is a stress free director (Plus I got to lie in bed for 3 days, so
no complaints here! Lol!). To create the image for this faded movie
star as an aging, one-eyed, bed ridden crone we did several make up tests
to see what would work and we decided less was more. He had me watch Sunset
Boulevard for a character reference, but not to copy or replicate. We
used lots of old professional photographs taken of myself when I was quite
young to use as set pieces and a reminder of “what once was”.
Originally, Peggy had a lot of dialogue scenes that we shot. But
once in the editing room we realized they would pull the audience away
from the lead character’s (Debbie Rochon [Debbie
Rochon interview - click here]) point of view. So we scrapped
them. Peggy has only 5 lines throughout the entire segment. But that was
all that was needed. Her image and the atmosphere Bart created was more
than enough to make the audience uncomfortable. Bart’s main instruction
to me was to play her down. Nothing too over the top or campy. Peggy had
to be theatrical, but pathetic, and he guided me through that beautifully.
For Gogo Montresor in The Cask, I depended on Bart
once again as cinematographer to personally direct me in giving a
controlled performance. I already had a cast of 10 lead and supporting
actors to direct and also 20 extras to handle for the wedding reception
scene. So I leaned heavily on Bart to make sure I wouldn’t over
exaggerate my reactions and mannerisms or rush my performance while being
filmed. I wanted to create
that “black widow” feel once my character’s true nature is revealed.
So I looked to performances like Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity,
Bette Davis in Another Man’s Poison and Simone Signoret in Games
for inspiration. And thanks to Bart’s watchful eye and discipline with
me, I feel I’ve given my best performance to date.
you tell us about the rest of your key cast, and why exactly these people?
Bart: When I work with actors I work with
talent first. All of these actors come from great performances that want
me to cast them, but I do not want them to repeat what audiences are
familiar with from them. They are actors first and I respect their craft
and their ability to approach a role of a character. Tales
will be known for its strong performances from all of
the cast involved. I, like Alan, am most proud of our cast. Alan and I are
fortunate enough to have worked hard enough in our business to be able to
reach out to dedicated actors and have them say yes to Tales
Second, many of these actors are considered to be the horror's genres
finest and very well respected veterans of the genre. There are many new
actors involved, too, Broadway actors, up and coming actors etc. For The Tell-Tale Heart
Debbie Rochon [Debbie Rochon
interview - click here] became my muse. Debbie is a most respected
actress in our genre. To have the opportunity to work with her on a piece
such as this was an honor. She is a professional and we would talk on the
phone and email each other what we thought was going to work best for her
role. In a heart beat I would work with her again as she is a strong
actress in our genre. I knew that when I went into making Tales
of Poe, as
did Alan, that we wanted the performances to be top and above the hole
that horror always seems to get criticized for.
I always enjoy working with actors on the set and rehearsing with
them because they are why the films are alive. It is performance. To work
with Lesleh Donaldson, who is in my opinion a major force of performance
in The Tell-Tale Heart, was a great experience because Lesleh does her
homework. She truly brings it when she creates a character. These are
actors I enjoy working with. Alan Rowe Kelly - I wrote Peggy Lamar just
for Alan. I knew with him and Debbie working together this would be a tour
de force performances for them both. In my first film Vindication, Alan
played Urbane. a blind prophet, which he took home a Best Supporting
Acting Award for ath The Terror Film Festival. Alan can get into a role. A great
character actor who knows how to take the role beyond the page. The same
is true for Desiree Gould, David Marancik and Joe Quick. Everyone on board
knew we were making something more than just a stereotypical horror piece,
we all wanted greater. Dreams' cast was simply a dream. This is where
separates itself from The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask. Dreams
is a silent film, no dialogue, so much emphasis was placed on eyes
and performance art. Dreams' lead actress, Bette Cassat, carries the whole
film and God bless Bette as she stood with Dreams for the two years it
took to make it. She is just beautiful and has such subtlety to her
approach to the character of the Dreamer. Bette is a strong actress. I am
blessed to have her in the film. Cartier Williams, one of the most
talented tap dancers today, delivers a very haunting role. As does
Brewster McCall, Andrew Glaszeck and Collin Cunliffe.
Now the three main ladies of Dreams is beyond words for me as I,
like many of us, grew up watching them in the greatest horror films to
date. Amy Steel, where do I begin? She hasn't been on screen for many
years and to have her say yes to Dreams was quite the boyhood crush come
true. Amy's role is the Mother of Dreams in two ways: that of the reality
mother and that of the dream mother, is the film's only spoken voice over.
Amy had to use her motherly instincts here. In real life, Amy is a
wonderful mother of two beautiful daughters, and I know when working with
her she would always go to them for reference. It is an emotional role for
her, and she certainly is credible here. I kinda thought it was Ginny from
Friday the 13th Part 2 all grown up. Caroline
Williams plays the Angel of Dreams. For five years Caroline and I have
been searching for a film to work on together and Dreams was it.
Caroline's performance here is a total opposite of what perhaps most would
come to expect from her - her role as Stretch in Texas Chainsaw
Massacre 2. Here she is much more subdued in her performance. She grabs the silent
film performance and delivers. She has the most beautiful eyes and she
delivers just by looking at you. She and Bette worked so well together on Dreams. Adrienne King truly is a most dedicated actress and, like Amy and
Caroline, a pleasure to work with too. Adrienne reached out to me after hearing about
and wanted to know if there was a role for her. Well
of course I am not going to turn her down. Michael wrote such a part for
her that anyone looking for Alice from Friday
the 13th Part 1 will only
see the opposite. Here she is more Mrs. Voorhees. The Queen of Dreams is
certainly a role that required a lot of attention as the main antagonist
to Bette's character. Anything that character needed Adrienne went for.
Watching her work certainly inspires me, too, because she delivers a
character driven by pain and anger. Adrienne was such a joy to work with
that I brought her back for another role in Dreams as a creepy nurse and
she gives two totally different performances. Just amazing on all the
actors performances. I can go on and praise them so much as the entire
cast worked damn hard. I am happy when they are given their credit for
Alan: I have worked with many of the same
actors for years on my films such as Zoe Daelman Chlanda, Susan Adriensen [Susan
Adriensen interview - click here],
Carl Burrows, Douglas Rowan, Tom Lanier & Jerry Murdock - their
talents are extremely versatile. I always try to include them in
everything I do and give them something different to play because I know
they will always give 100% of themselves. As for my leading men Randy
Jones & Brewster McCall, I really grabbed the brass ring! I needed men
with real charm, virility and camera presence. I have known Randy Jones
for many years and aside from his fame as an entertainer and one of the
original Village People, I discovered a very talented actor - down
to earth, easy to work with and talk to - a true “Southern Gentleman”.
Brewster McCall I met while doing a stage reading in Manhattan. He is the
full package - great looking, sexy, talented, warm, generous and always
available on set. He’s got “IT”. They are the type of actors that
you can look right into their eyes and see the mechanics at work. So to be
bookended by both of them made my job as an actor so easy and our
offscreen relationships allowed us to bring our personal chemistry to the
screen. I’m always thrilled when reviewers sight our actors for their
fine work. It gives me great satisfaction that I did my job.
talk about the shoots as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
Alan: Our sets were always professional
but we never had that heavy atmosphere of urgency to get it done on the
first take. Our main goal was to be totally prepared for each scene and
treat that as the ONLY scene. That’s why it took 3 years to film. We
spent our budgets on each chapter as if it were a separate feature. We
still had a lot of fun and that is mainly due to the magnificent cast and
crew and their belief in us. Since we were low-budget, we knew from our
past films that total respect to anyone working with us was key - and
great food! We were blessed with all who came on board. There were no
“stars” - just wonderful, hard working, talented people. I couldn’t
think of anything worse than having someone walk off our set and say “Never
again!” The banquet sequence in Dreams was the most ambitious and
stressful for Bart and me. We spent a month on costumes, a week building
the set, and then 5 days shooting that scene from every possible angle.
Having Adrienne King giving all she had while cheerleading us at the same
time inspired us to go even further. But the same must be said for the
entire cast. They were patient, enthusiastic, always obliging and ready to
go! It makes you want to work harder for them.
Bart: As Alan said, the working atmosphere was completely professional, but we
had a great time making it. Lots of laughs but truly a dedicated
seriousness to everyone's work. We all worked hard to make sure that we
didn't let the budget hinder us in any way. Every person who worked on the
film gave so much. Alan and I as producers wanted to make sure that when
the cast and crew arrived that they felt comfortable, fed properly, had a
relaxed atmosphere and could leave knowing that they had a great place to
go and play for a few hours. Producing a film also means to ensure the
family is taken care of. It took a while to make, but Tales
completed because of the dedication of everyone who stuck with us as the
film was being made. Yes, the Queen of Dreams banquet scene was perhaps
the most stressful as it was a huge undertaking. When we finished that
scene I remember driving everyone to the hotels, we took the set down,
packed it all away, cleaned up and Alan was the last to drop off. As we
were at a red light he turned to me and said, "You and your bright
ideas." We laughed so hard for about 30 minutes. That is Tales
few words about critical and audience reception of Tales
of Poe so far?
Alan: RELIEF! Lol! I have single-parented
all my features up to this film and something always got lost in the
translation due to myself being the only person manning the helm and
eventually running out of steam. You simply can’t do it all and having a
partner as talented and CALM as Bart has not only enabled me to become a
better director and producer, but also properly see to the film’s end
result with promotion, proper placement in film festivals, screenings and
eventually distribution. I think the combination of our talents has proved
successful and the reviews we’re receiving have been wonderful. It is
very gratifying that viewers are enjoying it.
Bart: When a child is born all you want if for the kid is to be healthy and
grow up happy. But we all know people will certainly tell you their
opinion of your child, which can be so nerve wracking. As of now the
response has been so favorable to Tales
of Poe. This is a blessing! I am
sure there will be some negative but overall the response has been quite
positive. Working so close with Alan on Tales
has made the process
of this journey so much easier. We are blessed with Tales
ways. If people enjoy it that just makes the film even better.
Any future projects you'd like to
share - and are you intending to ever shoot any more Poe?
Alan: We each have features in mind that
we want to make and a Tales
II is certainly one of them!
We’re also discussing a very fun idea for a Christmas horror
movie in the vein of Black
Christmas. But who knows what will
happen after Tales
is released? We’ll just have to wait and see.
LOL Yes, Tales of Poe V.2 will certainly go into production once Tales
of Poe V.1 goes into distribution. 2 stories are already nailed down for the
film and a few surprises for Tales of Poe V.2 The Christmas movie will be a
joy to make as it is going to be big slasher film! Finally, a slasher
film! More is coming.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Our official website is: www.talesofpoefilm.com
Official Trailer is:
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Alan: We could certainly us a lot more
LIKES on our Facebook page! Our goal is to reach 10,000 to ensure
potential distributors that we’re doing our marketing and promotion
correctly and the more numbers we can raise, the better our chances for
more widespread viewings internationally.
So please give us a LIKE on https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tales-of-Poe/198251596914233
Bart: Yes, please support Tales
checking out and LIKE our Facebook page for Tales
of Poe, Twitter and Instagram. Spread the word. www.talesofpoefilm.com. Write to us and let
know your thoughts.
for the interview!