Barbara Roche officially became publisher of ReelChicago on April 1. Wielding decades of production and pre-production experience, Roche is the former cofounder and partner in Holzer Roche Casting, which supplied talent for such legendary Chicago films as Home Alone, Backdraft and Groundhog Day.
She has also been a close friend and confidante of ReelChicago founder Ruth Ratny for nearly four decades.
Roche cut her teeth in the production industry at the former Fred Niles Studios. The full-service production company helped Chicago gain nationwide recognition as a great film town from a space that would later be occupied by Oprah Winfrey Studios, which proceeded to take the Windy City’s reputation worldwide.
She estimates that Niles shot “thousands of commercials” during her 12-year engagement there, as well as many live show events and a handful of films.
“I did something in every one of the departments,” she recalls. “If they needed help in the live show department, mounting slides or whatever, then I would go up and mount slides. I rehearsed the talent. When they shot a commercial, I would take photos and they would do a storyboard to show what was in that commercial.”
As the health of Niles Studios’ founder Fred Niles deteriorated, she played a crucial role in closing the business, at one point even helping him sign the document to sell the studio. After his passing, she teamed up with former coworker Catherine Holzer to launch Holzer Roche Casting, a startup casting company that became an overnight success among the top suppliers in the city’s film industry.
Roche, who was born and raised on Chicago’s south side, strengthened her love for the authenticity of Chicago’s diverse talent pool while helping to supply actors for the likes of John Hughes, Chris Columbus, Ron Howard and Joel Schumacher during this time.
“If you wanted Polka dancers,” she boasts, “you were gonna get real Polka dancers.”
Roche first met Ruth Ratny in 1980 while she was with Fred Niles Studios. Ruth had invited Roche to lunch, and Roche accepted even though she suspected that Ruth was on a journalistic fact-finding mission disguised as a business meeting. Ratny admitted as much during the course of the afternoon, which ended up in her downtown loft apartment, where they talked for hours.
After that meeting, the pair grew to become best friends and, until Ruth’s passing, remained in touch daily.
“Ruth really enjoyed hearing peoples’ stories,” Roche recalls. “She’s the one who, if you accomplished something, you would pick up the phone to tell. That’s what I miss the most about her.”
In her will, Ratny named Roche as the sole inheritor of all her businesses. Roche intends to push ReelChicago into more than one new direction.
“I think we’re gonna take it up a notch, technically. We plan to begin doing live interviews. I’d also like to expand into new areas that need to be covered like music and talent, auditions and notifications,” she says. “I come from a production background and I know that, as an actor or a supplier, you want to know what’s coming to town.”
But she is quick to confirm that she will not disrupt the foundation of the publication’s success.
“Because Ruth was a gifted writer and her main focus was getting the scoop,” she continues. “I’ll let our writers write. My focus will be on creating interesting ways to expand our readership and increase exposure for our advertisers.”