Ron Eldard and the Cuesta Brothers on the New York Film Roadie, and What Makes the Tribeca Film Festival Better Than Sundance
Ostensibly, the Tribeca Film Festival is about New Yorkers -- after all, it was started in the wreckage of 9/11 to bring a modicum of healing to lower Manhattan. With that in mind, what better place for a film like Roadie to premiere? If only because the film oozes with New York authenticity and attitude like a fresh out of the oven pizza slice.
Directed by Michael Cuesta (L.I.E., the upcoming Showtime series Homeland; above, center), Roadie tells the story of Jimmy Testagross (Ron Eldard; above, left), a career roadie for Blue Oyster Cult, who gets fired and has to return to his mother's (Lois Smith) home in Queens to reevaluate his position in life. Eldard (Super 8) shines as Jimmy, giving a performance that calls to mind Mickey Rourke's work in The Wrestler, but perhaps with a tad more likeability and audience empathy. Jimmy is a failure of sorts, but he also got to live at least part of his dream on the road with his favorite band. How he reacts when the dream ends makes up the crux of the film, which follows his first 24-hours back home to start the rest of his life.
Shot on-location in Forest Hills, Roadie isn't one of those "New York" movies pretending to be New York. Cuesta -- who co-wrote the script with his brother Gerald (above, right) -- and Eldard are from the area, and they infuse the film with subtle and pitch-perfect details: The way Jimmy's mother offers to make him lunch immediately upon his return home (despite mocking his weight gain); the way Jimmy's room is exactly how he left it; the way old neighbors can share butter with each other. It's not something you necessarily see often onscreen, but it's a love letter to the working-class borough of Queens without resorting to mockery or insulting stereotypes.
Roadie premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday night in front of an adoring crowd of many local residents. On Monday afternoon, Ron, Michael and Gerald sat down with Movieline to discuss what premiering at the festival means, why Roadie is a true indie film, and how they managed to find such an authentic look.
Congratulations on the premiere. It really felt like a home team crowd on Saturday night. How much does it mean for you to have Roadie debut in New York?
Michael Cuesta: A lot of my family and friends were there. This is probably the most exciting premiere I've ever had of an independent film at festival, because I live here. And it's great. It's so exciting to be in New York -- New York film, New York actors, my brother.
After the movie, you said that it took two years for the film to debut...
MC: A year-and-a-half, actually. That's the thing with independent films. First, it has to find its footing at a festival. I did not want to think about presenting the film to the marketplace, I wanted to bring it to a festival -- that's where it belongs. We have a sales agent -- we have William Morris Endeavor selling it, all that crap -- but we wanted a festival. Tribeca took the movie, and they really embraced it, and gave it the right platform.
Ron Eldard: I'll just say it: I love Sundance; my very first film won Sundance. But, I was frankly disturbed and disappointed when Sundance did not [take the film]. This to me is the kind of film that I thought Sundance -- and film festivals in general, but particularly that kind of film festival -- is supposed to be about. This is not a film with a bunch of people who failed at having a real career, and now are re-auditioning; or people who blew it, and now are re-auditioning. [Pauses] Independent films, for the most part to me, are not so independent. They often feel like people auditioning for a big commercial career. They often do not have independent spirit to them. This is filled with people who make their living doing this -- everyone makes their living doing this -- everyone made a sacrifice, which is what people say they'll do and then often you'll go, "Well, why aren't you doing this sort of thing?" They don't because it's hard, and it costs, and it's not glamorous. This should be the type of thing you are saying, "No, this can still be done! Look, These people are doing what they say!" It's a completely independently spirited film, and it's high craftsmanship -- I love this film, I just love it. I love it. This is the kind of movie I would want to see. When it turned out that Tribeca got it, I was like, "Of course, that's where it was supposed to be!" Where else would you want it to be first? It's New York. We're all New Yorkers.
It is an obvious fit. When you were making Roadie, did you have Tribeca on your mind?
MC: One of the negative things for me, was that I had a film here two years ago at the '09 festival that I wasn't really proud of. [Editor's note: That film was the 2009 thriller Tell Tale.] The film got away from me, I didn't have final cut on it. I was a hired gun on the film. It premiered here because they took it -- not because of the producers, but because they knew my work, they gave it a nice slot. I didn't have a great experience with the film in general, so making this I wasn't really thinking Tribeca at first. As Ron just said very honestly, it makes complete sense. You make these films because you want to have fun making them and be able to go to the premiere. Call it freakin' vanity, whatever it is -- but, it's your art. We didn't make much money making this film -- not me at least.
Gerald Cuesta: No one.
MC: No one. Because it's very micro-budgeted. You do it for the passion.
RE: But you don't do it to watch it in your basement. In the end, you want the most amount of people to see it. And you need that help. I consider myself an artist, but actors and directors who act like people being involved in their work and audiences are beneath us. What the fuck are you doing it for? You want people to see your work. You're not a painter; they can't find your work when you're dead. You have to have people see it. So I wanted it at a festival, you wanted to have a big premiere.
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