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Tribeca Film Festival: 'Roadie'

Everyone knows what it feels like to go home and report less-than-great career news to the parents. That's where Michael Cuesta's film "Roadie" begins. In it, the aging Blue Öyster Cult roadie Jimmy Testagross, played expertly by Ron Eldard, comes home to his mother in Forest Hills, Queens after a 20-plus year absence. WNYC's Abbie Fentress Swanson talked to Cuesta, who calls Manhattan home, about why he chose the Long Island band as his muse and what, if any, similarities his life bears to Jimmy Testagross.

Abbie Fentress Swanson: What was the inspiration for your movie?

Michael Cuesta: The first draft was written by my brother, Gerald. He was living in Queens at the time. He wrote it about a man who wanted to put his own band together--a roadie. I really liked it, but felt it was missing something. So, of course, when I was going through a tough time in my life, I thought of that character again. I thought I'd make the story about his homecoming--sort of a middle-age coming of age story. I think i was going through something. i felt like I had just failed with a film, put my family and myself through hell and I said I wanted to do something small and personal. I made three very dark movies before this and I wanted to make a feel good movie. I hate to sound Pollyannish, but that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something that would make me feel good.  

AFS: Why did you choose to shoot in Forest Hills?

MC: Well, Gerald lived in Forest Hills. Every time I went to hang out with my brother, it was in Queens--in Forest Hills. It's the one part of Queens that is quaint but we shot it in much of the working class section. I just felt I wanted to create a welcome mat--so to speak--for him to give him all the reasons to accept the fact that his life is about to change. It could have been set in any city. But I think Queens, being the rock 'n' roll capital of The Ramones--and Blue Öyster Cult is from Long Island, too--it made sense. It was really about creating the most comfortable setting for him to let his hair down and start over too.

AFS: Why did you choose Blue Öyster Cult and not a fictional band for the film?

MC: Gerald had picked a fictional band and once I had made the story about him, we had to make it personal. And Blue Öyster Cult is the band we grew up with. It was the first heavy band we listened to in the mid-'70's. They were my first concert. They were our first rock band. It's totally personal. And there are only two members of the band still in it, but we would still go see them. We are huge fans. Why not make it a love letter to them while still writing it about a character?

AFS: If you could shoot a scene anywhere in New York, where would you do it?

MC: I like shooting on the water in Manhattan. People forget Manhattan is an island. So, even though it is a concrete jungle, I do like seeing the highways and the water and getting that scope. As far as thematic, it just sucks that CBGB's isn't there anymore. So, here I am, holding onto the past just like Jimmy from my film. I would say that kind of club--like the CBGB's I used to go to--would be where I'd shoot. The old rock 'n' roll of New York and the rivers.

AFS: What does it mean to be part of Tribeca Film Festival?

MC: My family can come and I have to say that is a big part of it. I'm a New Yorker and to get them here is huge. My movie is very much about that, about surrounding yourself with your friends and family. And I think that everyone who sees this film will be able to access exactly Jimmy and his emotional state and remember when they cleaned pot off the Blue Öyster Cult or Kiss album or something like that. That's really what it's about.

"Roadie" will be screened on Saturday, April 23 at 9 P.M. at SVA Theater 1 Silas, and on April 26, 28 and 30.

Still from "Roadie"