Brothers Michael and Gerald Cuesta may not agree on everything, but they can definitely concur that their careers are heating up! Their first independent feature film L.I.E. was produced in 2001, and since then Michael has directed and/or produced episodes for critically acclaimed series like HBO’s Six Feet Under and True Blood; CBS’s Blue Bloods; Showtime’s Dexter, and most recently Showtime’s political stunner Homeland.
Meanwhile, Gerald was busy developing ideas for the likes of zombie adventure Babylon Fields (which, as they explain, was slated to be the first undead television experience “by a couple of years”), and the brothers’ latest collaborative effort, Roadie.
Starring Ron Eldard (Super 8, Freedomland), Jill Hennessy (Luck, Crossing Jordan) and Bobby Cannavale (Blue Bloods, The Other Guys), Roadie is an exceptional look into a man’s stagnated life… a man who has spent over two decades chasing a dream by being the best roadie he can be with legendary band Blue Oyster Cult. Once he’s dropped from his job in a most unpleasant way, he’s forced to face the past he’d left behind.
Gerald and Michael Cuesta recently got ‘In the Cut’ with UrbLife.com to discuss their work on Roadie, why they feel the Gen-X characters in the film have so many challenges accepting adulthood, and much more! Was Roadie meant to be a sad film? What goes in to creating such complex characters? What is it really like working with your brother? Read on!
When you were writing these characters for Roadie, were you drawing on any personal experiences or people that you know?
Gerald: Yeah a number of people that we knew and know, as well as ourselves, in situations that we’ve been in and feelings that we had.
Michael: With the whole Gen-X thing that speaks to us, there is a point our lives where you start to feel like you haven’t realized all of the things that you thought you were going to realize, as in your dreams. This movie is about that, and coming to terms with the fact that you may not ever get there. I think that it is an incredibly universal experience. That’s why the idea of a “roadie” appealed to us.
Gerald: Being roadies, for so many years being on the road, you kind of live in a bubble and you don’t have to grow up. That’s one of the reasons that we picked that kind of career path for this. There is an aspect of extreme Peter Pan syndrome where you keep holding on to the things of your youth, to the point where it’s not only holding you back but dragging you down. Once they’re not working their magic anymore, you kind of feel lost.
Have you guys been around any rock musicians to see the way that they struggle to become something in their small town?
Michael: My brother and I had a band back in the late 80s and played a couple of places. I played guitar and he was a drummer, he played in the band. I don’t have any firsthand experience with that scene and people like that, but I do believe in this whole idea of being stuck in a time warp and never seeing where you are, and forgetting that you’ve been doing this for the last 20 years. It may not work out. I think that’s a universal experience.
Being in the film business, which we both are, we still have those feelings. I think viewing it through the music context with telling that story, I think it makes it more entertaining. It allowed us to also express our passion for music of that era.
The movie Roadie is kind of sad overall. Is that how you wanted people to feel, did you want them to be sad with these characters?
Michael: I thought that it was kind of funny… If it’s going to be sad to some people and we got a few reviews and that’s what people have said, like “if you think Michael’s first one was sad, wait until you see this one.” I so don’t see it that way. I don’t find it sad, I find it healing, and I find it real and relatable.
So for me, my intention was to never ever to make it sad in anyway. I guess when I do stuff that’s how it comes out. I guess I’m that guy. It just comes out that way, that’s the kind of thing that I like to work on for eight months of my life.
As an artist, I have no interest in one-liners and slapstick. I get bored. I make a living executive producing and directing TV shows. I’ve done a studio film where I didn’t have control over the movie, where I did things that I did not enjoy and did not want to do. When you make a little movie like this, you put your blinders on and you do it. If sticks, it sticks. If it doesn’t connect with everyone, then so be it. I got to make it.
Michael, all of the shows that you work on have such complex characters and story development. With Roadie, it felt like the characters didn’t know that they were complex. What were some of the subtleties that you want people to know about these characters?
Michael: We were just discussing how so much could happen in a 24 hour period, where there are not a lot of incidents but a lot of emotions that anyone could [relate to]walking a day in their life… Not being home in a long time, and to keep encountering what you were encountering. I really enjoy directing films and capturing all of the nuances of many emotions for many characters like Jimmy can go through in a day. I find that visually stimulating and intellectually stimulating, and really interesting to piece together.
It’s funny, because I grew up trained as a graphic and visual artist. You would think that my films would be prettier or visual, but I like to use that field to capture more psychology and more behavior.
How do you two work together? What is the process of your writing as a team?
Gerald: Well we did L.I.E. together, and there was another writer involved in that as well. There is Roadie of course. [There was] a pilot for CBS called Babylon Fields, that was shot and Michael directed, but unfortunately was never put on the air. It would have been the first zombie TV show by a couple of years if it would have gotten on the air. It’s a big budget Fox/CBS pilot that did not get picked up.
Michael and I have also written a couple of pilots for CBS and we’ve adapted a book a number of years ago. With L.I.E. and mostly Roadie… with Roadie I wrote a character and a situation. I’ve written in a broader, Hollywood comedy and I gave it to Michael. About two years later, he called me and said that he was looking at the script and didn’t like it but really liked the character, this guy Jimmy and the first 25 pages with him going home.
He was like, “Let’s take it apart, re-outline it, and base it off of his first day going home without all of the other stuff around it.” That happens a lot with our writing. With L.I.E., there was a character that I had written a certain way and Michael was like, “Let’s take the character this way,” and he had a loose story to put around him and that came out of that. We go back and forth.
I usually take the first half, and after we get down what we want to do, then Michael goes and sweetens it up and changes some things and works it out. We get together on the phone and go back and forth, and then I may go back and do the final pass to make sure all of our I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed.
What are you guys working on next?
Michael: To be honest, I’m taking a little time off. I just come off of this Homeland series, so I’m pretty tired and I need to empty my mind and find a project. I would love to do another small film and co-write that with Gerald. At the moment, I don’t have anything in the pipeline. We’ll probably, just for professional reasons, write another TV pilot sometime next year I’m sure.
Gerald: We have an open scripting deal with 20th Century Fox, so we’ll probably do something like that. We don’t have any specific projects in the hopper. I probably should, but I’ll be generating a lot of thoughts and sending them Michael’s way. And he’ll send them back to me saying, “Sorry, not now.” [laughs]
Watch the Roadie trailer
For more information on Roadie, go to the Magnolia Films official page at MagPictures.com
Watch the trailer for L.I.E.