Interview: Mary Kerr (Director – ‘RadioMan’)

RADIOMAN‘ is the incredible story of an extraordinary eccentric, a former homeless man whose unparalleled obsession with the movies has taken him from sleeping on the streets to becoming a New York City movie legend with over 100 small parts in films to his name.

Radioman (as he is called due to the trademark boombox radio he hangs around his neck) spends his days and nights cycling around the city from one film set to another, hanging out with the cast and crew between takes, and then moving on to wait into the early hours of the morning outside premieres and after parties for the same people he just spent the whole day with. The stars, filmmakers, and crew are the closest thing Radioman has to a family, and he cherishes the time he can spend alone with them as one spent amongst equals, even if it involves waiting for them for seven hours in the freezing cold.

Featuring interviews with many of the celebrities who know him, ‘RADIOMAN‘ is the rags to (no) riches story of a human being full of dreams and contradictions, and of a life full of missed opportunities and unexpected blessings. It gives the audience unparalleled access to the everyday behind the scenes of showbusiness – of paparazzi, autograph collectors, premieres and film shoots – all seen through the unlikely eyes of an old New York street bum. It’s an ode to the magic of the movies – and to the power of imagination.

We managed to talk to Director Mary Kerr about ‘RADIOMAN‘ prior to its opening night NYC premier at NewFilmmakers NY WinterFest 2013 at The Anthology Film Archives.  In attendance was RadioMan himself who was nice enough to stay and take audience questions for almost an hour after the screening.  An enthusiastic audience, who thoroughly enjoyed the documentary, managed to pick the brain of one of the film businesses great human stories.

How did your initial interest in this subject arise?  When you approached RadioMan about the documentary idea, what reaction did he give?
Paul, the producer of the film, met Radioman when he was working as a PA on the set of ‘What Just Happened?’ with Robert De Niro up in Connecticut. Paul had long been hoping to get work on the new Indiana Jones movie, a childhood dream, and all information about it’s forthcoming production schedule was highly confidential. However, having mentioned his ambition to another crew member, they confidently pointed him towards a scruffy homeless looking man and said ‘ask Radioman he knows everything about what’s coming in and out.’ Sure enough Radio knew all the dates and shooting locations of Indiana Jones and ultimately Paul ended up with a job! It took us a few months to actually reach Radio himself, as we had to find his cell phone number and that took a little bit of research; so our first conversations with him about the film were through his friend Larry Holzer, a paparazzi videographer who’s essentially his best friend, and who conveyed our intentions to him and reported back that Radio was happy and excited about the prospect. He has an ego so he liked the attention, even though he might have been a little unsure as he didn’t know anything about us and a few people before seemed to have wanted to write or shoot things about him mostly as an excuse to meet celebrities; which oddly Radio himself thought is the main attraction of his story. He thought the film would be a scrapbook of him and all the famous people he knew, basically, which is what he personally would have loved most.

I loved the themes that I felt could be explored through Radio’s story – those of perception and prejudice as well as identity.

To you, what does RadioMan’s existence say about the nature of the film industry?
I think it really highlights the strong sense of community within the film industry. That someone like him can not only be accepted or welcomed on a film set, embraced for being different, that he can have friendships of a kind with actors and directors who have so much more than he does, and that he’s managed to break down the hierarchy there just by being himself – I don’t know if it says something about the film industry per se, or specific people, or maybe about New York. He’s not deeply involved in the filmmaking process by any means but it says something that, in spite of how different he is, he’s seen as someone who has something to contribute.

How does RadioMan embody New York City sensibilities?  Do you think that the existence of RadioMan in New York City is strictly coincidence or is there more to the city that allows for him to exist here?
George Clooney said that when we interviewed him that New York is a city designed for people to clash, for cultures and differences to run into one another, as opposed to other cities, like LA, that are designed in a way to keep everything you don’t want to see away from you, out of your air-conditioned car, and so on. We also were drawn to the idea that New York has radically changed over the years and has in some ways become a sort of film set itself and Radio represents old New York. As one journalist put it – ‘…in plunders this guy who is quintessential New York, a street-grubbing fellow called Radioman and in a way, it kind of brings everyone down to earth and is a reminder of where they are. They are not on a prefabricated set in the Arizona desert. They are actually in Gotham and Gotham, more than anything else, is a place of characters and of personal stories and personal journeys.’ I agree with that. Radio brings that famous New York energy right at you!

In making this film, did your personal definitions of employment, success and happiness change?
Absolutely! For me it really turns the ‘rags to riches’ idea on it’s head and what riches actually means. Radio to me defines that idea that success is about happiness, not about material things; about what gets you out of bed in the morning and gives you purpose, not about what gives a certain idea to other people. To most of us success is the highest possible level job we can reach, the biggest paycheck, the most security, the highest level of achievement. To Radio it’s being who you are and doing what makes you happy every day. He’s the one who’s right really. It’s a state of mind that transcends fiscal or social boundaries

How would you describe RadioMan (the person) in one word?

Did you find the celebrities who appeared in the film to be genuinely enthusiastic about discussing RadioMan?  In your observations how did you find the dynamic between RadioMan and the celebrities?
The celebrities were genuinely enthusiastic in talking about Radio. Many of them had more questions for us than anything, and were most interested in seeing it so they could learn more about him. We were extremely fortunate with the access we were able to get with Radio on the film sets but at the same time we also had to remain sensitive and aware of not exploiting Radio’s relationship with these actors. There were some lovely moments, for example when Josh Brolin saw Radio in the street and picked him up and swung him around and another when John Goodman came up and covered Radio’s eyes with his hands, making him guess who it was! If we had picked up our cameras and been in their face, it would not only have been disrespectful on our part but could have absolutely spoiled Radio’s credibility.

The dynamic between Radio and the celebrities is really genuine – it’s almost like a family relationship. To some he’s like the fun, mad uncle they only see every now and then; to others it feels like they’re seeing their best drinking buddy or their crazy older brother. They’re very warm, very simple interactions, the way you have with family or friends you love but only see every now and then.

Personally the story of how Bruce Willis essentially introducing RadioMan to the business was a favorite of mine, what was a favorite story that you heard during the making of the film?
Although we did not interview him, there is a lovely story on the commentary of ‘Keeping The Faith’ in which Edward Norton talks about how he and Matt Damon used to send Radio back and forth between their respective sets to organize the two of them meeting for a beer later that day.

Would you ever consider being involved with a narrative film based on RadioMan?  If such a film were ever made who would star as RadioMan?
It really depends on how it would be made. There’s a certain angle of Radio’s story – a different look at what’s in his mind, what mental illness is, what loneliness is, how much is reality and how much isn’t in all of our lives and whether that even matters – that would be explored so much better and so much deeper in a fiction work than you can in a documentary, but whether it would be worth it or done right or necessary? Who knows. Obviously Robin Williams is the person everyone automatically thinks of to play Radio.

Where do you think RadioMan’s aspirations of stardom will end?
I hope Radio gets some more little parts, speaking roles, things he can do where he plays variations of himself. I hope younger filmmakers and actors keep on knowing about him when they meet him and including him. I think that’s all he would want really.
: /RadioMan





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