When my partner and co-producer and I began our journey into pirate radio in 1996, we never imagined it would end, nearly a decade later, in the documentary feature, Pirate Radio USA. This is my first feature, and as a first hand narrative, a big part of my life for the past 7 years it took to create.
“We just wanted to be on the radio,” DJ Her (aka Mary Jones, producer) always reminds me. And radio is what we did–on an empty space on the dial, we broadcast–or really microcast, with a tiny 78-watt transmitter–thinking, at the time, our Seattle neighborhood would be our only audience.
We figured we had as much a right to the public airwaves as anyone. It was only after we discovered we weren’t the only ones who acted on this belief that the idea of a movie emerged.
So we saved up our money, bought a digital video camera and hit the road to document the pirate radio phenomenon. There are hundreds or thousands of illegal ‘casters across the country at any given time and we went inside to capture pirates from dozens of stations. It helped that we were pirates ourselves on a trust level; there’s a real possibility of being fined and jailed, so talking with them– much less filming them, could have been a real hassle.
We captured over 60 hours of footage to make the 82-minute documentary, but didn’t start right away. We did radio two years before we shot anything–that’s really what necessitated the Shrinky-Dinks, as well as the home-made dioramas we created out of spray-painted radios and toys, to represent the cities and radio pirates we visited. It’s a Do-It Yourself movie about Do-It-Yourself radio–what could be a better fit?
This is a post-objective documentary–we’re microcasters ourselves, after all– I think it’s more truthful to lay our cards on the table and let people judge for themselves. Making a documentary is like making a million layer cake, and that means being really organized, realizing you need lots of help, trusting your judgment and remembering, like the cake, no matter how complicated it may be to make, what only matters is that it’s good.