It was a fairly simple idea back in 2001 when producer Elizabeth Avellan and then-husband, director Robert Rodriguez, decided to make a movie they had not made before – one their young children could actually see.
Rodriguez had already made “Deseperdo,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” and “The Faculty,” but shootouts with drug lords, vampire bloodshed, and alien teachers killing students weren’t something Avellan or Rodriguez thought appropriate for their little ones.
“We didn’t have one movie we had made that they could watch,” Avellan told me during an exclusive interview. “We wanted them to know what we did for a living.”
“Spy Kids,” a family adventure about a pair of young sibling secret agents who must rescue their parents from an evil wizard, became Avellan and Rodriguez’s first film under the Troublemaker Studios umbrella. Eight years later, the “Spy Kids” franchise is going strong with the release of the fourth film of the series, “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D.”
During our interview, Avellan talked about the major changes in the new film in comparison to the first three movies, and what it has been like working on her own film projects aside from the ones she makes with Rodriguez at their studio in Austin.
How is the family enjoying the summer?
It’s been wonderful. We’re spending some time in L.A. by the beach. We had the premiere of the film last week and now we’re all just hanging out. Well, I’m working but the kids are hanging out.
How does going to the movies work for the family during the summer? Do the little ones want to watch “The Smurfs” and “Kung Fu Panda 2” and things like that?
Yeah, of course! It’s been a lot of fun. I get to see a lot of kids’ movies. That helps when I make movies for kids. You get to see what works for them. I’ve always believed movies rated G and PG should be made for the whole family. If my children don’t laugh during a movie or don’t enjoy it, obviously it didn’t work for them. But we do enjoy going to the movies a lot.
When you started “Spy Kids” back in 2001, did you have any idea a franchise like this would develop and would have this kind of staying power?
I wasn’t sure it would happen at that time to tell you the truth. It was such a neat idea to the point that Robert never mentioned the name of the movie until the movie was going to be publicized. Until then, it was the “Untitled Robert Rodriguez Project.” It was such a big, fun concept, we didn’t want anyone beating us to the punch. We knew we could make some good family movies. Robert had made some with his brothers and sisters early on.
Is part of the reason Troublemaker Studios makes family-friendly movies because you want your kids to be able to see the movies you produce?
Yeah, before the first “Spy Kids,” we started to have kids and we wanted them to be able to see our movies. Jeremy Piven’s little nieces don’t know what he does because they’re not allowed to watch what he does like “Entourage” or some of his movies. He did “Spy Kids 4” because he wanted them to see what Uncle Jeremy does for a living. I thought that was very cute.
Does your 5-year-old know what you do now?
Oh yeah, totally. She’s in the movie, too, with our 7-year-old. They play a couple of the spy kids at the end that are getting recruited. Robert thought it would be really cute because they hadn’t been in any of our movies yet. They enjoy it. They come into the studio and work with dad acting, making videos, and writing and singing songs. It’s a lot of fun.
How did it feel to bring a new pair of kids on for this film after working with Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara for so long? Was it as exciting as the first movie?
It was fun because we still got to include them in the new “Spy Kids.” The story just continues. Alexa and Daryl are now big spies. It was all about finding the right story so they could be included. When Robert told me what he was thinking about for the story I thought it was a great way to include them, but also a great way they could pass the torch.
What do you think about Alexa and Daryl’s careers post “Spy Kids?”
Oh, I am so proud of them. You have no idea. Those kids have continued to work so hard and have become great actors. They are wonderful, young people that have grown to be great examples that in Hollywood you don’t have go all crazy and be arrested and be in US Weekly to get noticed. Part of that is because they have great parents and part of it is because they really received some good lessons in Austin when we were filming the “Spy Kids” movies. Moviemaking is a way to live, but it can also build character. You can be a good person and be successful and grow up and be an adult. We try to keep up with all the kids we’ve worked with whether it’s the kids from “Spy Kids” or the kids from “Shorts” or the kids from “Sharkboy and Lavagirl.” I really enjoy working on those movies.
As a producer, what has it been like working on your own projects not associated with Robert?
It’s been kind of fun. Every once in a while I’ll strike out on my own to do something especially if I see a filmmaker that I feel is worthwhile to back. I did “Secuestro Express” back in 2003 and “When Angels Sing,” which is a Christmas movie. I get to do a lot more on the creative side. Robert usually does that. Sometimes he doesn’t need my opinion because he knows exactly what he wants to do. On my own, I get to bring more creativity to the table.
You were quoted in a CNN article last month about the state of Latino-themed films. You stated directors and producers haven’t found a way to “crack the code” and make these movies as profitable as they would like. What is it going to take for that to happen?
I think it’s going to take patience. I think they have to go about it in a scientific way. Why did this work? Why didn’t this work? I think that’s how you can start making a change and figuring it out. I think it’s going to take a little research and trying things outside the box and putting a little more money in certain areas. Movies are different. They’re not going to work all the same way. Not every Latino is going to respond the same way to every movie. It’s a science like anything else.