Frank Marshall – Jason Bourne (DVD)

December 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Interviews

Frank Marshall, best known for producing some of cinema’s most memorable franchises such as “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future,” hasn’t slowed down by any means over the course of his 40-year career. This year alone, he has produced/executive produced five feature films, including “Sully,” “The BFG” and “The Girl on the Train.”

Marshall, 70, also produced the fifth installment of the Jason Bourne franchise, “Jason Bourne.” The film reunites actor Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass after the two took a break from the fourth film, “The Bourne Legacy.” “Jason Bourne” was released on DVD/Blu-ray Dec. 6.

During an interview with Marshall a couple weeks ago, we talked about how much longer he thinks the “Bourne” franchise can go, what it was like to destroy 170 cars during a pivot action scene in the film, and how he feels as a producer spending over $100 million to make a movie. We also discussed the release of “The Other Side of the Wind,” an unfinished Orson Wells film from the 70s that Marshall helped complete.

What makes someone like Matt Damon such an interesting action star in comparison to some of the more conventional types like Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham?

Well, I think he’s empathetic. The reason he’s so good as a spy is because he looks like your college roommate. People identify with his dilemma and try to put themselves in his shoes and say, “How would I feel if I woke up and had two bullet holes in my back and I could do all these things but didn’t know my name.” It’s an interesting dilemma to be in. I think people are fascinated about where he’s going to go.

Back in 2002 when this franchise first started, did you have any idea that it could go on for this long?

No, I really didn’t. It was hard enough to make the first movie. We did know there were two more titles. As you know, we took the basic premise of “The Bourne Identity” and created our own story. We just took the titles from the next two stories and took Jason Bourne on our own journey. I thought if we could do that, we could certainly go on after that. But I wasn’t thinking like that in 2002. It was hard enough to get that first movie finished.

Could you see Jason Bourne going the way of the James Bond character and having a different actor portray him ever 10-12 years?

No, I don’t think so because one of the things we use in the movies are flashbacks. I think it would be very odd for a different person to flashback and be with Marie (Franka Potente’s character), for example, or with Nicky (Julia Stiles’ character). I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think if there is anything, we would stay in the world like we did with “The Bourne Legacy” and have another agent in that world.

So, how long do you think this franchise can go?

Well, it’s all about the story. It took us a while to figure out this last one, so hopefully we’ll crack it for the next one. On these, we’re going one story at a time.

Were you on set for the Las Vegas car chase scene and, if you were, as a producer, what’s going on in your head as you see 170 cars get totaled?

Oh, yeah. (Laughs) I just thought about how cool it was. I love being on the set. I love doing things for real. I think it’s one of the best parts of the “Bourne” movies. They’re gritty and real and not CG. For almost 10 days we were shooting 24 hours a day. The first unit would go from 7am to 7pm and then we would switch out to the second unit on the strip from 7pm to 7am. It was pretty exciting all the time. It was a lot of planning. Las Vegas officials were very generous and their hospitality was great. They were flexible, so we were able to do a lot of things when we ran into a problem.

It doesn’t sound like you’re the type of producer who is asking, “Why are we blowing up 170 cars? Can’t we get the same effect with 160?”

(Laughs) Well, yeah, it is my job to do that, but if we’ve budgeted for 170 we should have 170! I also have to look at my stunt coordinators and the second-unit director and [director] Paul Greengrass and say, “OK, where is the high point of this chase? That’s where we’ll spend the money.” It’s all a coordinated effort.

On that note, when compared to other “Bourne” movies, “Jason Bourne” was less expensive to make. How were you able to accomplish that and still make the movie you wanted?

I think we’re very familiar with another element that makes the “Bourne” movies special, which is going to these real places. We’ve got that down. We’ve got travel down. We’re a really efficient group now when we go out and shoot. I do think that’s how we’ve been able to keep the cost of the last couple of movies the same.

Twenty years ago, it was insane to think about spending $100 million to make a movie. Now, if you’re making a blockbuster, it’s basically a given that you’ll spend at least that much. Does it worry you as a producer that spending can get out of hand sometimes?

You’re right, it is insane. If you told me 20 years ago that I’d be making movies that cost more than $100 million I would’ve laughed at you. It is the world we live in now where these movies have to top each other. The costs are going up and up and up. When you’re trying to deliver “bigger and better,” the way to do that is spend more money. My challenge that I relish is not doing that and trying to figure out a way not to have the movie be more expensive. I like that challenge.

You’ve been in this business for 40 years and have produced dozens of movies. Is it still as fun now as it was in the 70s and 80s?

Certainly things have changed a lot. I mean, when I look back on the movies that I made in the 70s and 80s, there were less names on the poster. We all got to be a part of a very small unit. Now, the credits go on for 10 minutes at the end of a movie. So, I do miss that. It was a lot more like an intimate family experience. I wouldn’t say I’m burnt out on [my job]. I still love what I do. It’s not work for me. I like entertaining the audience. The most satisfying moment for me is when I’m sitting there with an audience for the first time and we’re telling them a story they respond to.

In these last 40 years, I’m sure you’ve made a lot of relationships. With that said, can you say no to someone like director Steven Spielberg? I mean, you’ve made around 10 films with him, so if he came to you with a pitch and you didn’t like it, would you tell him?

I think we have enough respect for each other that it’s OK to say no. In order to work on a movie now, I have to be really inspired by it. Making movies is hard. I want to be spending my time on a story that I’m really attached to and with filmmakers I’d like to work with. Certainly, I like working with Steven. If he came to me with a movie that I like, I would do it. And if I didn’t, I certainly would say, “Eh, I don’t know if I want to go down that road at this point in my career.” I do have a lot of great friends in the business and I, unfortunately, have to turn some of them down because I’m busy. I’d like to be there all the time. I’m hands on and like to be on the set. Also, I might have something already in production. That’s part of the problem, too.

Can you give me an update on Orsen Wells’ “The Other Side of the Wind?” When will the masses get a chance to see the completed film?

Well, I’m hoping very soon. I’m hoping we’ll have something to show everybody next year.

Why did you want to bring this film back to life? There have been plenty of films in the past left unfinished. Why save this particular one?

For me, it’s because I worked on it and I was there. It’s the last movie Orsen directed, so just for film history I think we should finish it and make it available for the world to see.

You are, of course, known for producing some major blockbusters like the “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future” franchises. Is there something on a smaller scale that you would point audiences to that you produced that you are particularly proud of that they might’ve missed?

A movie I was a part of that I think is a wonderful, small, independent movie is called “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” I would also point to a movie we made with Steven called “Empire of the Sun.” It’s not a small movie, but a lot people didn’t see it. We made it back in the 80s and it stars Christian Bale. It’s a wonderful story. What I’m most proud of about that movie is that it’s way before CG, so all of the action in it is real—real planes and real explosions. It’s pretty cool.

James Gay-Rees – Amy

July 10, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Although film producer James Gay-Rees (“Senna”) had never met musician Amy Winehouse before, something told him that when her record company, Universal Music UK, approached him and “Senna” director Asif Kapadia to make a documentary about her life, he had this “strong, immediate feeling” that they should do it, although he wasn’t sure why.

“Maybe it was because I had a feeling there was more to [her story] than met the eye,” Gay-Rees told me during our phone interview last week to talk about his new film “Amy.” “We really went in with a completely open mind. We wanted to get into her story and see where it went.”

Where the documentary goes is into a heartbreaking direction when Kapadia and his team capture the life of the incredibly talented Winehouse, who died in 2013 from alcohol poisoning, through never-before-seen footage and interviews with the people closest to the eclectic jazz singer.

During our interview, Gay-Reese talked to me about the challenges a documentary like “Amy” presented, especially since many of her friends were hesitant about sharing information with filmmakers, and why he thinks Amy connected on such a deep level with her audience. We also talked about Amy’s father, Mitch, who Gay-Reese sat in the same room with when he saw the the film for the first time and voiced his displeasure of the final product.

Talk about going into a film like Amy and why you wanted to tell her story?

To begin with, we really didn’t have much to go on. I didn’t know her. I had never met her. I had never seen her play live. We spoke to as many people as we possibly could. We looked at every frame of footage we could possibly get our hands on. It was a very organic, time-consuming research project. The final film is a product of that intense labor.

Since it was Amy’s record company that approached you to produce this film, did you feel any pressure to make something that would present a story they wanted or did you feel like you had free reign to work without someone looking over your shoulder?

There were no restraints put on us at all, I’m happy to admit. We went in with our eyes wide open. [Amy] was a very, very complicated young woman who compartmentalized her world and her life. We would get very different opinions of her from different people. It was just a matter of marrying those opinions together to see what we had. But there was no predetermined plan or script. It was a constantly evolving piece as we got to know [Amy] more and more. People would come and go from her life quite a lot. So, not many people were there the whole time. We had a great overview of [her life] at the end of the day because we covered it from beginning to end.

You mentioned a lot of research was done for this film. What is going on in your mind when you saw some of this amazing, never-before-seen old footage come across your desk of Amy at different stages of her life?

Yeah, in the digital age there are thousands and thousand of hours stuff out there. What you want is the footage that is going to give you an insight to the real person behind closed doors. It was interesting because it was a bit of a Catch-22. All of her friends sort of took a vow of silence after she died and said they were never going to speak to the media again. They just wanted to be left alone. It was very hard to get them to participate. They were the ones that had the footage that we wanted. On one hand they were saying, “If you’re going to do this, you have to do it right.” They wanted us to tell the official version and real version of who she was. They told us they would participate if we told the real version.

Which is what you wanted to do from the beginning, right? I mean, personally I thought the film was very objective and balanced.

Yeah, we told them, “That’s the version we want to tell, but we can’t do that without your help!” We needed their footage and their photographs. I think they were hesitant because once that footage is out there, it’s out there and it’s not sacred anymore. It was a really tough process of trying to get the right people involved. I’m happy to say that they all finally came on board and they all love the movie, which is great.

Director Asif Kapadia does the same thing in this film as he did in his last documentary, “Senna,” when it comes to recording interviews. All we get as an audience is the audio of the interview. I think 99 percent of “Amy” is voiceover interviews. As a producer, was that something you were completely on board with on both “Senna” and “Amy” or were you worried that technique might not work?

You know, it was a real eureka moment on “Senna” because one of our executive directors on that film is a very well established filmmaker named Kevin MacDonald (“The Last King of Scotland”). He said because we had so much footage on “Senna” that we should make the film with just voiceover interviews. Because [Ayrton] Senna and Amy were both dead, they obviously couldn’t tell us what was happening. We couldn’t use their words to take us through the story in real time. We had so much footage [for “Amy”], so we decided to try and manage it with just voiceover.

Were you present when Amy’s father Mitch first saw the film? Reports, of course, are that he was unhappy with it.

I was there when Mitch saw it and he wasn’t happy. He had problems with it. I totally understand. I’m very respectful of his opinion [of the film]. He’s her dad. [Amy] wasn’t my daughter. I didn’t know her. Who am I to tell her story? But at the same time, we didn’t have an agenda when we went into making the movie. The sad reality is that he probably had a very different film in mind from the onset. Another thing to take under consideration is that we had to take 10 years of someone’s life and condense it into two hours. So, we had to make some pretty hard choices and leave a lot of stuff out.

Do you feel like the documentary points fingers at specific people and blames them for Amy’s death?

I don’t think we were trying to be judgmental. Everyone from Amy to the world we live in right now played a part in [her death]. She was the wrong person to get on that train because it was clearly not going in a direction she could handle. It was a perfect storm, really. What we tired to do is put all the elements of that perfect storm out there and let people digest them and let them make their own opinions. We could’ve made a much more judgmental movie, but we chose not to go that way. It’s incredibly complicated to get to the bottom of addiction and make a film out of it. I really hope it doesn’t come across as being too judgmental because I think that would’ve been naive of us.

Where do you think most of his anger toward the film stems from? What didn’t he like about it?

I think he is upset that we didn’t include things he would’ve liked to have seen in the film. There is a lot of other stuff we would’ve liked to have put in there, but there was no time to do it. I think we were in a bit of a lose-lose situation with him. If we had made a film about how much they shared a love of Frank Sinatra and didn’t get to the bottom of why a 27-year-old girl drank herself to death, then we would’ve been hammered by critics.

Why do you think Amy connected so well to her audience through her music? What was it about her as a performer that made her so beloved?

I get goosebumps right now even thinking about it. I think why she connected to people and why this movie works is because she wasn’t a manufactured pop star. She was a classic jazz artist in a sense that she had to experience something to write about it. If she had settled down and had two kids and lived next to a golf course, I don’t think she would’ve been writing the same music she had been writing. I think she had to look into the abyss in order to create this work of art. Great jazz artists like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone had to do the same. That’s the way these people operate. They need to explore the further reaches of their emotions. That’s why [Amy] connects. When she’s singing about [her life], she’s being completely honest. In an age where you have 50 writers writing a Beyoncé song or a song for some other star, sometimes that side of the business becomes manufactured. To have an artist like [Amy] come along and really pour her heart out was brilliant. Obviously, there was a very high price to pay for that artistic output. It was just too close to the bone.

Freddy Rodríguez – Mediation (short)

January 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the first film to come from his new production company Top Rebel, actor/producer Freddy Rodríguez (TV’s “Six Feet Under”) plays Roman Lindo, a man who finds himself in the middle of a ruthless divorce with his equally hateful wife Victoria (Marley Shelton). In an attempt to settle their differences peacefully, the couple decides to meet face to face in the presence of a court-appointed mediator before things get uglier. Unfortunately for everyone involved in this short dark comedy by director/writer Francisco Lorite, the worse is yet to come once Roman and Victoria lock eyes for what might be the last time.

What do you hope to prove with the creation of your new production company Top Rebel?

I like to call our first project, “Mediation,” to come out of this production company a “mini-feature.” It’s a calling card. It’s the type of project we want to create in this company. We want to show that we can bring a certain level of quality to the stuff we put out.

I like the term “mini-feature” you just used. “Mediation” is, of course, a short film, but it sounds like you want it to be more than that.

I think that was always the intention – for the film to have a beginning, middle and end. We wanted to show how we could execute a film. I think our intentions for making the film are different from other people making short films. We wanted people to walk out of a theater feeling like they had just seen a [feature] film.

Is part if the reason you started the company also because you felt there was a need in this industry to create roles that just are not being developed or given to Latino actors like you?

Absolutely, I think that is part of it. I think I’ve been really fortunate and very blessed throughout the years. I think for half my career I’ve played other ethnicities besides Latino. I wanted to continue that in [Top Rebel] and create more of those regular characters. I’ve always been an advocate of that and I think the company will continue that tradition.

I’m sure you know, there are a small handful of go-to young Latino actors in their mid to late 30s today that end up filling that demographic a studio might be looking for. I mean, I’m talking about actors like you, Michael Peña, Jay Hernandez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Jacob Vargas. Do you feel lucky that your name probably comes up in these conversations and that the pool is small or do you think a few more options would be nice?

I’m grateful to be part of that group of actors. Of course, it would always be a much better situation to have more options. There are many more talented Latino actors out there than the names you just mentioned. I’m sure there are. I hope that through [Top Rebel] we can create more characters and give those types of actors a chance.

You’ve battled zombies in “Planet Terror” and Al Queda terrorists in “Seal Team Six.” Was going head to head with an angry ex-wife in “Mediation” even more daunting?

(Laughs) It was a change of pace. Listen, at this point in my career I’m just trying to play different characters and be a part of different types of projects as an artist. It was fun to do all of those. It’s fun to explore all those worlds.

Do you consider “Mediation” just a fun, stylish movie where divorce is at the center of the narrative or would you like it to say something deeper with the film about relationships that come to an end?

I think that’s a question you should ask the director. As an actor, I read it and loved it and wanted to sink my teeth into it.

I know you’re happily married now, but can you remember any bad break ups you’ve experienced in your lifetime – maybe not to the extent of the characters in “Mediation” – and how those affected you at the time?

No, I’ve been married 18 years so I haven’t had too many of those. (Laughs) I’ve had the complete opposite experience of “Mediation.”

We’ve been talking for about 10 minutes now, which means, if I do my math correctly, about 46 couples have gotten divorced in the U.S. Those numbers are based on recent statistics that says a divorce happens every 13 seconds in this country. Do those kinds of statistics surprise you or is it something you think we’ve all grown accustomed to?

I think it’s something we’ve all grown accustomed to. It’s what we see as normal. I don’t want to date myself here, but I’m old school. I’m still married. The divorce rate in my family is very low. We see marriage in a different light. We try to cherish the sanctity in that more. It’s unfortunate where our society is at today.

Ira Glass – Sleepwalk With Me

September 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the indie comedy “Sleepwalk with Me,” PRI host/producer Ira Glass Glass contributes to the adaptation of comedian Mike Birbiglia’s personal story about trying to make it in the stand-up industry and having to cope with his real-life sleepwalking disorder in which he acts out his dreams – sometimes violently. Prior to the film, Birbiglia shared his story in a number of formats, including on the radio during a 2008 episode of PRI’s “This American Life,” as an off-Broadway one-man-show, and in a best-selling book.

During an interview with me, Glass, who is credited as a co-writer and producer on the film, talked about his bizarre dreams and going head to head with “The Avengers” at the box office.

Mike has told his story on the radio on “This American Life,” performed it as a one-man-show on stage, and written a book about it. What did adapting it into a film bring to the story that these other formats did not?

Well, I don’t want to pretend his story was like a crappy jalopy driving down the road beforehand and now is this fancy car driving down the road like it’s so much better, but what you can do with film is just so different. What we added a lot in the film that you don’t see in other versions is that you get to watch Mike go from being a really terrible comedian to learning how to be Mike on stage. People really responded to the story of him becoming a comedian. When he’s sad at the beginning, he’s so terrible.

There are, of course, challenges when it comes to promoting an indie film. What did you learn about the process and how much cash do you think you really took out of the director Joss Whedon’s coffer (“Avengers” director Whedon made a satirical video about boycotting “Sleepwalk with Me” because it would hurt his blockbuster, which is still playing at theaters)?

Obviously, Mr. Whedon declared a war on us. We were shocked that such a thing could happen. He was so scared we were going to take money away from “The Avengers” and that people were going to be going to our film instead of his. It’s funny because it started off like a joke war between us and then we just learned about our first weekend grosses. Our weekend total was $68,000 per screen. That was so much higher than Joss’s opening weekend, per-screen average of $47,680. So, we trounced him as long as you don’t look at the fact that “The Avengers” was in 4,400 theaters and we were in exactly one. We look forward to earning every dollar “The Avengers” made plus one dollar. We look forward to making $5 billion and one dollars.

You started as an intern at PRI and climbed the ranks to where you are today. Was there ever a specific time during your internship or early in your career where you though maybe this wasn’t the right profession for you after all; maybe second guessed yourself like Mike’s character does in the film with his stand-up career?

Yeah, that’s definitely one of the things I related to in the story. I spent a lot of time in my 20s wanting to be a reporter and to be on the air, but I wasn’t good at it at all. I was 27 or 28 before I was competent radio writer. My parents would tell me to go to medical school. They wanted me to do anything other than this thing I didn’t seem to have too much talent for.

Stories from “This American Life” have been used as inspiration for other films and there are still more in the pipeline. Personally, what story over the last 17 years do you think would make for a good film?

It’s hard for me to answer that honestly because we have half a dozen films that are now in development. If I pick out one I feel like I would accidentally be dissing the others. But one of my favorites for sure is the story that aired a few years ago about this minister named Carlton Pearson who was a rising star in the evangelical movement. He ran this kind of fire and brimstone kind of church. But then he came to realize he didn’t believe in fire and brimstone anymore. He didn’t believe that God’s message was that there was a Hell if you didn’t accept Jesus. He started to preach it and he lost everything. It’s just an incredibly, old-school, cinematic classical kind of thing where you have this funny, super-smart guy who follows his ideals and loses everything. It would be a great part for a Jamie Foxx or a Will Smith. We’re just at the point of almost finishing the script for Marc Forester (“Monster’s Ball,” “Quantum of Solace”) to direct. It’s so exciting to be thinking about that becoming a movie. I wouldn’t be involved in a movie like that in the same way I’m am involved in this. They have an amazing director and an amazing screenwriter. I would kind of say, “That’s awesome.”

I know you don’t sleepwalk like Mike, but which one of your dreams do you think could be adapted into an interesting film?

That is a really funny, good question! What’s so sad is that all of the dreams that I have that I remember are anxiety dreams. My subconscious is so unimaginative. My dreams fall into two variations. In the first one, I dream I need to finish the radio show and I’m on deadline and I’m not going to make it. The other dream is basically the same thing, but for some reason I don’t have any clothes on.

What have you learned about yourself now that you’ve added screenwriter to your credits?

One of the nice things about learning any new craft is that you really appreciate other people who do it. There are things I notice now in movies and TV shows that I never noticed before. I’ve stopped being a civilian when I’m watching TV shows or movie and notice how short a scene is and how economically it is shot and how concisely and beautifully somebody does something and how they get a point across with just a gesture or a look. That’s really an unexpected gift. I’ve always liked movies and TV, but now I feel there is a level of understanding I have for it.

As a radio guy, what were some of the challenges of writing something you knew would have to have scenes that people were not only going to hear, but actually see?

If you’re on the radio telling a story about your girlfriend, you can simply refer to her as ‘my girlfriend’ with an affectionate tone in your voice and people will buy that you love each other. But in a film, you have to physically create an actual human being. You have to figure out how you’re going to communicate that love. I have to say, as a first time filmmaker, that was one of the most vexing problems we were working on up to the very last week of editing.

As you get ready for bed every night, do you worry about Mike?

No, I have to say, I don’t think of Mike as I lie in bed at night. Mike is worrying about himself so much you don’t have to worry about him. He does 10 times the worrying that any person would. My mind is racing when I go to sleep. Sometimes I just lie there. Usually what I’m thinking of are stupid things I said to people during the day.

The film has earned some pretty favorable reviews from film critics so far. Are you disappointed you received a negative one from NPR?

No, I didn’t even know that! NPR panned us? Those bastards! In that case, I just want to say I hate all their programs; this NPR that you speak of. I didn’t know that. They panned us? NPR?

Yeah, one of their film critics, Stephanie Zacharek, didn’t like it.

Well, I’m glad that at least it shows that nobody is on the take and doing their honest jobs and giving their real opinions and not doing any favors for anybody else. I can’t believe it. Everybody loves us and the one place we get a bad review is on NPR? Et tu, “All Things Considered?” Et tu, “Morning Edition?”

Kyle Killen & Howard Gordon – Awake

March 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

TV can be a cutthroat business. No one knows that as well as TV show creator Kyle Killen. When his show “Lone Star” premiered on Fox in 2010, it was critically acclaimed and talked about as one of the best pilots of the season. But the viewers didn’t tune in for the first episode, and it was pulled after just two episodes had aired. Taking what he learned from the experience in stride, Killen is bringing programming back to network TV with his new show “Awake,” a high-concept show about a cop who lives in alternate realities after a car accident, one in which his wife dies and one in which his son dies. The catch? He doesn’t know which is real and which is a dream. Along for the ride is producer/showrunner Howard Gordon, who among other things, was a showrunner for “24” and most recently co-created the Showtime hit “Homeland.”

“Awake” airs on NBC every Thursday at 9 p.m.

Since the Super Bowl you’ve had a strong advertising campaign. What do you think of the ads and how do you feel there is a challenge in getting across such a complex plot and nailing the tone of the show in a 30-second ad?

Howard Gordon: Kyle and I went to a NBC marketing and promotions meeting last week and saw their campaign and were kind of blown away by its intelligence and by its commitment. The network is clearly very committed to it and they are spending money on it. Some of the promos, two in particular kind of blew us away. One really does sell the procedural aspect and the duality and the other really sells the emotional anchor. They are airing them across a lot of platforms. I think remarkably, legibly people can understand what they are going to tune into and they have been getting a lot of positive response. So we are psyched about NBC’s approach to this.

A lot of people have been connecting the show in some ways to the film “Inception.” Kyle, how do you as the creator of the show feel about that comparison? Is it welcomed or not?

Kyle Killen: I mean I thought “Inception” was an incredible movie. I don’t know how much we have directly in common with it other than there is certainly that idea of your waking life and your dream life and the dreams feeling incredibly real, sometime so real that you can’t quite tell which is which. I think beyond that it is not necessarily an “Inception”-like experience on a weekly basis. We are simply playing different notes. But anytime someone associates your work with something that is iconic, I have no problem with whatsoever.

When you guys found out that you weren’t on the fall schedule and you would premiere mid-season at the earliest, did you use that time to tinker with things or do rewrites or reshoots or did you save that for your production hiatus?

KK: You know, there is really no difference when [a show] starts. I mean we are finished and finishing alongside shows that were fall series. You start work at essentially the same time. There was a little bit more lead time, which we were incredibly grateful for. It has been a complicated show to figure out on a week to week basis and make work in a satisfying way, so any and all extra time was incredibly welcome. I think having the opportunity of being a mid-season show, we get a launch that isn’t cluttered with the launch of everything else. It doesn’t feel like a demolition derby of new shows. I think it sets up well for a show like this.

How did your experience as working on “Lone Star” change your approach to working on network TV?

I mean it does and it doesn’t. I think anybody who tries something and has it not work would be stupid not to look at what occurred and what lessons you could take away from that. I think one of the big takeaways is that “Awake” is that it offers some standalone elements in comparison to a completely serialized show. With “Lone Star,” the effort was always to try a cable style show on network. The risk in that is if you don’t get a network-sized audience in Week 1 you are going to be battling uphill from then on. You are not just saying, “Please join us for Week 2. Please join us for Week 3.” You’re also saying, “Please go back and catch up on Week 1 and Week 2 so you’ll have some idea of what’s happening.” I think trying to lower the barrier to entry for subsequent episodes so that a show could gain momentum rather than just bleed it from the top is something that felt like it was going to be smart to bake into future network television ideas.

Elizabeth Avellan – Spy Kids 4

August 19, 2011 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

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.