Robert Rodriguez – From Dusk Till Dawn (TV)

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Taking advantage of the U.S. Congress’ request to see more minority-owned networks on television, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) jumped at the opportunity to apply for a TV station and create a channel for an audience he felt has always been underrepresented. With El Rey, an English-language network targeting Hispanic viewers, Rodriguez sets his sights on a demographic looking for something authentic and cool featuring characters that represent them as Latino Americans. His first attempt to bring that to his audience is with the new TV show “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.” Originally a 1996 film starring George Clooney and Salma Hayek, Rodriguez has redesigned and expanded the narrative for the small screen.

During the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival, I caught up with Rodriguez and talked to him about what he hopes will result from a new network like El Rey and why he thinks a cult movie like “From Dusk Till Dawn” was the best project to kick-start the network’s efforts.

If you have Comcast, DirectTV or Time Warner Cable, you can catch new episodes of “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” on El Rey every Tuesday at 8 pm CT.

What did you see was missing from the TV landscape that you thought a network like El Rey could fill the void?

Well, the opportunity came up to create an entertainment network that had a focus on millennials and the growing population of Hispanic viewers, like my kids. I thought, “My kids don’t have anything that represents who they are in this country.” They don’t watch Spanish television. They’re not really seeing themselves represented on the screen. That has been my mission over the years making films – films like “Spy Kids,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Desperado,” “Machete,” “Sin City.” You don’t think of them as “Hispanic” films because everybody can watch them and enjoy them. Those who are Hispanic will go, “Oh, look, half the cast is Hispanic.” It’s really empowering for people, especially in a population that is growing so wide. Then, I just didn’t really see any cool networks with really curated content where people behind the networks have actually seen the shows they’re showing and are fans of them. If felt having a network built from the ground up with authenticity and a real focus was needed.

So, why revisit your film “From Dusk Till Dawn?” Why not “The Faculty” or “Desperado?” What was it about this film that had you come back to it for a TV series?

I wanted to do a show nobody else could do like “From Dusk Till Dawn.” [Original “From Dusk Till Dawn” screenwriter] Quentin [Tarantino] and I controlled the rights, so nobody else could ever do the show. Also, “Walking Dead” really over-indexes Hispanic viewers. We thought horror and genre play really well across all lines. Everybody enjoys it. A lot of people who work with me on “Dusk Till Dawn” work on “Walking Dead” like [make up effects artist] Greg Nicotero and KNB Efx. So, we thought, “Let’s go reclaim our territory, the horror film, like ‘Dusk till Dawn,’ [but] in a show.” We thought it would be fantastic to do something like that with the new technology that has come out and do something that has the best characters on television. I mean, Quentin Tarantino writes the best characters out of anybody. To have him on TV for the first time is really amazing. People have come up to both of us over the years and asked us for more “Dusk Till Dawn” because it’s become such a cult classic over the last 18 years. The film always felt ripe. Also, I’ve had a painting from the last shot of [the 1996] movie in my office for 18 years – the pyramid. I’ve always wanted to go back and do something with it. Now, you’ll find out what all that’s about and the true mythology that surrounds it.

Do you think a network like El Rey would’ve been created sooner or later or was it only going to happen if the FCC and the Department of Justice came in like they did and demand for there to be more diversity on cable TV?

I don’t know who would’ve done it. I don’t know if I would’ve done it if that original opportunity didn’t come up. I went up for the network when they offered it, but pretty quickly when I put together this idea for El Rey, me and my partners thought, “You know, if we don’t get this channel, we should go out and do this anyway.” It’s easy to do and it’s needed. I think we would’ve done it anyway even if we didn’t go that route. We thought about going a different route completely. We could’ve had Univision invest in a new network. But the fact that Comcast stepped up and did it first really put a halo effect over the whole thing. The government recognized that something needed to be done. There was a compelling reason why this market needed to be served.

It’s taken someone like Oprah Winfrey four years to start making any money with her new network, OWN. Just last year she started making money when she hired Tyler Perry to create two new exclusive shows for her network. It didn’t take you as long to realize that’s what you needed for El Rey. Is that the key to making a new network like this successful – exclusive content?

Yeah, it’s all about feeding the beast. If you have a new network, you have to have content that people are going to want to watch. Content is the king. That’s why we call it El Rey Network. You turn it on, you’re going to be treated like a king. Content can be so compelling, exciting, visceral, addictive, that you’re going to want to watch it. That’s really what going to make a network work.

But we’re talking about original content, right?

Original content, yeah, but even your curated content [is important]. If people trust your opinion and you show them everything that is cool, they’ll go to you to watch anything you have, especially if you have that authenticity. A lot of networks don’t have that.

Robert Rodriguez – From Dusk Till Dawn (TV) – SXSW 2014

March 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

During the SXSW Film Festival, I sat down with Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) to talk about his new TV network El Rey and its first original program “From Dusk Till Dawn.” The series is based from Rodriguez’s 1996 thriller of the same name, which starred George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino as criminal brothers Seth and Richie Gecko. The small-screen version stars D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz in those same roles. The cast also features Robert Patrick (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), Don Johnson (“Django Unchained”) and Wilmer Valderrama (“From Prada to Nada”).

New episodes of “From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series” air Tuesdays at 7pm CT.

Machete Kills

October 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Danny Trejo, Demian Bechir, Mel Gibson
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Machete,” “Sin City”)
Written by: Kyle Ward (debut)

Despite being San Antonio-born and a champion of Texas filmmaking, director Robert Rodriguez’s work traditionally hasn’t done much to inspire local pride. While he seems like a swell guy to make movies with—based on some of the cool, eclectic casts he’s managed to put together—the end results range from mediocre to downright embarrassing. Even high points like “Sin City” and the original “Spy Kids” were undone by muddy plotting and crummy visuals. The low points, like all the rest of the “Spy Kids” films and “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl,” well…they’re completely awful.

Rodriguez, though, seems to have settled into a groove as of late, releasing the low-budget B-movie side of his personality that he’d tried to tamp down. The first trip down this road was “Machete,” famously spun into a feature after beginning life as a fake trailer. While not completely successful, the sense was Rodriguez was finally growing more comfortable in his own skin. In the sequel, “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez confirms he’s ready to finally embrace the fun of batshit insane cinema.

“Machete Kills” picks up with Danny Trejo’s badass ex-Federale Machete Cortez losing his partner/lover in a raid gone bad. A summons from the President of the Untied States (Charlie Sheen, going by his birth name Carlos Estevez) saves Machete from the clutches of a racist Arizona sheriff determined to to hang himself an illegal immigrant. Soon Machete is charged with stopping a Mexican madman (Demian Bichir, wonderfully nuts) with a missile pointed at Washington D.C. Along the way, Machete has a rendezvous with Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), tangles with a gun bra-wielding madame (Sofia Vergara), and is pursued by El Cameleon (Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lady Gaga, and Antonio Banderas), finally culminating in a showdown with Mel Gibson’s villainous Voz.

While the original “Machete” struggled under the weight of cramming social commentary regarding immigration in with ridiculous action and gratuitous nudity, “Machete Kills” doesn’t waste time on any of that bullshit. Equal parts satire and parody, “Machete Kills” piles on the craziness with reckless abandon from the get-go, kicking things off with a grainy, scratchy trailer for a space-faring sequel to a film that isn’t even in pre-production. Despite a saggy middle section of the movie that makes it feel much longer than its 107 minutes, “Machete Kills” is arguably the best Robert Rodriguez movie yet. Until “Machete Kills Again…In Space” hits theaters, anyway.

Machete

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert De Niro
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) and Ethan Maniquis (debut)
Written by: Robert Rodriguez (“Planet Terror”) and Alvaro Rodriguez (“Shorts”)

Continuing where he left off after teasing audiences with a faux trailer in 2007’s “Grindhouse,” filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) serves up a dish of entertaining mayhem and timely political satire in the form of “Machete.” It’s a contemporary exploitation flick with all the aesthetics of the hardcore vigilante films of the 70s, but with one discernable difference: This time a Mexican’s in charge.

In “Machete,” veteran actor Danny Trejo (“Con Air”) stars as the title character, a former Mexican Federale out for revenge against the men who set him up during an assassination attempt against racist politician Senator McLaughlin (Robert De Niro). The senator, who spends his free time playing border enforcer and shooting Mexicans who cross into the U.S., is betting that his idea to eradicate all illegal immigrants and erect an electrified border fence will garner enough support to win the upcoming election.

Tied to the senator is Torrez (Steven Segal, who was smart to take this role instead of embarrassing himself in “The Expendables”), a drug cartel kingpin who just happens to be the same man carrying the sword that beheaded Machete’s wife.

On the run, Machete is reeled into “Operation Network,” an underground group of activists fighting for the rights of Mexican immigrants everywhere. Led by a revolutionist known as Shé (an obvious homage to Ché Guevara), “The Network” is a complex system of justice-seekers watching out for their fellow hombres.

Michelle Rodriguez (“Avatar”) plays Luz, a taco-truck owner who may or may not be a major part of “The Network,” but takes care of her own nonetheless. Jessica Alba (“Sin City”) is Sartana, an official with the U.S. Immigration Department who is forced to choose between the law and her empathy for the cause. Precious time is wasted on a topless Lindsay Lohan (“Georgia Rule”) as April, Booth’s meth-head daughter who is on screen long enough for her to flash her breasts and dress like a nun for the final shootout.

Already labeled as a “Mexploitation” film, “Machete” doesn’t disappoint in delivering incredibly campy violence by way of swords, surgical tools, and even a customized weed whacker with a little extra cutting power. No matter what, if any, political stance the film takes, Machete himself is simply a fun character to cheer for despite his lack of real personality.

Nevermind how much disarray immigration reform is across the country, Machete has actually taught us something that can’t be learned from watching Fox News or CNN. He’s taught us about survival. He’s taught us that a man can only be pushed so far before he starts pushing (slicing in this case) back. Most importantly, he’s taught us that whoever coined the first rule of modern warfare – “never bring a knife to a gunfight” – didn’t consider what a vengeful Mexican could actually do with a bad attitude and a blade.

Robert Rodriguez – Shorts

September 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

It wasn’t until 2001 that filmmaker Robert Rodriguez revealed to his kids what he actually did for a living. For all they knew, when their dad excused himself to go tinker in the garage, he could have been mining for uranium or training miniature poodles to jump through hoops of fire.

Instead, Rodriguez was doing something he had been doing ever since he picked up a camera while still in elementary school. He was making movies.
“I kind of wanted to wait and surprise them,” Rodriguez told me during a visit to his Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas. “I decided to tell them after the premiere of ‘Spy Kids.’ When we came home I pulled out some of the actual props and toys we used on the movie and told them, ‘I’m the one who made [‘Spy Kids’].’ They were really stunned.”

From that moment on, the Rodriguez kids were hooked on Hollywood. Now with five children—Rocket, 13; Racer, 12; Rebel, 10; Rogue, 5; and Rhiannon, 3—the director of such films as “Desperado,” “Sin City,” and the “Spy Kids” franchise has a big enough family to field an indoor soccer team or stage a competitive game of Texas Hold ‘Em. Still, he’d rather do what his father did with him and keep everyone in the family business—at least for a while.

“My dad worked with his dad … as a butcher in a meat market,” Rodriguez says. “I grew up working with my dad selling cookware and working in his office. Now, my kids work in my office. If I owned a restaurant, they’d be working there.”

While Rodriguez is more than capable of putting together a hearty meal (watch his 10-minute cooking segments on some of his DVDs), he’s not the owner of a popular Austin taqueria that sells the city’s best migas. Rodriguez had something else on his plate and was excited to share it with his kids.
With the highly successful family-friendly “Spy Kids” trilogy behind him, he turned to the young members of Team Rodriguez to use their imaginations and develop his next wholesome project. In 2005, Rodriguez’s second oldest, Racer, who was 8 years old at the time, came up with the story for his father’s 10th feature film, “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D.” Rocket and Rebel joined Racer as actors on the film.

In his most recent movie, “Shorts,” Rodriguez again asked the boys for some creative advice. This time, it was Rebel who stepped up to take a swing at storytelling.

“[Rebel] wanted to come up with the next movie so I said, ‘Sure, your turn! Do you have a good idea?’ Rodriguez says. “And he did! He came up with the whole idea of short films kind of like “The Little Rascals.” Then we both came up with different stories together.”

Set in the fictional town of Black Falls (the cinematic equivalent of Austin), “Shorts” tells the story of what happens when a young boy discovers a rainbow-colored rock that grants wishes. When other kids and adults learn of the magic meteor, everyone wants to get their hands on it for their own selfish reasons.

“There are not a lot of live-action family movies,” Rodriguez says. “A lot of family movies are animated. It really is unique to see one with real actors. It is a unique genre in a way.”

During their brainstorming sessions, Rodriguez says he realized a child wouldn’t understand the power he possessed if he were to find rock like the one in “Shorts.” The idea that a child would wish for something as impractical as “a fortress or an endless supply of chocolate” opened the story up to more wacky scenarios.

“I asked Rebel, ‘If you could wish for anything, what would you wish for?’” Rodriguez says. “He said, ‘Um, to have a butt for a head.’ Then I asked Racer and he said, ‘Uh, to be a potato.’ I said, ‘Well, I would wish for a million more wishes.’ Then you just saw their faces drop like, ‘Oh, no! We just wasted our wish!’”

Along with learning good wishing techniques from their dad, Rodriguez says by working with him on some of his films his kids have come to understand that a job can be something to look forward to when getting up in the morning.

“They’re learning good work ethic,” Rodriguez says. “They know what it’s like to put in hours. Part of their work is going to school and the other part is having fun working on a movie. This will help them seek out jobs that they want and are passionate about later in life.”

Could this mean one of the kids will follow in dad’s footsteps and become a famous Hollywood director? It’s too early to tell, says Rodriguez, but right now, Racer seems to be the one that enjoys the process the most.

“He seems to have the same personality I had when I was young,” Rodriguez says. “He comes up with his own stories and films them. The other ones love doing it, too, but Rocket is more into science and wants to be an astronaut and get into space exploration. Rebel loves acting, but he wants to be a marine biologist. He knows everything about every kind of fish. He loves to talk about fish. Everything goes back to fish. That’s his passion.”

If anyone can teach children about following their passion, it’s Rodriguez. Whether he’s behind the camera shooting a movie about flesh-eating zombies or about a family of spies saving the world from a mad scientist, Rodriguez says he is fortunate to be part of the film industry and to have the opportunity to change up genres every so often.

“It keeps everything fresh,” Rodriguez says. “I do enjoy making movies for big kids like “Grindhouse,” but I also like making movies for families. People say, ‘Write what you know’ whenever you’re writing a script, or a book, or anything. Family is what I know.”

As published in Hispanic Magazine, Sept. 2009
By Kiko Martinez

Shorts

August 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jimmy Bennett, Jake Short, Trevor Gagnon
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids”)
Written by: Robert Rodriguez (“Spy Kids”)

There’s no denying filmmaker Robert Rodriguez is a kid at heart. Whether he’s firebombing dusty Mexican villages or journeying into virtual worlds with pint-sized superheroes, Rodriguez is a very likeable director. He’s like that popular little boy in elementary school everyone wanted to be friends with because of his impressive toy collection.

The problem with Rodriguez is that he still hasn’t found a way to make his toys for tikes as much fun as the ones for the big boys. While there was minimal success with the original “Spy Kids” in 2001, its two sequels and the ridiculous “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D” that followed failed to show the same unique voice Rodriguez had at the start of his career. (YouTube “Bedhead,” his first family-friendly short he made back in 1991).

Almost 20 years later, Rodriguez continues to run into the same familiar dilemma with his newest age-appropriate adventure. In “Shorts,” the auteur from Austin, Texas has kicked over his toy chest to reveal all the playthings he has collected over the years. The overabundance of imagination and silliness, however, is just too much for one tiny movie to handle.

Putting his head together with one of his real-life sons (he did the same with “Sharkboy”), Rodriguez siphons as much childhood fantasy as he possibly can before writing an overly-ambitious story about a small, tight-knit suburb that goes topsy-turvy when a rainbow-colored, wish-granting rock falls from the sky and lands in the community.

Jimmy Bennett (“Orphan”) is Toby Thompson, a bullied kid who gets his hands on the rock right before Rodriguez starts to play his cinematic version of hot potato and tosses the main computer-generated prop around to everyone. This includes brothers Loogie (Trevor Gagnon), Lug (Rebel Rodriguez), and Laser (Leo Howard), who can’t seem to get a grasp on their wishing technique.

Leslie Mann (“Funny People”), Jon Cryer (TV’s “Two and a Half Men”), and Kat Dennings (“The House Bunny”) round out the rest of the Thompson family – Mom, Dad, and sister Stacey – who don’t have much luck with the rock either. When Stacey tells her immature older boyfriend that she wishes he’d “grow up,” he literally becomes 40 feet tall. When Toby tells his parents he wishes they “were closer,” their bodies mesh into a two-headed-mom-dad hybrid.

In addition to the main cast and all the CGI already crowding the screen, Rodriguez has more characters up his sleeve, including germaphobic scientist Dr. Noseworthy (William H. Macy) and his son Nose (Jake Short), who unleashes a booger monster with the help of his father’s laboratory experiments. The slimy green gunk isn’t the only villain running amok. Mr. Black (James Spader) and his two gothic kids Helvetica (Jolie Vanier) and Cole (Devon Gearhart) instill fear into the rest of the community while pursuing the rock for its endless power.

Even with Rodriguez breaking “Shorts” into more controllable vignettes, he decides to make the process even more chaotic than it has to be by editing the entire film out of sequence and trusting kids under the age of 12 haven’t seen “Pulp Fiction.” It’s a risky attempt that unfortunately doesn’t work as well as he would have hoped.

While a handful of the child actors are cast well, Rodriguez focuses more on special effects and overuses slapstick to reach the film’s demographic. There are only so many times someone can bump their head before the joke just isn’t funny anymore. In “Shorts,” Rodriguez never knows when to say when.

Robert Rodriguez – Sin City

September 9, 2005 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Although graphic novelist Frank Miller swore off having anything to do with comic books adaptations by Hollywood after the disaterous “Robocop 2” and “Robocop 3” of the early ’90s (two films he wrote the screenplays for), there was only one person who had the persistency and vision to change his mind and create something that would satisfy his imagination as a writer and artist. That man was Robert Rodriguez.

After what Miller said were many attempts by director Rodriguez to get him to jump onboard with a feature film based on Miller’s “Sin City,” a seven-book series based on a morally corrupt metropolis, the legendary illustrator finally decided he would entertain the idea by meeting with the San Antonio-born director to see what he could offer.

“I kept turning him down,” Miller told me at the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel in Austin. “I really didn’t want my baby ‘Sin City’ to be in a moviemaker’s hands. I thought they would just ruin her. I thought that one bad movie would destroy my comic book series that I spent twelve years on.”

Unwilling to throw in the towel, Miller said Rodriguez told him to come to Austin to shoot a single scene “with no strings attatched…after that, if you still say no, we just won’t do it.”

After ten hours of shooting a short film with Josh Hartnett (“Wicker Park”) and Marley Shelton (“Uptown Girls”), which was based on the “Sin City” story “The Customer is Always Right,” Miller knew he had found someone that was as passionate about his work as he was.

“The hook was so deep into my mouth,” Miller said remember how he felt when he realized that Rodriguez had captured the idea of “Sin City” into cinematic format. “Far from saying no again, my next question was, ‘When do we start casting?’”

And as easy as that Rodriguez, 36, whose screen credits include “El Mariachi,” “Desperado,” “Spy Kids,” “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” delved into a moviemaking experience very few directors have attempted – to shoot an entire film in front of a green screen and then have the backgrounds digitally added during post-production. Rodriguez said, sitting in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel sporting a black cowboy hat, using the recently new method to film “Sin City” allowed the actors to not have to deal with all the “millions of things that get in the way of performing” on regular sets.

“If anything it helps them focus on what they should be focusing on, which is each other,” Rodriguez said. “They don’t have to worrying about rain or standing in a street or ‘Cut! We’ve got a helicopter flying overhead now.’ That breaks the whole vibe.”

Moreover, he said that stylizing “Sin City” with computer generated backgrounds would give the film a true sense of its film noir quality and lurid tone.

“If someone had tried to shoot this movie like a regular movie that would have robbed the audience of that visual experience,” Rodriguez said. “The visuals are the first thing that grabs you. They are insanely cool.”

Along with the visually stunning graphics, Rodriguez said Miller’s original dialogue and storylines from his graphic novels were the “perfect marriage” to the special effects.

“It had a great rhythm that you just don’t find a lot,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t want to change that, so I just transcribed right out of the book. It’s like Quentin’s (Tarantino) dialogue. It’s very specific. If you start rewriting and changing words it will throw the rhythm off. I didn’t want to have to study it and understand it and learn it and then write my own version of it. Why not just use what is already there? It works.”

With a solid script and a dream cast, which includes Bruce Willis (“Hostage”), Jessica Alba (“Honey”), Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”), Nick Stahl (“Terminator 3”), Rosario Dawson (“Alexander”), Jaime King (“Lone Star State of Mind”) and Mickey Rourke (“Man on Fire”), Rodriguez’s next task was to lure Miller onto the set to assist him with directorial duties. Although Miller had no experience as a director, Rodriguez said he felt it was essential for the creator of “Sin City” to have an operative voice during production.

“I’ve create my own material before, so I know what that means,” Rodriguez, who is also credited as the producer, editor, screenwriter, composer and cinematographer, said. “I wanted him there to co-direct and get great performances from the actors like he got out of his drawings. I felt like he was ready because of the work he had done. It was obvious that he knew visual storytelling better than most directors.”

Because he wanted Miller to be credited as a co-director, Rodriguez, at the time a member of the Directors’ Guild of America, was given an ultimatum by the organization, which has a policy that does not allow more than one director to get screen credit for a film. Instead, Rodriguez decided to resign from the guild so that he could bring on Miller and also Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”) as a guest director, who had promised he would direct a segment of “Sin City” for $1. (The two made the deal when Rodriguez agreed to score “Kill Bill: Vol. 2” for the same insignificant, but contractual amount).

“[The DGA] wanted me to join so I could set a good example for young filmmakers,” Rodriguez said. “But, eh, they were just giving me a hard time. I’m from Texas. I don’t make movies like that. I didn’t know it was against the rules until a week before shooting. It was better for me to leave. Then I could bring Quentin on, too.”

As a director on the set, Miller said Rodriguez was open-minded and straightforward. Because of what he learned from him, Miller is already looking forward to his next opportunity to sit in the director’s chair.

“He’s got a beautiful sense of things being possible,” Miller said. “As a director he doesn’t come at you with a headdress and rattles like a witch doctor that’s doing something mysterious that can’t be figured out. He’s teaches fast and well.”
Actress Jamie King, who plays two twin characters, Goldie and Wendy, in “Sin City,” added her thoughts, while in Austin, about working with Rodriguez – a director she said always had a clear vision of what he wanted to create.

“He is such a wonderful example of a person that, no matter what they want in life, can achieve it because they put their heart into it,” King said. “Being an actor and working with him, you trust him completely.”