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