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.”