Speaking | Robert Rodriguez
emily blunt interview
Rodriguez is a pioneer in film. A multi-hyphen kinda guy; director, writer, producer,
cinematographer, editor and composer...and chef. He produced his first (distributed)
film, El Mariachi, for something like $7000.00. I did type, $7000.00. That
kind of do-or-die style is this guy's signature. Then came El 2 - Desperado,
and Dusk Till Dawn (with Quentin Tarantino), El 3 - Once Upon
a Time in Mexico, and the whole Spy Kids trilogy phenomenon.
a seasoned cinematographer and visual effects supervisor, director and ex-published
cartoonist, Rodriguez needed a way to bring his more non-conventional visions
onto film - the regular old CGI special effects gizmos were not cutting it.
turned to the future of digital manipulation to create his mind's worlds. He discovered
via this new fandangled green screen medium, so popular with film rebels these
days, his real visions are able to come boldly to life. Green screen combines,
basically, a breathing actor and, well, cartooning. Really, his Spy Kids
films were the start of the respect for this medium's alteration of a "film";
though Sky Captain: World of Tomorrow boasts this achievement (a hardy
eye-brow is raised in their direction).
on first aside
now Rodriguez, and his aptly named Troublemaker Studios (he
runs with his wife, Producer Elizabeth Avellan), use their green screens to literally,
paint film's canvases.
Now, a little wealthier, he employs a battalion of mega-talents that share that
extra gene of creativity - and celebs beg their agents to find out what Rodriguez
is up to. Benicio del Toro said of Rodriguez, "It's like getting to work
with the Wizard of Oz!"
couldn't have been more excited to meet this singular talent. Rodriguez's vision
and importance to film - to me - is second only to Orson Welles (excluding the
very first folks natch). And like Orson, this rebel filmmaker continually shakes
our notion of the medium of film's abilities, and you sit in wonder at the moving
artwork before you - he also takes no bull from Hollywood honchos.
latest creation (with an ample able team) is Sin
City. It just may be technically, the greatest film ever
made - so far
Let's start with the brouhaha with you and the Director's Guild of America (DGA)
and be done with it- shall we?
Sure. It's simple. I didn't realize it was against the rules to have multiple
directors on a film - until I got to shoot and they came to me and said, "Well,
you know, you can't have two directors on it."
Don't I see two directors all the time - no?
Aha! Well, those are special cases where they were already a team before they
joined. [he notices my wondering "wha.." look] . Yes, it shows the rules
are so old and they haven't conformed to ideas of how things were done now. We
were just about to shoot and it felt so right - such a new thing, that it wasn't
going to fit in a lot of rulebooks, so I just thought rather than have them change
their rules, which somebody might take advantage of - you know like now a studio
head starts saying, "You have to make me a co-director" - and believe
me they really wanted that rule! [laughter]. The DGA didn't want to turn into
the writer's guild or the producer's guild, where there are so many credited you
can't tell who did what. I understood their position and said, frankly, this was
such a weird movie, and I'd better leave anyway. I can't do a studio movie that's
developed by a studio now - but really - that just means I should be doing my
own material. George Lucas wanted to do Princess of Mars at one point and couldn't
get the rights so he wrote Star Wars. So that's what I should do anyway.
It's great to hear this. So many folks just give in - and sacrifice their work.
Thank you. Can you talk about how you actually made Sin City?
It's probably the hardest I've worked on a movie. I thought it was going to be
easy - hey, just copy what's out of the book, and there you go. I felt really
free to go into this world myself and create what I loved about the books. You
do different things leading from a comic. You gotta lead the eye to tell the story
that way, where in editing and filmmaking you almost have to go left to right,
and make sure that when you cut, you don't suddenly disorient the audience in
any way. You can do that in comics; you can't do that in a movie. And that's kind
of why we shot on green screen - because we could then put in a background and
strip it down to its bare essentials. See, that way you're always focusing on
the actor or the character or whoever it was you really wanted to draw attention
to, and we don't have this over-stimulus that happens when you shoot on a real
set. It became very specific down to like an eye blink some times.
Were you afraid the style of the film, the look, might overwhelm the stories?
No, the thing about the book is that they go hand-in-hand. To have made a regular
movie out of Sin City would have robbed it of how much the images worked on you
The images are what really hit you first. That's why I wanted to make a movie
out of it, because I thought if I could put that on the screen, people have never
seen that before, it'll be a really new experience for them.
Well, they kind of have - what about Sky Captain?
Right! They were kind of built at the same time. I had just done a bunch of movies
on green screen. I'd done the Spy Kids movies - so even though they said that
was the first movie done on green screen; I'd actually already had been doing
that. But when I did Sin City, I hadn't seen any materials on Sky Captain, I didn't
really know they were doing a green screen movie with HD. And we were shooting
on green screen not just to save money, which is why they were doing that, but
it was really the only way we could capture these images and get that black and
white film noir style. If we shot it in a real environment, all its things just
go gray, because they are all mid-tones. We had to isolate the actors from the
background in order to create that very stark black and white - to create a black
and white that you've never seen before, because if you watch a black and white
movie it's really gray and white, because of all the mid-tones. We had to get
rid of all of those, the way Frank did with pen and ink. I realized this is going
to be a total exercise in things I've been doing. That's why I felt comfortable
doing it - because I had already done a lot of stuff as a photographer and as
an effects supervisor, coming up with these ideas.
What do think is going to be the film's appeal - art, style?
Hmm. You know, I don't know. I think it's very pulpy and very stylized and it's
something different, new and entertaining and exciting. People are looking for
that. They do realize they've seen a lot of the same thing out there. But part
of it was I didn't really care. When Frank wrote the books, he purposely went
and made something that he wanted to see himself. He had been through the Hollywood
process; he had been screwed around, never got to make a movie. I'm just going
to do what I do best; I'm going to draw something, which probably nobody wants
to see. It's going to be black and white (with) really cool hardcore women, cool
vintage cars, and tough men, called Sin City. No one will probably buy it, but
this is what I want to make. And it became successful, and I thought that's the
purest way to make something.
That's why I truly respect you too. It's so refreshing.
Can you talk about collaborating with Frank Miller?
Sure. It was very complementary. I wanted him to be a director rather that just
there as a writer, or a producer, because I felt if just came to that, they might
just stick him in the corner and feed him a sandwich every once in a while. But
if he were a director, everyone would have to listen to him. I didn't want it
to be Robert Rodriguez's Sin City. He was really there working with the actors,
knowing the characters so well. I didn't know anything about the characters cause
it's not all in the book, a lot of it's in his head. And I told him, because I
used to be a cartoonist, "It's not very different from drawing to directing.
You're not going to have to show up with a headdress and rattles and be the director.
It's really more what you're used to doing as a cartoonist." He was floored
that it was so similar and that he was able to jump right in and learn how to
make - basically - a Star Wars movie first time out. And within a couple of weeks,
he knew how to do it.
You make it sound so easy! What's not easy is going to be the people who will
inevitably criticize you for the film's over-the-top violence.
Yeah. I guess that's what it is. That is it so over-the-top and stylized like
in the book. That's what helped temper it was that it was so black and white,
so abstract, so representative that it's easier to watch than if it were realistically
rendered. I think the tone of it has really changed it. I never got any flack
for "Desperado" at a time when people would criticize guys like Quentin
for cutting an ear off - off camera, I was mowing down people in my movies and
nobody said anything about the violence because of the tone. And I think that's
the same thing for this. As violent as it is, like in the comic, it felt tempered
by the stylization. It's Sin City. It's gotta be sinful! It lives up to its title,
and also at the end of the day, it's not my movie, it's Frank Miller's Sin City.
I wash my hands of that. I was just being true to the material.
out and see Sin City- it's rated R for a reason - so leave the wee ones home with
a Spy Kids dvd...