Movie Reviews


Robert RodriguezBluntly Speaking | Robert Rodriguez
an emily blunt interview



Robert 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.

As 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.

Robert 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).

Who's 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!"

I 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.

His latest creation (with an ample able team) is Sin City. It just may be technically, the greatest film ever made - so far…

Emily: Let's start with the brouhaha with you and the Director's Guild of America (DGA) and be done with it- shall we?

Robert: 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."

Emily: Don't I see two directors all the time - no?

Robert: 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.

Emily: 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?

Robert: 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.

Emily: Were you afraid the style of the film, the look, might overwhelm the stories?

Robert: 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.

Emily: Well, they kind of have - what about Sky Captain?

Robert: 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.

Emily: What do think is going to be the film's appeal - art, style?

Robert: 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.

Emily: That's why I truly respect you too. It's so refreshing.

Robert: Thanks!

Emily: Can you talk about collaborating with Frank Miller?

Robert: 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.

Emily: 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.

Robert: 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.


Get out and see Sin City- it's rated R for a reason - so leave the wee ones home with a Spy Kids dvd...


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