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Robert Rodriguez’s New Toy

Robert Rodriguez’s New Toy

Articles - Directing

They” is a four-letter word for Robert Rodriguez,
writer-director of the groundbreaking indie film El Mariachi.
the reason? most times he
utters word, he’s referring to a place he’s shown no small degree of disdain
for: Hollywood. Ironically, the story of his success in Hollywood has reached
legendary status for aspiring moviemakers. He chronicled his early rise and
bootstrap moviemaking methodology in his 1995 book, Rebel Without A Crew.
Now he’s adding a new chapter to his career, and the title is made up of only
two letters: HD.

Having a conversation with Rodriguez is not unlike
having a conversation with a precocious child. But having a conversation
with him about Hi Definition video is like having a conversation
with a precocious child who just got his hands on a new toy. Like
that youngster, Rodriguez expresses an infectious enthusiasm, and
will rattle off interesting little tidbits about the history of
his toy—what super powers it has and why it’s better than all his
other friends’ toys. All an adult can do is sit back, smile and
listen in awe.

Mel Rodriguez (MM): You work, quite literally, out of
your home in Austin. Post-production, sound mix, score composing—everything?

Robert Rodriguez (RR): I do it all from home except, of
course,
the on-location shooting.

MM: You still do that even with these big projects,
like the
Spy Kids films and Once Upon a Time in Mexico?

RR: These projects especially. As things get bigger, the
more personal you have to make them. That’s why I have 12 credits
on Spy Kids 2—I’m doing everything.

MM: What about the unions?

RR: I’ve got all the union cards! [laughs] Production design,
cinematography… Some are the same, like editing, sound mixing…
But I left the Writer’s Guild.

MM: You left?

RR: They were trying to tell me what to do with my credits.
I said ‘I don’t need you guys. All you do is tell me what to do
and take my money.’ As soon as you find out you don’t need these
guys, it’s all over for them.

MM: So what happens when you write a script outside
the Guild, but then try to make it with people who are in the
other unions?

Rodriguez and Antonio Banderas on the set of Spy
Kids 3D: Game Over
.

RR: I get it made. You don’t need them to get it made;
they don’t get you work. They just take your money, all those clubs.
I was never into clubs and people that were really elitist—‘You’re
either with us or against us.’ George Lucas isn’t in any of those
things and it doesn’t seem to hurt him. I work with Miramax and
they’re very independent over there. Since I’ll be the only writer
on my stuff, there’s no need to employ a union writer, so I don’t
need that union.

MM: And so you just leave?

RR: Oh, yeah. They freak out because they tell all the
young filmmakers to join and then they’re shocked when you leave
because they believe their own bullshit that we “need them.” I’m
all about freedom in art. Those guys want to control it. I’m from
Texas, so when someone tells you which way to ride your horse,
you think ‘I’ll just go to a different ranch. You guys are riding
it backwards anyway.’

MM: Did using Hi Definition video change your shooting
style?

RR: Yes. That’s another thing. See, once you give up on
all those kinds of ideas about shooting style, you start rethinking
everything. Film is horrible, so most definitely HD changes shooting
style because it’snot horrible. Then you stop shooting film and you go ‘Well, why aren’t
they doing things this way?’ You can get a much better perspective
of the business by being outside of it. George Lucas told me the
same thing. He said “Just because you live outside of Hollywood,
you’re going to come up with ideas and techniques they’ll never
think of in Hollywood.” You know when you go off and you make your
mark in the world then you come back to your hometown and you find
your old high school buddies still cruising the same two streets?
That’s what Hollywood’s like. You’re out there shooting HD and
making all these advances and they’re like “Huh? What? Nah, we
like going in these circles.” And they never get anywhere. So I
abandoned film; I abandoned all the traditional methods. I edit
at home, I mix my soundtrack at home. I do all that stuff using
the new technology that really frees you up and it’s really inexpensive.

MM: You don’t shoot on film, but they still transfer
your final cut to a film print for distribution, right?

RR: Yeah, it’s like me and George [Lucas] are the only
ones in the industry right now using recordable DVDs and the rest
of the industry is still vinyl records. Now, we’re like, we make
it on DVD and then we go ‘Okay, now let’s make it on vinyl for
everyone else who still listens to vinyl!’ [laughs] That’s
what it’s like and they don’t see it that way because they’re in
town and they are all together sitting around looking at their
vinyl going “No, no this is as good as it gets!”

MM: So you have no love for film?

RR: There’s nothing to love about film. It’s a terrible
medium. It’s just that we’re used to it. It’s kind of like if all
you’ve ever had in your life is potato soup—what’s wrong with that?
There’s nothing wrong with it because you’ve never had anything
better. Now, when you finally try something better, you don’t realize
how much you hated that shit. But they won’t even try it, Hollywood.
They’ll stick with that potato soup… You even pass them a steak,
they look and they go “I don’t think I’m going to like it. So I
don’t think I’m even going to taste it.”

MM: Are you more excited about moviemaking now than
when you first started?

RR: Absolutely. When I got started I was eating potato
soup, too. It was fun for the time, but now I’ve got steak! It
changes everything, HD; it’s revolutionary. You’ll see, man. They’re
going to wonder how I’m making three movies a year and they all
look better than their movies—and they’re cheaper. So they’re all
going to start getting into it. But right now they’ve still got
their blinders on. And it’s only because creative people are notoriously
the slowest to adopt new technology. That’s just how it’s always
been. Creative people on one side, technical people on the other.
Creative people aren’t technical, technical people aren’t creative
and they always need each other. New technology comes up, creative
people run away from it and it takes them so long to adopt it.
But when they do, they never go back.

I was there 10 years ago when Avids were being introduced
to editing. Editors were scared they were going to lose their jobs;
they didn’t want to have to learn a new system. It took them years.
Then finally, they tried it, took 10 minutes to learn, now no one
cuts on film. But now, you put a gun to an editor’s head and he
won’t cut on film because he knows you make a better movie with
an Avid. It’s the same with HD. If you look at history, you’ll
see that’s where it needs to go. But just like the editors, the
cameramen are like “No, you shouldn’t even test it.”

MM: What are your thoughts on DV?

Rodriguez (right) directs Johnny Depp on the set of Once
Upon a Time in Mexico
, the third in his El Mariachi series.

RR: DV and Mini DV are like Super8. People get all confused;
they see a DV movie and say “Well it didn’t look that good.” You
saw a Super8 movie! Super8 and 70mm are not the same!

MM: Yeah, but for the sake of all those out there who
only have the means to make films on DV or Mini DV, how tough
is it to get your film distributed if it’s shot on these formats?

RR: It’s tough. The movie just has to be good. I mean that’s
ultimately why we go to a movie. But these new systems that are
coming out, if you can get a hold of an HD camera, what you’ve
learned on DV translates directly to HD. It’s nothing different.
It looks just like that camera over there [motions to a Beta
SP camera nearby
]. It’s better to go from DV to HD than it
is to try to learn filmmaking, because film is dead. Don’t even
learn that whole crazy system.

I tell people making DV movies at home, use it for
practice. Don’t even try to get it distributed unless it’s fucking
fantastic. If not, just keep cranking them out. Get better; get
better at storytelling. It allows you to do what I did when I started
out, which is make a ton of movies for nothing. And you get so
much better at it after a while, you can write them and direct
them and you know the structure. You just need to learn how to
do it and you learn by doing.

“They’re all going to wonder
how I’m making
three movies a year and they all look better than their movies—and
they’re cheaper.”

MM: So then what’s up next for you?

RR: I’m doing another Spy Kids right now, Spy Kids 3D. It comes out July 23rd. I did another Desperado,
the third installment, called Once Upon a Time in Mexico and
it comes out next year sometime.

MM: A Western shot on Hi Def video?

RR: All Hi Def. It’s awesome. Johnny Depp doing action.
Willem Dafoe plays a Mexican. Johnny’s bad-ass. It’s so cool to
see. Danny Trejo, Mickey Rourke, Ruben Blades. Mickey’s just being
cool Mick in this movie. I gave him some really cool Mickey lines.
I kept writing new stuff each day. Of course, Antonio Banderas
and Salma Hayek are back. It’s more like The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly,
so there are other characters as well. Antonio’s
character pays off really well in this one. Other than that, I’ll
sneak in some other movie in between there. See, it’s beautiful.
Crank out three or four movies a year, no problem. Then you get
into distribution and cut out the middlemen. Reinvent the industry—in
Texas, though. You can’t do it from Hollywood, where everyone thinks
the same. You gotta be outside.

MM: So what about the shortage of jobs for people who
want to work in films outside
Hollywood?

RR: I created my own jobs for people. There was no industry
here. People weren’t working regularly until I started making my
movies here. And my movies aren’t even set here! They’re set in
Costa Rica, South America… You look at it and you think it’s
some crazy island somewhere. It’s Austin! Oh, I’m also going to
do a new book. It’s going to be online and it’s going to be free.
It’s called “How to Do It.” Wherever you are, it’s just how you
shoot your film and how creative you allow yourself to be. Just
stay out of Hollywood! MM

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