We spoke to Robert Rodriguez on video at Comic-Con, and then we sat down with him for a full interview to get an update on all of his projects, and to find out about his upcoming movie Shorts. He's definitely a man wearing a lot of hats, since he writes, directs, edits, scores, does special effects, and produces. In fact, just about the only thing he doesn't do in these films is act. He brought us up to date on Red Sonja, Sin City 2 and Predators, and spoke about being back at Comic-Con.
Read on after the break for his full interview, including more about Shorts and how his kids help inspire his movies. It's just after the jump, and is (mostly) free of information about who he's dating.
Cinematical: So how many Comic-Cons is this for you? Have you been down here quite a bit?
Robert Rodriguez: I think this is the fourth. I think the first one was Sin City. So that was the first one. Yeah, because that was a comic movie. I wanted to show ... I knew I had something really cool to show, which was the comic book looking exactly like the movie, which people hadn't seen. That is when we had those mini posters that we made in my studio. That is the Jessica Alba one that took off. All this stuff launched around that time, so we did it like that again for Grindhouse, and I was here again after that.
This year is the first one with a family film. The Spy Kid movies were done by the time I did Sin City.
Cinematical: What about Shark Boy and Lava Girl? Was that after Sin City?
RR: It was ... no, I hadn't shot that yet. I hadn't even started shooting it.
Cinematical: Did you bring that movie out here?
RR: No. I was already taking Sin City around and releasing it. By that next year, Shark Boy had already come out. Yeah, I did those back to back, literally. I was still editing Sin City while I was shooting Shark Boy.
Cinematical: Is it weird for you to come to a big convention like this? Is it strange or is it just a cool thing to do?
RR: No, it is cool. I love an excuse just to fly out here and see all the cool stuff that I wouldn't get to normally if I didn't have something else to show. So it is a great way to kill three birds with one stone.
Cinematical: And you used to draw a comic strip for the Daily Texan, right? And I know you have a relationship with Mike Allred and his Madman property. Are you still involved in the comic world?
RR: Mike is probably around here somewhere ...
Cinematical: Yeah, he is actually here.
RR: No, I mean I haven't done any comics on my own. I was a cartoonist when I was at university, but I decided to go into movie making knowing that I could still draw by doing movies, design work, story boards, and such.
Cinematical: Do you still read them?
RR: I collect a lot of art. I usually gravitate to the ones that probably aren't even the best written but are the best drawn, because that is usually what I get the most inspiration from is the visual.
Cinematical: You are one of those guys who has your fingers in a lot of pies all the time. It seems like we are always hearing that you're attached to a new project, something in development, something you are producing. So what is a mini status report on some of the big ones? Like Red Sonja, is that still in the works?
RR: Yeah, that is still in the works. That company had trouble with their finances. A lot of independent companies do when the recessions hit. They have to shift their schedules around, but they are still interested in making it for sure. Same with Conan as well, they ended up pushing that back. They ended up pushing that back.
But I still am a big fan of independent filmmaking and still believe in it. I have just always done it that way. I just like it.
Cinematical: Is that the same thing with Sin City 2?
RR: Yeah, that one has been pushed back a bit, but I'm still hoping to shoot it next year. A lot of times things seem to be just around the bend, and that's been the case with Sin City 2. But yeah, I'm looking forward to that.
Cinematical: You are behind the rebooting of the Predator franchise. Reimagining it? What is the thought behind that?
RR: Well, I had written sort of a sequel to it back in '94, it took place off-world and they kind of didn't make any more for a few years until they decided to do Alien vs. Predator. And then they kind of wanted to go back and they said "Nah. We went down the wrong road with that." They found my old script and, "Hey. Make that! Can you make it at Troublemaker and just kind of do your own thing down there and not make it a studio movie?" They kind of like how I make stuff down there, so they give me a lot of freedom. It's great.
There are some huge fans of the Predator down there in my studio. I walk around the office and see all my CG artists, and they have all got busts of the Predator and statues of Predator. It is like, "OK. Obviously everybody here loves Predator!" So I think that's a good project for us.
Cinematical: What about Machete? We have been reading here recently rumors about Robert De Niro and Jonah Hill. What is happening with that movie?
RR: We sent the script out far and wide to all kinds of people, but we haven't really signed anybody. But we start shooting in a few weeks, so we will know soon! The pressure is on to cast it!
Cinematical: So, tell us where the idea for Shorts came from. Did you film it in Austin?
Cinematical: So what was the genesis of this movie?
RR: Well about four years ago, right after Shark Boy and Lava Girl was done, my third son ... my second son came up with the concept of Shark Boy ad Lava Girl. Then my third son saw us doing press for that movie and he said, "Hey! I want to come up with the next movie!" So I said, "Sure! Have your hand in it. What kind of movie would you want to do?" He thought about it for about 10 seconds and said, "Something like Little Rascals." I was like ... it was so obvious. I don't know why I had never thought of it. I was such a huge fan of Little Rascals.
A few months prior I had been showing them a DVD I had gotten of some Little Rascals classic episodes that I had always loved as a kid that they just adored. They want to watch them over and over. So I thought it was a great idea, doing short subject movies with a group of kids all in a neighborhood. In some shorts Alfalfa was the lead. And then in another short he was the secondary character and Spanky was the lead. And they all kind of were the stars, depending on what the story was,
I thought, "Let's do a film like that for kids' short attention span that has got a bunch of short films in it." It is kind of like Pulp Fiction; they are all out of order, but they all make sense in the end and will have something that unifies them. He came up with this idea of rainbow colored rocks, he loves rocks, and the idea of an adventure in a canyon with crocodiles and snakes. We were just throwing out ideas out. Just for fun we were going to come up with like a whole movie idea.
Then it just got bigger and bigger and he decided to make it a wishing rock. I asked him, "What would you wish for if you could wish for anything?" My son said, "I wish I had a butt for a head." I had another son who said, "I wish I could be a potato." Just throwing out anything, you know. I said, "Well I would wish for a million more wishes." Their faces just kind of went long like, "Oh, we just blew our wish!"
Then I realized, "Oh my God! A kid totally wouldn't know what to do with a rock if he got something like that. He would wish for the stupidest things!" And then by the time he does know what to do with it, someone else probably has it, and that is the next storyline. So I knew there was a lot of potential. Once you can wish for anything, what do you wish for? So I knew it would be fun to write and just a great project to work on.
And as a family, we would just be at dinner going, "How about if a kid tries to hold it up from other kids and wishes for long arms and then his arms get long, and then someone else is invisible and they grab it and they run ..." I mean you just go on forever. We just have these running gags and we would just test them out on each other.
Then we shot a trailer that I am going to show, a big trailer that we did as a family in our backyard. I intercut that with the final movie and you see how similar it is. I made this fake trailer that I showed to Warner Bros., and they saw it and were like, "That looks like a lot of fun! We'll buy it," and they bought it. Then we went and made the movie. So they bought it off of a fake trailer we made at home.
Cinematical: That seems like a nice way of doing things.
RR: That is a great way to do it! That is kind of what I did with Sin City and how I sold Frank Miller on the idea. I shot the opening scene and did the effects myself there with my company. And then he saw that and was like, "OK. This proof of concept just looks great. Let's do it."
Cinematical: And Machete sort of happened the same way.
RR: Another fake trailer. I did that fake trailer to see if that visual style would work for Grindhouse. Then I knew I would be able to just put it in as a fake trailer. It was a camera test, too. So yeah, that has become a template for things. It makes more sense than just going around with a script, because it is a visual medium. So if you can see something, seeing is believing. It really is worth 1,000 words.
Cinematical: I saw your short film Bedhead back in the day. You drew off of your siblings for that. So now you are drawing off of your kids for inspiration. Is that pretty common with you? You have a big family so there must be a lot of stuff coming from them.
RR: Yeah, totally. And people say, "Well how come you do movies like Sin City and Grindhouse then you do family movies?" They always say write what you know and that is what I know. They are around me all the time. They come up with ideas all the time. You feel like you have to do something with those ideas because they are just there. They have some really terrific ideas. They are fun to do and it is kind of a good variety for me. I don't feel like I am just doing the same old action movie, sci-fi movie, or horror movie one right after another. That could probably wear you out after a while because I do make quite a few movies! So I like the variety.
Cinematical: Do you think any of your kids are going to follow in your footsteps?
RR: My second son loves movie making, the one who did Shark Boy and Lava Girl. My third son, he came up with Shorts. He loves to act. He is in the movie. He loves acting. He is in Grindhouse also. He was in Shark Boy. But he wants to be a marine biologist. But he does love working on the movies. He misses being on the set.
But that is the family business. He will do that until he is old enough to get his own job. [laughs] It is kind of like when you work for your dad until you're 16 and then you go get a real job. That is what he is doing. He is biding his time.
Cinematical: I was in college in Austin when you made El Mariachi, and you brought the movie to the school and did a screening, and told us how you made the film for $7,000 by doing medical testing at Pharmaco ...
RR: Look. I still have my scars. [pulls shirt sleeves up] I guess that's something you will have forever to remind you about the movie. I see all the pictures where they are really red, but they have faded.
Cinematical: Does Pharmaco even still exist?
RR: I don't see it there in Austin anymore. I think it might have moved somewhere else. But they need them. They have to test. I see the drug I tested. It is called Lipitor, the cholesterol lowering drug? And it says, "Years in the testing!" I am like, "I know! I was with them! I was there, man!"
Cinematical: You have multiple films in different stages of development. You have your own studio. Do you ever look at yourself from outside your own life and think, "Wow. This is bizarre!"
RR: I keep diaries, so I go back and I see things. Like I just read recently, I found my first impression of my first rough cut of Spy Kids and what I thought. Wow. Why did I write this stuff down? You are usually on target for something that you feel, good or bad. But that was good. That was good. I thought, "Wow! Surprisingly it is a really good movie! Needs a lot of work. I have to do a lot of editing! Damn, there are a lot of effects I have gotta do. It needs music!" It was a rough cut.
But yeah, you look at the chain of events. When you really break it down and look at it in a journal, you can see kind of, not pre-destiny, but you see all these things that had to click into place for everything to happen the way they did. Then you realize there are no mistakes. There are no wrong moves. One move just takes you in a different direction and that ends up being your life.
Cinematical: You are at that stage now where your personal life becomes flashed in the press, like who you are dating and what is going on and stuff. Is that hard to deal with or have you taken it in stride?
RR: You realize how much stuff is just wrong that you read, especially when it is stuff that you know is not true. Then you are just like, "Man. I don't believe anything I read anymore!" So yeah, when things are printed, whether it is work stuff or not ... and I still tend to believe things that I read about other people, their projects and things, and it is so off-base. Unless you know somebody personally and you can ask them, the story is probably wrong technically.
RR: So no, it doesn't bother me. I think it is just another form of entertainment. If you are in the entertainment business and if that is what entertains people whether it is true or not, a lot of times the truth is not entertaining as much as a made up story. I am like, "Hey, go edit it! If that is entertaining to you, that is fine. I am in the entertainment business. I will entertain any way I can!"
Cinematical: Since we're here at Comic-Con, if you had a super power which one would you go with?
RR: If I had a super power ... I don't want to fly anymore. I have done enough flying. X-ray vision; I gave that up. I don't know. What is the most popular one?
Cinematical: Either invisibility or flying. Even though people can pick from anything, those are usually the ones they pick.
RR: I am already invisible. [laughs]
Cinematical: Yeah, right. You're so hard to spot with your big cowboy hat. The only thing you're missing is your ever-present guitar.
RR: I would go with the ability of not needing sleep if that is a superpower.
Cinematical: Sure, why not?
RR: I get a lot done considering I spend half my day sleeping. If I didn't have that, imagine! It would be a 24/7 shift. It would be the best! Imagine how much work I could get done then!
Cinematical: It sounds like you're pretty busy as it is. Thanks for your time.
RR: Thank you!
Top photo courtesy Flickr user thomascrenshaw.