Capone talks PREDATORS and other future projects with producer Robert Rodriguez!!!
Published at: July 7, 2010, 8:32 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I don't feel the need to go on and on about Robert Rodriguez. You know who he is and that he has made some of the greatest homegrown genre films in the last 20 years, beginning with EL MARIACHI and continuing to DESPERADO, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, SIN CITY, PLANET TERROR, and I'm guessing the upcoming MACHETE. His commitment to a very different kind of family filmmaking has resulted in the highly successful SPY KIDS series, as well as his last film, SHORTS.
As close a relationship as Rodriguez has with Harry and Quint and many other friends of AICN in Austin (where Rodriguez calls home and built a headquarters for his production company, Troublemaker Studios), I've somehow managed never to meet him in the nearly 12 years I've been with AICN. I've never even come close! So at the SXSW Film Festival in March, I was beyond anxious when I got assigned the enviable task of talking to Rodriguez a couple days after he and director Nimrod Antal premiered footage and a trailer for PREDATORS, his first studio film as solely a producer.
I didn't want to just focus on PREDATORS during our lengthy chat (about 30 minutes), because I was more curious about Robert recasting himself in the role of producer of another filmmaker's movie. Clearly, he feels close to this material since he took a pass at a PREDATOR sequel many years ago that would have starred Arnold Schwarzenegger again. We didn't even have time to get into his latest film as director, the awesome-looking MACHETE, although I did get him to talk a bit about his SPY KIDS relaunch and what exactly is going on with SIN CITY 2. I collected some advice on getting the most out of our talk, but in the end I kind of did what I usually do. It seems to have worked so far, and I love the resulting conversation. Please enjoy the most generous Robert Rodriguez…
Capone: I can’t believe I’ve been coming down here for 12 years working for Ain’t It Cool and I’ve never met you.
Robert Rodriguez: [laughs] Yeah, I know. So where do you come in from?
Capone: From Chicago.
RR: Right, of course. Okay. I just didn’t know where you were based.
Capone: Yeah, I’m actually from there.
RR: So you don’t live down here.
Capone: If I lived down here, I’d probably get lost in the shuffle of geeks. So I talked to [PREDATORS director] Nimrod [Antal] yesterday about movie-specific stuff, but I’m actually kind of curious about your role as a producer. I think this is the first time you produced something that you didn’t direct. What did you see your role as a producer being?
RR: I wasn’t sure. I was going to figure it out as I went. I wanted to get into producing for many years and I just thought, “I don’t know if I can do it, I’m so hands on I’ll probably just creep out who ever I’m working with and be all over them and get in the way.” I know as a director you just don’t want that, but I knew I could be a good producer in some way, because I always thought “I don't want to be one of those producers…" Let me put it another way: unless you can pick up a Steadicam and actually help the problem, you’re not going to be worth anything. "Get the hell out of here!” [Laughs]
So I knew I could at least do that if anything came down to anything, if we needed an extra camera I could go get some cool shots and we could get the coverage we needed. And then also I had an effects background, and he hadn’t done effects, and we knew there were going to be some effects in this film, so I could help teach him how to figure that out pretty quick. There was really short learning curve actually, and I thought it would be more work, but he picked everything up very fast. It was just fun. I just wanted to oversee the movie with my crew. A lot of it was just having the right people, and I had such a great crew so I gave him my A crew, so he had the best support. He brought his DP, and they got a great look out of it, and I just over saw it and in that way I didn’t have to go in there. You want to get the right guy where it’s someone that you can collaborate with and work with and you see eye to eye, yet he has a vision and is able to carry the whole movie, so that you are not having to go in there and help out unless it’s asked, because you want it to be the director’s vision.
Capone: Onstage the other day, you made that very refreshing statement about how Fox really wanted you to keep their hands off of it. That’s so unusual for any studio to just say something like that.
RR: They examined their process and they said, “You know, usually we would probably do things the wrong way. We see how other studios have been successful. Like, how do you revitalize the BATMAN series? They gave it to a filmmaker to go and do, and they don’t usually do that. "If we have a property, we will hire someone who is not as experienced that we can kind of punch around and tell them what to do and then it ends up getting all messed up, so we would rather turn it over to a filmmaker who is passionate about it, and you wrote the original script--maybe you can do it.” Then they came down and saw Troublemaker and said “Oh, you’ve got to make it here. You have a whole studio in here! Just keep it here and make it a Troublemaker movie. You don’t have to make it a Fox movie. Do what you do, because we don’t even know how you do it. You make them for less than we ever could make it and you will probably make it a lot better, so just keep us away from it.” And they stayed out of the whole production. They were just very supportive. Everything they saw, they loved. They just said, “Make the best movie” and they don’t care whose idea it is. It doesn’t have to be their idea, so long as it’s a good idea. “Just make it good and make it for the fan base, because you are all the fans. You guys go and make it.”
Capone: Let’s be honest, Fox have been struggling with some of the bigger properties. Did you get a sense that they have a lot riding on this? They really don’t just WANT it to be successful, they NEED it to be successful. Is that an added pressure on you? Everything you do is self-generated and costs so little that it only has to do like a certain amount of business for you to feel like it was a success. But for something like this, there are a lot more people depending on this. Do you feel that?
RR: Yeah, I mean we wanted it to be successful. We knew that there was a fan base that really was still hungry for a good one and we just said “With the resources we have, let’s go make the absolute best movie we can,” and these guys sell movies better than anybody, so if they have something they can actually sell, they do it even better. We are confident that it will do well and that they are going to be happy, so it’s just at what level does it get that they get happier? [laughs}
The main thing was, I’ve just done that before where I go “I’m just going to make what’s a solid movie and if it gets sold bad and doesn’t make business, people still watch it over and over again.” And on this one, I know that they know what they are doing as far as selling it.
Capone: Yeah, I was talking to Nimrod about this yesterday, the fast turnaround on thing is unbelievable--it’s basically a year. And I asked him, I said “You really have to trust your instincts at that point.You don’t have time to second guess decisions,” and I realized as we were sitting there that PREDATORS is about just that, too. These guys in a completely unfamiliar situation, but they seem to work really well under pressure, because their instincts are finely tuned.” And that seems exactly like the way Nimrod and your crew, the KNB guys work. The first decision is often the one you are stuck with.
RR: You stick with that, and it’s usually the best one, because it’s not your conscious making it, which is never going to be smarter than your sub-conscious, which is your instinct and that’s what I would just tell everybody when they realized how little time they had and they wouldn’t be ready and they wouldn’t be prepared, and I would just say “In the script did they know they were going to be dropped on this planet? Unprepared?" They all went “No.” With some of the actors, I hired them sometimes a few days before to a week before ,and they were like “Wait, this is shooting when? Oh it’s shooting next week.” They were like “Oh, I don’t know if I’m ready.” I was like “Neither is the character, so you are all ready to go man! Just show up on the set with that look in your eye and you'll be ready to go.”
Capone: “The worst thing you have to do is come to a set. Your character has a lot more things to worry about.”
RR: Yeah and “Start pumping iron and getting into shape, because you’ve got to look like a soldier and a professional this and professional that.” And it was that pressure cooker that emulated the feeling of the movie and I think yeah you have to make those decisions day to day just like they are doing and you come up with great stuff.
Capone: I was joking with Harry last night, and we were talking about the predator designs, and I forget who said it, because I know you have this great love for all things Ray Harryhausen. I’m like “Maybe there will just be one predator that is done stop motion, because they made a big deal about no CGI predators, but that’s not CGI, maybe there will be one.”
RR: [laughs] That’d be great, the Dynarama!
Capone: That’s right. Well, you build your own sets, so you can have your own little guys.
RR: Yeah, yeah. We’ve done things like that before, you make little sets and things, our own miniature sets and those are fun.
Capone: I love that you also said when you wrote the screenplay originally that, because you knew you wouldn’t be directing it, you just wrote balls-out action stuff that would cost millions of dollars.
RR: Oh tons of stuff, especially then. There wasn’t CG back then really; it wasn’t a lot. I started writing it in 1994, so that was just a few years after T2, so it wasn’t like it was affordable to go make movies with all of these things, without the budget being just huge, and I didn’t have to worry about that.
Capone: Was it just funny when they handed you back your script and said, “Make something like this,” and you are like “But this costs too much money for anybody.”
RR: “For how much? Okay, I’m going to re-write this.” First, Arnold would take up the whole budget, and then maybe it would be minus multiple predators. Maybe SON OF PREDATOR.
Capone: [Laugh] Nimrod talked about what it was like coming in to meet you for the first time and how completely nervous he was…
RR: He didn’t seem like it.
Capone: He just hides it well?
RR: Yeah, he had a big smile on his face and just kept saying he was a big fan.
Capone: Yeah, that counts. What do you remember about him that impressed you so much with that first meeting?
RR: You look for people that you just connect with and that you know you get along with, because this is a relationship that you have to have and be around them and somebody who is kind of to themselves or you can tell they are just going to want to run off and make their own movie and not collaborate with you, that’s not the right person, which is fine on their own movie, but on a movie like this it’s got to be a partnership with a lot of people. So immediately I thought he was just a really cool guy.
I loved his movie KONTROL, which showed that he was very resourceful and that he knew how to shoot a movie and get into characters, and then I talked to him for a while and I asked what else he had and he said “Well, I’ve just finished this movie called ARMORED which you can see,” and I saw the cast in it and great singular actors like Matt Dillon, Laurence Fisburne, Jean Renoir, and Fred Ward and I thought, “Oh, this really nice guy is able to wrangle all of these strong personalities in a way that is probably still collaborative.” So I knew he would get along great with my crew just by the way his demeanor was, but to know that he could handle a movie like that with a group of people, which is what this movie was going to be made him the right choice for it, and his old-school approach to things was also going to fit it.
Capone: I was going to ask you about that, because I know that he said one of the things he wanted to do was as practical as possible.
RR: “Practical as possible” and for things that were not…
Capone: For things that make you nervous… [Laughs]
RR: No no, that’s what we loved about the original too, I mean, that's why the original Predator is such an endearing character, because it’s humanoid, so it looks real because it is a person in a suit, and that’s why people can identify with it so well and that’s why it’s still around, that’s why people will go see the movie. So I knew that and then if there were effects, I knew I could help with that, because he hadn’t done effects yet, but that would be where I could help out and teach him that. Like I said, that was a pretty short learning curve; he picked it up very quick.
Capone: Do you remember something specifically that he said or an idea that he had about changing something in the script that made you go “This guy gets it. He understands what we want to do with this.”?
RR: Yeah, there was a lot of that and it wasn’t just in the script. I changed the script quite a bit. I hired two other writers that work closely with him to come up with a lot of the story elements, so he came up with a lot of the story elements, because he really had this idea and vision of concentrating more on the hunt and getting it back to that and making it really lean, where mine had… This was like one half of my script and he took the section that he liked the most and made that the movie, because mine was like three movies in one.
“Let’s do this one. We can save that other part for a sequel when we have more money.” And he knew how to streamline it and really make sense out of it, and then when we got to doing all of the artwork, like we were showing up on the screen. Mentally, I knew he would get the choice of what was what, but mentally I would go in and see the stuff up on the wall and I would think “That’s the one I would pick” and “That’s the one I would cut probably, but whatever he picks is fine,” and then he would go in and look at them and he would pick the same ones that I would. [Laughs]
It’s like we kind of had the same vision, yet when I would go on the set it would be shot completely different from how I would do it. You can give the same scene to three different directors, and it’s going to come out different. It was very interesting for me to watch his approach to things, and I’d be like “Wow, that’s a lot darker and more serious than I probably would have done, that’s really cool. I’m going to steal some ideas from this guy.” [Laughs] I kind of knew I would learn more from him than he would from me, that’s why I wanted to just produce, I wanted to see how someone else approaches the material and learn from that. I like being a student. I like learning.
Capone: Yeah, but you also like teaching.
RR: I love to teach also, but the reason I like to teach is not because I know it all. I think everybody knows what to do, they just don’t always do it, so I have all of this great advice that I constantly was throwing out to him in these long conversations of what he should do, and the whole time I’m taking mental notes like “Yeah and I should do that too.” [Laughs] Because I don’t ever follow my own advice, obviously, because it’s really good and makes total common sense, but we don’t always follow that common sense.
Capone: With your own sort of self-generated things, you are always really particular about the flow of information and images and clips. Will you have that same kind of control with this film, because I guess Fox has this big promotional thing planned?
RR: Yeah. I co-cut the trailer with them. They brought me the trailer and I had some suggestions, but I don’t just say, “Hey, try this or that.” I cut it again and then send it back, and then we go back and forth, and that’s how I’ve always worked with studios, and they love that because they know you know the material very well at that point, because they haven’t seen the movie yet, so you have to help out in that way. We made that poster, and they love the movie.
Capone: Thank you for that by the way.
RR: [laughs] You’re welcome. We just said, “Hey, here’s something we cranked out in our studio.” They are very happy with that collaboration. We really think about how to market a movie ourselves, so that can help them out. In such a truncated amount of time, it really helps to put the teams together.
Capone: Yeah. I don’t know when you said yesterday during the press conference about rebooting the SPY KIDS franchise, have you decided that’s probably your next film after MACHETE?
RR: I just turned the script in.
Capone: You did?
RR: I get parents and kids all of the time saying how often they watch those movies, and how the parents are having kids that haven’t seen it. So it would be 10 years when this next one comes out since [the first SPY KIDS] happened--getting to reboot your own series is pretty interesting.
Capone: No one gets to do that.
RR: It’s pretty fun and it doesn’t feel like we are going back to the well again, and the idea is doing it again with new kids and making this one… The first three are the Roger Moore Bond movies; this is the CASINO ROYALE. That’s kind of where are going with it. It’s good.
Capone: So you won't be using the same characters?
RR: No. New characters. Alexa [Vega] shows up, because she’s now an older spy who wants to revitalize the SPY KIDS division, which got shot down seven years ago for budget reasons.
Capone: Times are tough.
RR: “Times are tough,” and it’s cool, because I kept all of those old props, which when you walk through the whole Spy Kids division, it’s going to be spider webbed and closed down, but you see the submarine and the plane and all of that stuff that I’ve kept--the jetpacks. It’s pretty cool.
Capone: We were talking about Harryhausen before and that second SPY KIDS will always be my favorite, just for your wonderful Harryhausen tribute with those creatures.
RR: I love that. That’s my favorite one.
Capone: And I've got to ask about the status of SIN CITY 2. I have this strange idea with no supporting evidence whatsoever. But I always assume, because it’s so segmented that, that you are just shooting it all of the time, a few days here and there with your actors, when they are available.
RR: [laughs] Like I’m shooting right now?
Capone: Yeah or just that you have been a little bit here and a little bit there.
RR: Yeah, I should have.
Capone: And then just one day there will be an announcement “This comes out in a month.”
RR: I should have. I’m trying to and I might be getting my own financing so that I could do that, because that way you don’t have to wait for a studio and have them cry poor. You could just be shooting…
Capone: You could work around actors’ schedules.
RR: That’s the way to do it. The next step is Troublemaker studios will have it’s own financing so that it can just turn around and greenlight something, and we can just say “We want to make that, let’s just make it.” We will ask ourselves for permission. “You want to make it?” “Sure, we’re making it.”
Capone: Like a real studio. Just going back to PREDATORS before they kick me out of here, that one clip that you guys showed was some scary shit.
RR: Oh cool! I wasn’t sure how it played, because it really works well when you see it in the context of the movie.
Capone: Just the whispering, I’m like “What is that?” At first I thought maybe one of the predators had the ability to mimic voices.
RR: Yeah, yeah, that was the idea they were going for.
Capone: That’s what I was thinking like in THE RUINS, where they learn to actually mimic English to draw people in, and then they just slaughter them. But the reveal is great obviously. And those woods look like they just co on forever; I’m excited.
RR: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Capone: It was excellent meeting you, and good luck with this.
RR: Thanks a lot.
Capone: Now that you’ve gotten a taste of this producing thing, do you thing you are going to keep looking for new directors?
RR: Oh yeah, new directors, and I enjoyed, like I said I love being a student and learning from people and that was a great way to learn and get to see movies get made that I want to see made that I don’t have time to direct myself, but still be a part of and be supportive and teach and learn at the same time.
Capone: Are any of the ones that you have on your docket, like the RED SONJA thing, is that something you might turn over to somebody?
RR: Well those are things are owned by other people, that’s why it takes so long to get made when they don’t have financing. It sits there, and they have to wait until CONAN gets made, and I’m like “Screw that, I want to get my own financing, so if I have an idea, while the idea is hot, you go and make it instead of sitting on it for four years.”
Capone: Sure. Well all right, man. Great to finally meet you.
RR: Yeah, thanks. Take it easy.
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