Most Recent Film: The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D
Best Film: Sin City
Most Underrated Film: The Faculty
Did You Know: Financed most of the budget for El Mariachi by testing experimental drugs, including a 'speed healer' that left him with two holes in his arm.
Why He Matters: He makes event movies for a fraction of the cost of his peers, shoots everything digitally, controls everything and still makes money back for his investors. He also is just as adept at hard-edged violent pics as he is with kid films.
Deep in the heart of Austin, Texas, multi-hyphenate Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios exists. The director has transformed old airplane hangars into stages and has his own mini-digital effects facility there, a perfect fit since Rodriguez is a self-contained filmmaker who keeps budgets down to a fraction of the cost. In essence, this allows him to do whatever he likes as long he continues to do it cost effectively something director Francis Ford Coppola tried to do in the '70s and recently visited Rodriguez's facilities to see how he actually pulled it off.
"Coppola is into the digital thing as well," says Rodriguez. "He came down to check out the stages and looked around and said, 'This was my dream for Zoetrope this is what I always wanted to do.' So we're really fortunate. We're getting to do what they always dreamed of having their own soundstage and also having different artists and directors come and create this weird experimental cinema, which is what Sin City was. That's what Coppola was trying to do 20 years ago."
The other great aspect of having equipment and stages at his disposal is that he can quietly shoot tests for his next projects without having studio execs hanging over his shoulders.
"If you have an idea, you don't want to go to the studio to get financing to do a test," Rodriguez says. "If you have your own equipment and can quietly do a test, and if it fails, no one has to know. It's got to the point where I go to the studio, show them a test of something I've already shot before I even got their financing, and they're seeing you're moving forward anyway and they let you go. They would rather work with you than have you go to some other studio."
2005 was a great year for Rodriguez, who broke new ground with the digitally shot Sin City. Adapted from Frank Miller's hardboiled graphic novels, the entire film was lensed against green screen on soundstages, with the environments, props and many other elements completely manufactured in the computer to literally bring the stark black and white look of Miller's comic creations to the big screen. Then, three months later, the other side of Rodriguez came out with The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D. While most families go off and have a normal vacation over the summer, Rodriguez and his family decided to make a movie together.
"My son Racer Max is real creative, so I told him to draw a children's book to read for his brothers," says Rodriguez. "I wanted to show him how an idea builds and keeps growing like a train, and, before you know it, it turns into a whole story. So he came up with a half boy/half shark who was raised up sharks."
When Bob Weinstein called Rodriguez on the phone after Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over opened to huge financial success in the summer of 2003, he was hoping Rodriguez had another children's film up his sleeve. Rodriguez thought about it for a moment, remembered Racer's idea and randomly threw out the title The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D.
"Bob said, 'What's that that sounds new,'" recalls Rodriguez. "I told him my son came up with it. I hung up and told my son, 'I think I sold your first project.' Since my wife produces, we figured the kids (could) all work on it, and it would be like a family making a movie for other families, and (we'd) get to spend time together and make a great movie."
Sounds ideal, and Rodriguez agrees, but the key to this freedom, he admits, is always keeping the budgets down.
"The situation I've built up on all my movies is what I call a win-win situation, "says Rodriguez. "Even if a movie tanks, nobody gets hurt. They all get their money back, and I get to keep my creative freedom in making something that's different and new and not have to worry about making all the money back by having too big a budget. In fact, I think the Spy Kids series was the only series where the budgets got lower as each movie came up. They usually double at a regular studio."
And the auteur also feels fortunate to be at this comfortable place because his ideas can flow freely as opposed to worrying about the bottom line.
"If you worry too much about whether the masses will come and see it for it to turn a profit, you might be holding back on some ideas that are little off-kilter or new because you think they might not fly," says Rodriguez. "My stuff is pretty popular entertainment, and I like popular entertainment. My films are not [David] Cronenberg films. I think they have a pretty good chance at making back their money, but they're not overtly commercial where they're just really watered down. And besides, I get to try a lot of different ideas on each project. When you spend less, you have a lot more freedom to make something new and enjoy the process more, and everybody will enjoy the process more."