If there's one thing filmmaker Robert Rodriguez loves to do, it's everything. If you've even casually flipped through the special features on any one of his DVDs, you know this: the dude shoots most of his movies out of his home in Austin (where he also has post-production facilities), invites the input of family members (even the very tiny ones), and even occasionally cooks for the cast and crew. He writes, directs, scores, produces and edits all of his movies, like a post-millennial Roger Corman, cranking out exceptional B-movie product at least once a year. Last week his "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World" made its debut on DVD and Blu-ray and we got the chance to talk to the Texas filmmaker about returning to the 'Spy Kids' well, if he ever wants to abandon his one-man-band approach, and the various projects on his plate.
He says that the new 'Spy Kids' movie was inspired by something he witnessed on the set of his previous movie, "Machete." "I was working with Jessica Alba on 'Machete' and she had a baby and brought it to set and I saw her dressed in black that day, so she kind of looked like a spy," he explained. "And seeing the beautiful Jessica Alba with a little baby trying to get to work on time, I just imagined her on a spy mission and having to stop and change a baby."
From there he spun out a new storyline since the original stars "had gotten too big," but returned because he knew that the Weinsteins were looking to make another movie with him.
Another inspiration came from his family. Rodriguez told us, "My youngest kids, who are five and six, have become 'Spy Kids' fans over the years but they had never seen me make those other movies. So they became fans not knowing that I had actually made those movies or what that meant."
One of the things that he added for the theatrical presentation of "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World," was a scratch-and-sniff card, and while the cards didn't make it to this current home video version ("We decided to save it for a future special edition," he said), Rodriguez told us about the genesis of this aromatic approach to his new movie, which he describes as "4D."
"The reason for the 4D was because back then I had the first 3D movie in probably 20 years in theaters [not to quibble here but 'Freddy's Dead,' which featured a prolonged 3D sequence, was released in 1991, some 12 years before 'Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over'] so I thought we can't come out with another 'Spy Kids' in 3D again and I remembered the John Waters movie ['Polyester'] that had some pretty simple scratch-and-sniff cards," Rodriguez explained. He also noted that it wasn't a huge financial commitment either since, "Being a John Waters [movie] I figured it couldn't be that expensive, so it wouldn't be too hard to replicate some extra value stuff we could give away for free."
And while he says going back to work for the Weinsteins was "fun," because he likes working directly with the head of the studio (with other studios "The head of the studio you never see – he's in a tower somewhere"), but he said the next phase of his expanding production empire will be to entirely self-finance the films himself and then go to studios later to distribute them.
"Studios don't finance their movies anymore – they go to financers like Relativity or Legendary," Rodriguez explained. "So the filmmaker doesn't have to go to the studio anymore. They can go to the money guys and then just go to the studios for distribution. That's where we're headed. That's the model we used for 'Machete.' "
Later in the conversation, this was brought up again, first because he says that the self-financing model allows him to develop multiple parallel projects without having to return to a studio for more seed money. "The reason I develop so many things at once is that you never know what's going to come up next," Rodriguez told us, after we ribbed him about the "five thousand" things he always seems to have going on at once. He continued: "So I don’t want to be sitting around waiting for one script and then that doesn't come out right and then you end up not making a movie for years and years."
This fits in with Rodriguez's self-financing ploy, too, saying, "That's another reason why I want to have my own finance company so we can develop these scripts and not have to go movie to movie, which would allow you to kind of see which script is ready and go do that one now."
Rodriguez brought up self-financing again when the conversation turned to "Barbarella" and "Red Sonja," two projects seemingly tailor made for his gonzo sensibilities, but ultimately fell apart. "There's just so many other people involved and producers. And other people own the rights," he said, clearly ruffled. "That's why I've decided to take my company in another direction where we can finance our own thing, so if I get the rights to 'Fire & Ice' then I can do it. That way no one can say, 'Oh I want to shoot in Germany.' Otherwise, the 'Red Sonja' guys wanted to make the 'Conan' movie first. So I don't want to do a project unless I own and control it. It's just a much better position to be in."
As you can tell, Rodriguez has a fiercely individualist streak but we wondered if he would want to pool his resources again, citing his exemplary collaborations with people like genius cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and crossover mariachi band Los Lobos. He says becoming his own cinematographer was kind of a necessity since Navarro refused to make the leap to digital photography ("he wasn't interested in shooting digital and nobody was") and had to make his own music when he moved from Los Angeles back to Austin.
That's not to say he's deliberately stayed away from collaborating, it's just that some potential collaborators are wary of his approach and reputation. "I went to go hire a cinematographer a few movies back but they didn't believe me," Rodriguez said. "They thought it was going to be the worst job ever. They said, 'Why do you want us when you can just do this yourself?' " He said he "really wanted to learn" but just had to do it himself. Half joking he said that after the experience, "I thought I'd just stick with what I'm doing and hire really, really good gaffers."
Before we got off the phone with Rodriguez, we of course had to go through the laundry list of projects he's got coming up. Recently it was revealed that William Monahan, Oscar-winning screenwriter of "The Departed," was working on the script for "Sin City 2." He explained Monahan's role in the hotly anticipated sequel: "We have a script for 'Sin City 2' and we just needed to round it out a little bit more, brought in Bill to try and solve some things." A lot of the problems had to do with the anthology structure that the first film employed. "Like before we had three different stories that we were trying to meld together and he took a pass at it for a couple of weeks and now Frank is doing his pass." He sounded optimistic: "We're pretty close. We might have it soon."
On "Fire & Ice," his recently announced adaptation of the 1983 Ralph Bakshi/Frank Frazetta animated fantasy film (which utilized rudimentary roto-scope technology – sort of early era motion capture), he says, "We're getting the script in pretty quick and it's coming out really great. I'm excited about that one."
As for a follow-up to "Predators," the "Predator" sequel he produced for Fox last summer (Nimrod Antal handled the directorial duties) that turned out to be a surprisingly solid sci-fi flick, he sounds a little iffier on. "I haven't talked to them in a while. I know they liked the idea of doing another one," Rodriguez explained. "I should probably call and check in. I've just been busy doing these other things."
Bringing us up to speed on "Nervewrackers," a sci-fi project for the Weinsteins, he said it's still in the cards and maybe further along than you'd expect, "I'm still writing that. That's a possibility for next year. I'll probably do that one second or third after, in terms of the next movie." As for "Heavy Metal," a property that was once talked about as an anthology film originally spearheaded by David Fincher, he says that the plan for multiple directors is still intact, "Yeah it'd be very similar in terms of 'Sin City' in terms of how we do it and how we tell the story." When that story will be told, of course, is anybody's guess.
"Spy Kids 4: All the Time In the World" is out on DVD (and in a very nice Blu-ray package, we must say) right now.