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After bursting onto the filmmaking scene with his $7,000 action film, "El Mariachi" (1993), director Robert Rodriguez was second only to friend and frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino in terms of originality and the ability to make the films he wanted. A jack of all trades, Rodriguez frequently directed, photographed, produced, wrote, scored and edited all his films regardless of budget, mostly to the benefit of the film, but sometimes to the detriment of an otherwise collaborative art. Rodriguez followed up "El Mariachi" with "Desperado" (1995) and later rounded out his so-called Mexican Trilogy with "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003). In between, he made the horror-crime thriller "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996) and the sci-fi thriller "The Faculty" (1998), before scoring an international box office hit with "Spy Kids" (2001), which sparked a franchise of sequels over the next decade. Meanwhile, Rodriguez co-directed the well-received "Sin City" (2005) with comic book impresario Frank Miller and directed the "Planet Terror" segment of the exploitation double feature, "Grindhouse" (2007), which also contained Tarantino's "Death Proof" feature. Though he was the center of negative tabloid attention...
After bursting onto the filmmaking scene with his $7,000 action film, "El Mariachi" (1993), director Robert Rodriguez was second only to friend and frequent collaborator Quentin Tarantino in terms of originality and the ability to make the films he wanted. A jack of all trades, Rodriguez frequently directed, photographed, produced, wrote, scored and edited all his films regardless of budget, mostly to the benefit of the film, but sometimes to the detriment of an otherwise collaborative art. Rodriguez followed up "El Mariachi" with "Desperado" (1995) and later rounded out his so-called Mexican Trilogy with "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003). In between, he made the horror-crime thriller "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996) and the sci-fi thriller "The Faculty" (1998), before scoring an international box office hit with "Spy Kids" (2001), which sparked a franchise of sequels over the next decade. Meanwhile, Rodriguez co-directed the well-received "Sin City" (2005) with comic book impresario Frank Miller and directed the "Planet Terror" segment of the exploitation double feature, "Grindhouse" (2007), which also contained Tarantino's "Death Proof" feature. Though he was the center of negative tabloid attention in the wake of his split with wife and producing partner of 16 years, Elizabeth Avellán following a dalliance with "Grindhouse" star Rose McGowan, Rodriguez continued to employ his unique brand of economic filmmaking to every project.
Born on June 20, 1968 in San Antonio, TX, Rodriguez began making Super 8 movies as a 13-year-old, using his large family of five sisters and four brothers as a stock company. Though a born filmmaker, he was initially rejected by the film program at the University of Texas at Austin. Undaunted, Rodriguez continued with borrowed equipment and little money, making over 30 short films. He compiled a number of these for "Austin Stories," a video anthology of three vignettes starring his younger siblings, which won Rodriguez several awards and admission to film school. There he made his first 16mm short, "Bedhead" (1991), a remarkable eight-minute-long calling-card film about a little girl who uses her new telekinetic powers to enact revenge on her obnoxious older brother. The film racked up awards at 14 film festivals. During his 1991 summer break from college, Rodriguez spent a month in a research hospital as a test subject for a new cholesterol drug. He was paid $3,000 for his trouble and emerged with the script for "El Mariachi." Rodriguez landed another $4,000 from a friend before he began his 14-day shoot in a Mexican border town using mostly amateur actors. Columbia later picked up the several hundred thousand dollar tab for completing a final edit (on film rather than video), redubbing the sound and dialogue in Dolby stereo and blowing it up to 35mm. "El Mariachi" did only modest business at the box office, perhaps due to insufficient marketing to the Spanish-speaking action audience, but it provided a wake-up call to an often profligate industry.
In between films, Rodriguez ventured into TV to helm, script, edit and provide a song for "Roadracers" (1994), an outstanding installment of "Rebel Highway," Showtime's stylish series of low-budget remakes of the 1950s drive-in fare produced by American International Pictures. The filmmaker's first work in 35mm, "Roadracers" was a story about teen rebellion in the most general sense. Its true subject matter was smoking cigarettes in a cool 1950s fashion. Rodriguez also used this TV-movie as an unofficial audition reel to cast leading lady Salma Hayek in "Desperado" (1995) opposite Antonio Banderas' mariachi. Budgeted at a thrifty $6 million, with only $3.3 million going into the actual production, "Desperado" proved to be a superior action entry with style to spare. Intensely charismatic leads, delightful cameos and a killer score by Los Lobos aided immensely but the bulk of the credit had to go to the gifted producer-writer-director-editor. Hollywood took notice. Rodriguez went on to direct a segment of the poorly-reviewed anthology film "Four Rooms" (1995). Despite the critical abhorrence to the film as a whole, Rodriguez was singled out for contributing the worthiest of the four segments. Hayek also co-starred in his vampire flick "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996), which featured Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney as brothers caught in a border town inhabited by night creatures. Rodriguez also enjoyed a popular, though critically-derided success with the teen horror flick "The Faculty" (1998), written by Kevin Williamson. Drawing on films like "Alien" and "Scream," the film was an updated take on the old chestnut "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," wherein the teachers and other authority figures were overtaken by beings from outer space leaving a group of students to fight to save the world.
After a hiatus, Rodriguez returned to features with "Spy Kids" (2001), a family film about a family of espionage agents headed by Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino. Working from his own script for the first time in more than five years, he crafted a gentle spoof of the James Bond features that had cross-generational appeal thanks to its smart script, lavish, gadget-heavy production design and terrific performances. The film was so widely viewed that preparations for a sequel were made. In 2002, "Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams" was released. The film reunited the Cortez family (Banderas, Gugino, Vega and Sabara) as spies who once again set out to save the world, returning again for the final Rodriguez-helmed installment, "Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over" (2003). After firmly establishing his ability to create highly successful and entertaining mainstream studio fare, Rodriguez next returned to his roots with the El Mariachi sequel "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003), a true tour de force for the filmmaker, who wrote, edited, scored and shot the film on a Sony 24-frames-per-second digital high-definition camera. The film was another rousing and popular venture, with Rodriguez demonstrating a remarkably fresh, fluid and riveting directorial style while also paying obvious homage to director Sergio Leone.
The director embarked on his most ambitious project then to date when he adapted comic book writer-artist Frank Miller's crime noir opus "Sin City" (2005). Miller, who had felt burned by his involvement in Hollywood projects like the "RoboCop" sequels, was reluctant to let anyone tamper with his "baby," having repeatedly turned down efforts to option "Sin City." But Rodriguez was relentless; he managed a meeting with Miller in a Hell's Kitchen saloon and showed a presentation of his vision on his laptop using photographs based of Miller's comic book images. Miller was impressed, but still declined. Rodriguez offered to self-fund a test film based on Miller's "Sin City" tale "The Customer is Always Right," which Rodriguez shot with Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton. The director successfully captured the artfully gritty black-and-white palette (often with single elements of occasional color), and used images and dialogue culled directly from Miller's comics. Miller was finally swayed. The project went forward with Dimension Films, adapting three of Miller's intertwining "Sin City" storylines: "The Hard Goodbye," "The Big Fat Kill" and "That Yellow Bastard."
After assembling an all-star cast, Rodriguez insisted that Miller be credited as co-director and included in every sequence on the set. The Directors Guild of America attempted to halt production one week prior to filming over Miller's credit, and in defense of the artist, Rodriguez quit the DGA in order to keep the film in line with their vision. He also recruited Tarantino to serve as "special guest director" for a portion of "The Big Fat Kill" sequence. The result was Rodriguez's best film to date, a perfectly realized cinematic version of Miller's graphic works, filled with incredible visual imagery taken directly from the source material and brought to life through a sparse, evocative script and a collection of top-flight performances. Rodriguez's determination had a substantial payoff at the box office, with "Sin City" taking in close to $75 million. He fared poorly, however, with his next effort, "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D" (2006), a mediocre and muddy-looking kiddie flick that was written, or at least conceived, by his young son, Racer.
Returning to form with his next project, Rodriguez joined old pal Tarantino to co-direct "Grindhouse" (2007), a compilation of two 90-minute long horror flicks helmed by both directors that was a throwback to the days of bloody, sex-fueled, low-rent double features that played in seedy 42nd Street theaters in New York City. Rodriguez's offering was "Planet Terror," a sci-fi horror flick about a ragtag group of humans led by a mysterious loner named El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) who reunites with a former go-go dancer (Rose McGowan) to do battle with an army of flesh-eating zombies, as they become mankind's last best hope for survival. Despite widespread attention lavished on the film, including exhaustive rounds made to various media outlets by Rodriguez and Tarantino, "Grindhouse" failed to generate a large crowd to theaters. Even those who did show up walked out halfway after Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" segment, believing the movie was over. Making matters worse, Rodriguez was the target of unwanted attention when his dalliance with McGowan came to light and was followed by a divorce from wife and producing partner, Elizabeth Avellan. The couple was married for 16 years and produced five children, though their split did nothing to stop their creative partnership, which continued unabated. Meanwhile, Rodriguez's on-again, off-again relationship with McGowan officially ended in 2009. From there, he co-directed "Machete" (2010) with editor Ethan Maniquis, an action exploitation flick starring Danny Trejo as a former Mexican Federale out for revenge. After going back to the well one more time with "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" (2011), Rodriguez went into production on two more sequels, "Machete Kills" (2013) and "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" (2013).
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Erroneously called "Richard Rodriguez" in a February 1, 1993 The New York Times article entitled "The Winners and Losers at Sundance".
Rodriguez's short "Bedhead" won numerous film festival prizes including first place at the Atlanta Film and Video Competition, the Marin County Film Festival, the 11th Annual Edison Black Maria Film Festival, the Charlotte Film Festival and the ninth annual 3rd Coast Film Festival. It also won awards at the Melbourne International Film Festival and at the Fine Arts Film and Video Competition.
" ... A key detail somehow got overlooked in most of the press coverage after "El Mariachi" hit theaters in early 1993: The ending of this fairy tale wasn't nearly so happy as most people assumed.
"'El Mariachi' wound up grossing 'only about $1.8 million', producer [Bill] Borden says. 'Now, if you look at it in terms of percentages--the movie only cost $7000, and then Columbia put a couple of hundred thousand into finishing it, bringing it up to 35mm and re-dubbing it so you could release it in big theaters. Well, you know, to invest a couple of hundred thousand dollars into a movie that returned $1.8 million was not such a bad investment. ... But the reality of that investment is it didn't make them any money. Because by the time you put in the cost of (prints and advertising), and flying Robert around for all the publicity trips and all that stuff, it was a break-even proposition.'" --From "Cranking Up the Volume" by Joe Leydon, Los Angeles Times Calendar, November 27, 1994.
The press release for Showtime's "Rebel Highway" series, for which the precocious filmmaker directed an outstanding installment entitled "Roadracers", states that "Rodriguez has also been honored for additional short film and video works and has won several awards for cartooning, including two prestigious Columbia University Awards, one for "Los Hooligans" and one for political cartooning. Rodriguez, who began making films at age 13, is completing studies in communications at the University of Texas at Austin."
"My feeling is, your first impulse is almost always the best one. So you make a decision and you stick with it, instead of trying to make everything perfect. I don't want my movies to be perfect. Perfect is the enemy of creativity. Art should be flawed." --Rodriguez to The New York Times, July 29, 2002
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