Robert Rodriguez





Filmmaker

Born Robert Anthony Rodriguez, June 20, 1968, in San Antonio, TX; son of Cecilio (a cookware sales manager) and Rebecca (a nurse) Rodriguez; married Elizabeth Avellan, c. 1991; children: Rocket Valentino, Racer Maximiliano, Rebel Antonio. Education: University of Texas at Austin, B.A.

Addresses: Office —Troublemaker Studios, 4900 Old Manor Rd., Austin, TX 78723. Contact —c/o P.O. Box 608, Spicewood, TX 78669.

Career

Worked as a file clerk in the University of Texas at Austin's Provost office; participated in clinical drug research trials. Filmmaker for feature films, including: director, screenwriter, editor, camera operator, still photographer, producer, music editor, sound editor, cinematographer, and special effects, El Mariachi, 1993; director, editor, and screenwriter, The Misbehavers, Four Rooms, 1995; producer, screenwriter, director, steadicam operator, and editor, Desperado, 1995; director, editor, camera operator, steadicam operator, executive producer, and sound re-recording mixer, From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996; director, editor, camera operator, producer, and sound re-rerecording mixer, The Faculty, 1998; director, editor, camera operator, producer, screen-writer, composer, sound re-recording mixer, and visual effects supervisor, Spy Kids, 2001; director, editor, producer, writer, composer, sound effects editor, cinematographer, visual effects supervisor, and production designer, Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, 2002; screenwriter, cinematographer, director, production designer, editor, camera operator,

Robert Rodriguez
producer, visual effects supervisor, and composer, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, 2003; director, editor, producer, screenwriter, composer, cinematographer, visual effects supervisor, and production designer, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, 2003. Film shorts include: director, editor, animator, writer, composer, sound effects, cinematographer, Bedhead, 1991. Television work includes: director, screenwriter, editor, and songwriter, Roadracers, Showtime, 1994.

Awards: Bedhead won awards including first place at Atlanta Film and Video Competition, the Amarin County Film Festival, the 11th Annual Edison Black Maria Film Festival, the Charlotte Film Festival, the 9th annual Third Coast Film Festival, and the Melbourne International Film Festival and Fine Arts Film and Video Competition; won two Columbia University Awards for strip Los Hooligans and for his political cartoons; Sundance Film Festival Audience Award for best feature, for El Mariachi, 1993; Independent Spirit Award for best first feature, for El Mariachi, 1993.

Sidelights

Beginning with El Mariachi in 1993, Robert Rodriguez has established himself as a filmmaker with unique vision and innovation who can also deliver box office success. Though he moved from independent films to Hollywood-financed productions, he remained true to his roots and worked primarily out of his home near Austin, Texas. While Rodriguez's early films were often violent adult features, later in his career he made a successful trilogy of children's action films, the Spy Kids series.

Born Robert Anthony Rodriguez on June 20, 1968, in San Antonio, Texas, he was the third of ten children born to Cecilio, a sales manager for a cookware firm, and his wife, Rebecca, a nurse. Rodriguez was interested in making films from an early age. He began by making little animated flip films in the margins of books. By the time he was 13 years old, he was making Super 8 movies at home using his many siblings as actors. He also used a video camera—which his father had bought to make presentation videos for the cookware he sold—to make short films.

Rodriguez realized that he was not a great student at a San Antonio junior seminary boarding school. He told Rita Kempley of the Washington Post, "I accepted the fact that I would never be a rocket scientist. I knew that if I could just draw cartoons or make little movies on the side, just to keep myself alive, I would be happy the rest of my life." He also liked studying music; he learned how to play the guitar, piano, and saxophone. Rodriguez would later use these skills to write songs and score some of his films.

After high school, Rodriguez attended the University of Texas at Austin. There, he was a cartoonist for the university's newspaper for three years. The strip, called "Los Hooligans," was based on the antics of his younger siblings. Rodriguez wanted to enter the University of Texas's film program, but was rejected because of his low grade point average. Even though he was not in the program, he made film and video shorts on the side with equipment he managed to borrow. He put together a video reel he called Austin Stories. This won several film competitions and won him entry into the University of Texas's film program.

To help finance his first 16mm film short, Rodriguez was a participant in a clinical research trial for a local company. He used the money he made as a human guinea pig to make Bedhead in 1991. This eight-minute film was about a young girl who finds out that she has telekinesis and uses her skill to get back at her older brother. The film featured four of his siblings, and won awards at 14 film festivals. Because of this success, Rodriguez soon left school, though he later finished his B.A. He did meet his future wife, Elizabeth Avellan, at the University of Texas before he left. She serves as a producer on all of her husband's films. They also have three sons together: Rocket, Racer, and Rebel.

While on a summer break from the University of Texas in 1991, Rodriguez went back to a local research center to serve as a test subject for a new drug. He used the time to write a script for what was going to be his first feature film, El Mariachi. Using the money he made as a lab rat, Rodriguez and his friend Carlos Gallardo—who helped write the script—shot the film in two weeks in a Mexican border town with a hand-held 16mm camera. Most of the actors were amateurs who came from the town and worked for free. The film cost a total of $7,000 to shoot. Rodriguez did a cheap edit on video to hold costs down.

Rodriguez and Gallardo intended for El Mariachi to be sold on the lucrative Spanish-language video market targeting Mexicans. They learned that cheap videos were often made for this market. El Mariachi was a take-off of Mexican action films, westerns, and other genre films. At its center was a mariachi singer who accidentally gets mixed up with an assassin while trying to find work in Acuna, Mexico. The mariachi ends up living the tragedies he sings about in his songs. El Mariachi was violent, but also was intended to be humorous.

While in negotiations for selling El Mariachi to the American and Mexican video markets, Rodriguez sent a trailer for the film and Bedhead to Robert Newman, an agent for International Creative Management (ICM), in 1992. Newman thought the trailer had such promise that he decided to represent Rodriguez. This led to a two-year, two-picture development deal with Columbia Pictures. Rodriguez only agreed to the contract if he could work from Texas, where he felt freer and more inspired.

Columbia chose to release the subtitled El Mariachi with improved sound after blowing it up to 35mm in 1993. When it was released, it was one of the most inexpensive films ever released by a Hollywood studio. The film made about $5 million at the box office, though this only recouped the costs of post-production and marketing.

Though Rodriguez did not want to leave Texas, he briefly lived in Los Angeles, California, in the mid-1990s. In 1994, he made a television movie for Showtime called Roadracers. This was a remake of a 1959 film, and marked the first time Rodriguez worked in 35mm. In this homage to 1950s drive-in movies, he served as director, screenwriter, editor, and songwriter. At its heart, the film was about smoking cigarettes and looking cool.

For his next project, Rodriguez filmed a sequel to El Mariachi called Desperado. Though the film was made for a very low budget by Hollywood standards, only about $7 million, it was a leap forward in terms of quality of actors. He used more established stars such as Spanish film star Antonio Banderas and Mexican actress Salma Hayek, but shot it in the same place, Acuna, Mexico. The stylish, violent action film was a success for Rodriguez.

Hayek appeared in two more films that Rodriguez made. The first was a segment in the anthology film, Four Rooms. Each segment in the 1995 film was directed by a hot young director. Rodriguez's was entitled "The Misbehavers." Hayek also had a leading role in Rodriguez's next feature, 1996's From Dusk Till Dawn. This violent horror film about vampires also featured Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney.

In this time period, Rodriguez returned to Texas to live full time. By this point, he was considered an important director, one of several prominent Latino directors. His return to Texas happened after he was unable to make a deal to direct a new version of Zorro because of some differences with the film company. Rodriguez later turned down the chance to direct other high profile projects such as X-Men, Superman Lives, and Planet of the Apes.

Working in Texas, Rodriguez was convinced to direct The Faculty, written by then-popular screen-writer Kevin Williamson (the creator of the hit television show Dawson's Creek, and writer of Scream and Scream 2 ). This horror/teen/science fiction film is about a group of high school students who have to fight teachers—who are inhabited by space aliens—in order to save the world. Like most Rodriguez projects, it was inexpensive, costing only $15 million to make.

After The Faculty, Rodriguez took several years off from filmmaking to raise his young sons. When he returned to filmmaking in the early 2000s, his next film was intended for a much younger audience than his previous works. Released in 2001, Spy Kids was a kids' film focusing on the adventures of the children of retired international spies. The spys, played by Carla Gugino and Banderas, are forced out of retirement but are captured by the bad guy; the children, Carmen and Juni, have to save their parents and the world.

While the film was laden with gadgets not unlike a James Bond film, Rodriguez put the family at the heart of the story. Spy Kids cost only $36 million to make, despite the many special effects, but was a hit at the box office and made more than $100 million worldwide. Even Rodriguez's parents were proud. He told Joshua Mooney of the San Diego Union-Tribune, "This is the first movie my parents can see and say, 'That's my boy!' I think they were wondering when I was going to make something more representative of what I grew up as and the messages my parents gave us and what I learned from them. It's been such a strong portion of my life."

Rodriguez followed up Spy Kids with an adult film shot in 2001, but not released until 2003. Once Upon a Time in Mexico was another sequel to El Mariachi. Rodriguez again held multiple jobs on the film, including screenwriter, cinematographer, director, production designer, editor, and composer. The film was an experiment in some ways for the filmmaker. While doing a sound mix for Spy Kids at Star Wars creator George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch, Lucas introduced Rodriguez to the high-definition (HD) digital format as an alternative to shooting on film stock. Rodriguez shot Once Upon a Time in Mexico in the format, using cameras he bought for the shoot. By the time the shoot ended, Rodriguez had recouped his costs, as the format was much cheaper and more efficient than film. The film cost only $29 million to make, and was number one at the box office for at least one week when originally released in the United States.

Another aspect that made high definition appealing for Rodriguez was that it allowed him to edit films at home. In his home in the Hill Country of central Texas, he had his own studio from which to work, allowing him to be very involved with his family's life. Rodriguez planned on shooting all his films in the high definition format, including his follow-ups to Spy Kids. Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams was released in 2002. Rodriguez found another advantage to shooting in high definition while making this film. It was easier to work with his younger actors because he did have to stop and wait while film was reloaded while shooting in HD. The kids remained focused and the shoot went much more quickly. The film only cost about $30 to $35 million to make, despite the fact that there were more than 1,000 special effects shots.

In Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, the family of spies again saves the world from bad guys. While the film featured cool new gadgets and a similar plot to the first, it did not do as well at the box office. A similar fate befell the third Spy Kids movie, which also was a critical failure. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over was released in 2003 as a 3-D film. More than the other films in the series, special effects dominated Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over. In the plot, Carmen gets stuck in a video game and her younger brother, Juni, has to save her. He is aided in his quest by their grandfather, played by Ricardo Montalban.

Though Rodriguez liked to work on his home turf of Texas, he used Hollywood actors and had big projects lined up for the mid-2000s. Future releases included Sin City, based on the graphic noir crime novel series by Frank Miller, and A Princess of Mars, a science fiction epic based on the first volume in the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Rodriguez told Will Hodgkinson of the Guardian, "I'm probably the only guy who really enjoys being in the business, because I get to make my own rules. I cut my own trailers, make my own ads, live and work at home in Texas. It's ridiculous. What did I do in a past life?"

Sources

Books

Celebrity Biographies, Baseline II, Inc., 2004.

Periodicals

Billboard, August 23, 2003.

Entertainment Weekly, August 9, 2002, pp. 40-41; August 1, 2003, p. 82.

Guardian (London, England), April 11, 2001, p. 16.

Houston Chronicle, August 11, 2002, p. 8.

Millimeter, August 2002, p. 8.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 1, 1999, p. 10.

Newsweek, August 12, 2002, p. 62.

People, August 7, 1995, p. 14; August 4, 2003, pp. 101-02.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), April 11, 1993, p. 1H.

San Antonio Express-News, May 10, 2004, p. 2C.

San Diego Union-Tribune, April 1, 2002, p. A2.

Texas Monthly, May 1998, p. 108.

Time, July 28, 2003, p. 60.

Times (London, England), September 25, 2003, p. 1.

Toronto Sun, September 7, 2003, p. S14.

Variety, March 1, 2004, p. 2; March 8, 2004, p. 5.

Washington Post, April 3, 1993, p. C1; September 15, 2003, p. C1.

Online

"Do-it-all director Robert Rodriguez," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Movies/09/15/sprj.caf03.rodriguez.ap/index html (September 16, 2003).

"Robert Rodriguez," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001675/filmoyear (August 6, 2004).

—A. Petruso



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