Robert Rodriguez Interview, Shorts

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

From filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, creator of the "Spy Kids" trilogy and "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D," comes the family action-adventure "Shorts."

Eleven-year-old Toe Thompson is the designated punching bag for the bullies of the suburban community of Black Falls, where his and everyone else's parents work for Black Box Industries, makers of the do-it-all gadget that's sweeping the nation. But during a freak storm, a mysterious Rainbow Rock, which grants wishes to anyone who finds it, falls from the sky. Suddenly, the neighborhood that Toe already thinks is weird is about to get a lot weirder. As the Rainbow Rock ricochets around the town--from kid to kid and parent to parent--wishes-come-true quickly turn the neighborhood upside down in a wild rampage of everything from tiny aliens to giant boogers.

The magical fantasy adventure "Shorts" is told through a series of interwoven not-so-tall tales that each brings to life the sometimes wonderful, often terrible, and totally out-of-control wishes that become far more than Toe and his neighbors ever imagined.

"Shorts" stars Jon Cryer, William H. Macy, Leslie Mann, James Spader, Jimmy Bennett, Kat Dennings, Jake Short, Devon Gearhart, Leo Howard, Trevor Gagnon, Rebel Rodriguez, and Jolie Vanier.

MoviesOnline sat down with Robert Rodriguez to talk about “Shorts” which he wrote and directed and, as he often does, served as his own director of photography, editor, visual effects supervisor and composer on the film. Here’s what he had to tell us about his new movie:

Q: When you decided you were going to do a kids movie, did you do that for the child in you? Is that the attraction? You’re about to do Machete next which is the complete antithesis of this film. Why?

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: They’re not that far off. People think I do my kids movies and then I do 180 degrees from that but it’s not like I do Shorts and then Seven. It’s more like Shorts and Desperado and these things with guitar cases that shoot missiles. They’re very much from the cartoonist’s hand. I used to be a cartoonist. The common thing in all my movies is they’re all fantasies, they’re all made up worlds, and they’ve got a lot of humor. Even Dust ‘til Dawn which is a vampire movie. It’s a lot more comical than serious, even the gore. I remember when I did Desperado, so many people die in that movie. Quentin’s Reservoir Dogs came around at the same time. He got taken to the cleaners by the critics for not showing an ear get cut off. Just because it’s such an intense, serious thing, it happens off camera. In mine, people get mowed down right and left. This is my kind of action movie. This is my kind of violence. There’s a fun spirit to it and more of a comic book feel. But there’s still a difference, I find, making movies like Grindhouse or Sin City which are one kind of movie. They’re still very creative and fun. And then, these movies take advantage of my family experiences because I grew up in a family of 10 kids and I have 5 kids. A lot of people say that as a writer, if you want to go write a book or a script, write about what you know, so I have to do these because that’s what I know. I would be robbing myself of all this time spent with my kids to not utilize some of those experiences and those ideas that we come up with just playing and not put it somewhere.

Q: What aspect of your childhood is inherent in this movie?

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Well those are more in the Spy Kid movies. In these, this is more of my life with my own children. These past few movies have been based on that. I mean, just directly, we have a canyon full of snakes. They’re in our house and on our property. We have a castle turret. Part of the house that I’d built thinking, 10 years ago when I built it, some day I was going to use it as a set for a movie with my kids when I had kids and then it ended up happening with this. I was going to shoot it like El Mariachi in my backyard and come up with a storyline later. When my son came up with the idea of doing a Little Rascals type movie, of course, that was something I had thought of doing years ago and I had totally forgot about it. He would talk about the canyon and a rock. He loves rocks, he collects rocks. He kept saying a rainbow rock. So I thought, what if it’s a wishing rock, and I asked him what he would wish for if he wished for anything because I was going to test the idea on him. He said, “I wish for a butt for a head.” I said, “Are you sure?” and he said, “Yeah.” So, I asked my other son who is older and wiser what he’d wish for and he said, “I wish to be a potato.” So I said, “Hmmmmm. Okay. I’d wish for a million more wishes.” And then, their faces kind of dropped. You could tell they were thinking, “Oh, I just wasted my wish.” (Laughs) And I realized this is a great idea for a movie. If you got a rock and could have anything, you really wouldn’t know what to wish for at first. Of course, if you’re a kid, it’s “a never ending supply of chocolate” and now he’s got stuff shooting out of his pockets. “Let’s wish for telephonesis” and, of course, he says the word wrong. Everything is taken literally and you can just have a lot of fun. It just became a process where me and my kids over the course of a couple of years would just be sitting around the dinner table and we’d be thinking of ideas or they would come up with ideas. “What if, you know, I was trying to keep the rock away from the kids at one point and he asks for long arms and his arms go really high? And then a girl crawls up like a spider and grabs it. She’s invisible and she takes off. She hides in a toaster and the toaster goes jumping around.” If an idea worked, I’d write it down. If it didn’t, I’d forget about it.

Q: Everyone talks about how good you are working with kids and how you can have them in your movie, on the set, and around you all the time. What’s the secret? Are you just an exceedingly patient man? How do you do it?

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: I just grew up… I was third oldest in a family of 10 kids. I do have a very vivid memory of an only child friend of mine coming over in high school on a Saturday and he was just bugging out. I said, “What’s up?” and he said, “How can you stand the noise?” And I went, “What noise?” and he listened with his ears for a little bit and got real quiet and I said, “Oh yeah, I guess it is noisy in here.” I just don’t know it. I just grew up this way. I don’t actually hear it.

Q: Speaking of comic book sensibility, you cast James Spader who’s an actor known for roles that are kind of internal and you’re telling him, “No, bigger, bigger! Louder! Eyes open wide!” Is that a process that you have to go through to get people to go over the top? It seems as though, especially in your kids movies, too big is not big enough.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, a lot of times to get that factor and he knows I’m on close. The camera is right there close. He’s just like, “I don’t know.” That’s why you have a director. You just trust in them and you know what feels right. You know where you usually go and your comfort zone. “Do I have to let go here? I don’t know…” “Dude, I’m the editor. It’s going to be fine. Let’s go watch.” That’s what’s so great about shooting digital because you’ve got a big monitor. It’s very clear. It’s not like when you usually shoot film and you can’t tell what you’re doing. That’s usually what he’s shot on before. So, he can come over and see in crisp details, as if we’re at the premiere, exactly what you’re going to see. He’s howling. He just couldn’t believe it. He didn’t know that it was reading that way and he looked great.

Q: He said that he was very surprised when he was given this script and given the nature of this character. I don’t think he believed it would be possible for him to be finished shooting this in five days. How do you achieve that and has technology reached the point where that is even more possible now than it was when you did your first digital movie, the Spy Kids movie?

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: No, I shot those pretty quick, too. (Laughs) I think the thing is, it’s very important, I’m my own editor and that’s just a huge difference. I mean, the more jobs you do, the easier it gets and that sounds kind of crazy. It’s like, “Alright, we’re gonna make a big movie. Let’s get more people.” It’s like, no, you need to get less people. You’ll actually finish the race, instead of just having a heart attack before you get across the line, because otherwise, you’re just carrying all this extra baggage with you. So, if you just think of the process, if you’re just the director and you don’t know anything about editing, you’re just shooting shots for the editor to figure out. Well then, you’re going to be getting a close-up, then you’re going to be getting a medium shot, then you’re going to be getting an overhead shot. It’s like, “Well, what else can we do? Let’s get an over-the-shoulder. Let’s get an under-the-shoulder. Let’s get a lalala.” You just wasted a whole three days shooting something that could have taken ten minutes, if the the editor was right there, and if the editor’s the same person, [it’s] even easier. So, you’re watching a performance, and you’re going, “You know what? I got that. That’s what I’m gonna use. Let’s move on. And, in fact, I can already tell, because it’s a big party, you don’t have to be there during the whole party. I’ll just film your scenes, and then I’ll make it look with the editing like they’re actually looking, talking to you and watching you talk, even though I’m not going to film them for three more weeks. And, it’s gonna look pretty seamless, because I’m also the guy lighting it, so I’ll light it so that it looks like it’s the same light.” Nobody else will remember quite that that’s where you had the lights, but I’ll remember because I’m the one doing it. So, you save a tremendous amount of time. And it’s just a very efficient approach to making a movie.
Q: How easy has it been for you to resist people throwing bags of money at you saying, “Okay, good. Make that big picture with other people assuming the roles of the editor and the composer and you just being the director”?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ:  It’s never happened. The only time it started to happen was on Barbarella, and it was funny, because Dino (Dino De Laurentiis) is very old school. He didn’t know that I was my own editor and production designer. He’d never heard of that. You know, he’s been making movies forever and he just wanted the best, so he said, “We can get a big budget from here, and Germany’s gonna give us $70 million. We’ll get you the best production designer, the best cinematographer.” So, I’d go to try to get a cinematographer and they would just be like, “Why are you talking to me? You do a really good job.” Nobody believed that I wanted them to work with me. And it’s like, “No, I want to get new ideas anyway.” They probably thought they’d just get strong-armed or something. So, no one really wanted the job. Then, when I did have a production designer, he was really talented, but then he had to go leave and do another movie. And then after a while, it became – you know, “Would you mind just taking over that job?” And it’s like, “That’s what usually happens.” “We can't really find a good editor. Can you edit it?” Then I’d say, “Yeah, that’s what I usually do.” So it slowly goes back to how it always was anyway. I just end up keeping it there. It’s just very efficient. Someday maybe I’ll be able to afford to hire the best. I’m not the best at those jobs. I just know there’s an efficiency to it that you get.
Q: What was the Abu Dhabi connection? Did they just finance the film?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: A lot of studios now get co-financing from other people to help cut risk. Abu Dhabi was a company that wanted to invest in movies. And so, I think that came from Warners. Warner Brothers split – they put in some financing for a cut of the share. That’s how a lot of the bigger studios are trying to do it now. They get people like Legendary, and people like Abu Dhabi. And like – hey, I’ll take money from anywhere. I’m the guy who used to sell his body to science. If I don’t have to do that! (Laughs)
Q: Could you talk about the casting process? The kids are so good.
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Oh, thanks! That took a while, yeah.
Q: Jimmy and Jolie?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Oh, Jolie. It’s her first movie.
Q: And the Loogie.
Q: How did you find them? They have a comedic sense and, at the same time, they can do action as well as serious drama.
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: It’s not real difficult to find kids. I have a really great casting agent. She brings in a bunch of kids. She brings me only the best ones of the best, and then you kind of watch. You can see the ones that you spark to and then you just find places for them. You kind of shuffle them around. I really wanted to use Loogie. He read for every part. I couldn't quite figure out the character and finally I just made him Loogie. Then the kid who plays the one with the long, slicked back hair, the booger kid – he came in for every part. I knew I needed to put [him in] – his name was even Short. That’s his name, Jake Short. I thought, “He’s destined to be in this movie, somewhere.” I couldn't fit him in anywhere. He just didn't fit anywhere. Finally, the last person to be cast was that kid. He showed up one day for an audition with his hair slicked back. He looks like those surfer kids. He’s just so cool, but he made himself a nerd and put on glasses. I said, “Okay, you get the part, just because you’re being creative, and trying to play outside of the box.” And then, you work with them after that, and you already know that they’re able to do it. It’s just going to be a day to day  thing, where you work with them scene by scene, line by line.
Q: How violent a film is Machete going to be? Is it going to be as tough and as intense as the trailer that you did for that movie?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: It’ll only be as violent as it needs to be. I don't think it’ll be excessively violent just for that sake. I think it will be surprisingly good.  (Laughs) I mean, we’ve been shooting this week, and it’s just elevated from what you think it’s gonna be, by so much, that I think the main note people will have watching it is, it delivered way beyond what it needed to deliver for me to be happy.
Q: You just finished announcing the cast. Are there any more people you’ll be casting? 

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. We still need to cast a few more people. I don’t have them yet. We’ve only shot one week. But I need to cast them soon, because some of these people shoot next week. (Laughs) A couple of main characters we’re still casting.
Q: When we talked to you for Grindhouse, you said making those trailers was the most fun, because you’re basically doing the best scenes from every movie. So, how about taking one of those fun trailers and expanding it out to a movie? Was filling in the blanks more of a challenge than you expected it to be?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Only because I was really holding myself to keeping the footage that we shot. So it’s like, “Okay. How did he get those girls in the pool?” And so you back up from there – because I want to still use that, because that’s going to be the fun of it. It’s like, “How did he work that? — Oh, I see.” And it’s a real great creative challenge, and it’s really funnier to see how that pulls together.
Q: Will that original trailer be in the marketing campaign for the feature?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Well, all that footage is in the movie. I’m using that footage that we shot two years ago in the movie, and we’re bridging around it. I’m not reshooting that stuff. So, that’s what’s funny.
Q: We heard Lindsay Lohan was cast in the movie?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: She’s one of the people in the movie.
Q: What’s the character’s name?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ:  Her name is April. She’s the daughter of one of the bad guys. I can't say too much.
Q: Are you giving her plenty of notice, too, as to when to appear on set?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Oh, she’s already been there. I’ve already shot some great stuff with her. Yeah, I shot her on Wednesday. She was fantastic.
Q: Have you seen The World’s Greatest Dad yet? It’s the new Robin Williams movie.
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: No, and my boy is in it. My spy is in it. Tell me.
Q: Check it out. Because the language he uses is a little bit more colorful than the language he used when he was a Spy Kid.
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Oh, no, no. Only on-camera. Off-camera, that’s how he always talked. (Laughs) Ever since he was six. The boy’s born for that role.
Q: Talking about kids and humor, kids love body function humor. But you don’t go for the lowest stuff. I really admire the fact that there’s not a fart joke in the movie. Did I miss it?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: No, I don't know that there’s a fart joke in there.
Q: Is there a certain level of taste that you want to maintain when you’re doing kids’ movies?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: No. (Laughs] It just turns out that way. No, I like a good fart joke. There’s so much other humor to be had. I think that was one of the better reviews Roger Ebert gave for Spy Kids at a time when there really weren’t any kids movies being made. No one was really taking it seriously, and it was always like, a studio needed a kids’ movie, so let’s just make something really quick and put it out there. And there was a movie about a dog or something, and it was just all poop jokes and stuff. So, they weren’t expecting something like Spy Kids, where it’s like – “Wow, somebody actually looked like they wanted to make a family film, and set something in this age, where it’s about what you can get away with, instead of what you can aspire to.” You know, “This movie’s a gem,” or something like that. And so it was like a really good affirmation that that was a good route to go, was to try to just make a good movie. And you forget – I think the other ways were just ways to kind of throw in the kitchen sink. We just want people laughing in the theater, and we don’t have anything else to do, so let’s just entertain. Anything we can do to just get a laugh, just make the kids laugh, and the parents will feel like they took their kids out to have a good time.
Q: What can you tell us about Nerverackers?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: That would be done some time next year. It’s a futuristic, sci-fi, Blade Runner-type movie, but set in Mexico City in the future. So, it’s pretty cool.
Q: That really lends itself to the digital technology that you use, doesn’t it? It’s like the perfect film for that.
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. We’re looking forward to that. We’ve already designed a lot of it, and it’s really neat.
Q: Will there be a Blinkers movie?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Don’t know! They get big so fast.
“Shorts” opens in theaters on August 21st. 


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