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Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez

Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. He's the man behind the family adventure films Spy Kids and Spy Kids 2. His list of credits include: writer, director, producer, director of photography, production designer, editor, visual effects supervisor, sound designer, re-recording mixer and composer. His first feature film was El Mariachi, which he made in 1993 for $7,000. It won the Audience Award for best dramatic film at the Sundance Film Festival and was the first American film released in Spanish. He also wrote a book about making El Mariachi called Rebel Without a Crew.

34:46

Other segments from the episode on August 6, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 6, 2002: Interview with Robert Rodriguez; Review of the album set “Elaine Stritch at Liberty;” Review of the television show “The Anna Nicole Show.”

Transcript

DATE August 6, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Robert Rodriguez discusses his career and his latest
film, "Spy Kids 2"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

Robert Rodriguez made his name as a filmmaker with a string of movies so
violent that one of them was banned by censors in Ireland. Who could have
predicted that the man behind the action pictures "El Mariachi," "Desperado"
and the mock horror films "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "The Faculty" would be
where he is now, the writer, director and producer of the gentle, imaginative
family films "Spy Kids" and "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams," which
opens in theaters tomorrow?

But Rodriguez's career doesn't follow any of the usual Hollywood rules. He
financed his first film, "El Mariachi," with $7,000 mainly earned by hiring
himself out as a subject for medical experiments, and he's making the "Spy
Kids" movies from his home studio in Austin, Texas. The "Spy Kids" are Carmen
and Juni Cortez, who discover that their square parents, played by Antonio
Banderas and Carla Gugino, are really ultra-hip secret agents. The kids then
become small super-spies themselves. Here they are, played by Alexa Vega and
Daryl Sabara, in this scene from "Spy Kids 2." They're being briefed on their
new spy gadgets by Machete, their uncle, played by Danny Trejo.

(Soundbite from "Spy Kids 2")

Mr. DANNY TREJO: (As Machete): I brought you all new gadgets. Check it
out--the very latest spy watch: cell phone, Internet access, satellite TV,
you name it. That baby'll do everything but tell you what time it is.

DARYL SABARA: (As Juni) It doesn't tell time?

Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) There was no more room for the clock.

ALEXA VARGA: (As Carmen) Are you sure these are new? We can't be running
around with outdated equipment.

Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) I'm going to give you the one gadget you should
always carry.

VARGA: (As Carmen) A rubber band?

Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) It's a Machete Elastic Wonder.

VARGA: (As Carmen) It's a rubber band.

Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) Yeah, but it's also the world's greatest gadget, 999
uses.

SABARA: (As Juni) Use number one: a stylish bracelet.

VARGA: (As Carmen) Use number two.

(Soundbite of rubber band snapping)

SABARA: Ahh!

BOGAEV: Robert Rodriguez, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ (Filmmaker): It's great to be back after, I think, 10
years.

BOGAEV: You know, "Spy Kids 2" has the greatest gadgets in it. There's a
little personal robot that looks like a cootie bug and a huge magnetic
aircraft which sucks up bad guys, and I like that all-purpose silver ponytail
holder, and it seemed to be kind of a metaphor for your approach to a somewhat
big-budget film with a lot of special effects, that in the end, nothing beats
the simplest solutions.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: The simplest solutions, and just sort of the low-tech in a
high-tech world solutions, you know, always having to be resourceful, and
creativity and imagination is always more important than technology and
technique. I wanted to use those two metaphors, and really, methodology ends
up becoming part of the thematic material. I really like using lower budgets,
and instead of having money to solve creative problems on the set, you just
use your creativity, and that's what makes the movie so much more creative and
more fun. And it was really essential for a movie like "Spy Kids" to feel
more creative, like a finger painting, than just big and expensive, like a big
movie usually does.

BOGAEV: Now that must have contributed to the plot line, that the Spy Kids
land on an island where no gadgets work. Even though they have the newest and
the latest and the best gadgets of all, they have to end up using their heads
to solve the case, and it impressed me as a comment on kids and gear and
labels and how technology-dependent kids are.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, adults as well, but yeah, especially kids. My children,
as young as they are--I have little boys under the age of six--and they're so
technologically savvy. And I live a little ways out of Austin, to where even
if a small storm comes by, all our power goes out for at least a day, and it's
always a shock to all of us how technologically dependent we are. So I really
wanted to play with the idea of loading the kids up with all the latest,
coolest gadgets and then stripping that away from them midway through the
movie, where they have to go on a mission where they have to use their heads,
and they've already forgotten how to do that. They don't even know how to tie
their shoes anymore, because it used to be automatic.

BOGAEV: So where'd the idea for a movie about child spies come from?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I grew up in a family of 10 kids, and my parents did such an
incredible job raising us and giving us these simple wisdoms and ideas that
really helped me growing into being an adult, and I put a lot of that in the
movie. I really believe all that's good really starts in the home, with the
family, and them spreads out from there.

BOGAEV: Now is it true--I read somewhere that you had an uncle, Gregorio, who
was an undercover agent with the FBI?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: My Uncle Gregorio was a special agent in the FBI. That's
what it said on his badge, big heavy leather badge. He'd show us that when we
were little, and I would think, `Oh, my gosh, I want to be'--you know, I
thought special agent meant secret agent, so I thought he had gadgets. And he
could never tell us what he could do, because he was always top secret, so we
just imagined him going on all these adventures. So I really did base the
movie on my own family--my brother Juni, my sister Carmen, my grandfather
Valentin(ph)--and you know, Ricardo Montalban plays. I just made them spies.

BOGAEV: Did you have family members working on the movies? Because you've
employed a number of people from your family and certainly your friends in a
lot of your films.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Oh, yeah. My wife of almost 14 years now has always produced
my movies. She's the producer. My three little kids were stunt kids in the
movie, training on wires and flying around. I tell my stunt coordinator, who
also has kids, `So you know there's only one way we're going to make sure kids
don't get hurt making this movie, is if the kids doing the stunts are our own
kids, because for sure nothing's going to happen to them.' So our own
children were doing the stunts.

And my sisters--two of my five sisters used to torture us growing up by
watching movies like "The Turning Point," and Mikhail Baryshnikov and they
were all into ballet, and so there's a ballet sequence in this movie that's
really funny. And so I called them up and said, `All those ballet lessons I
had to drive you to when you were little? They're finally paying off. You
guys are choreographing the ballet sequence.'

BOGAEV: Payback.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: So, yeah, my sisters choreographed it, and it came out
fantastic. They've been training all their lives for this, so it's been
great.

BOGAEV: What stunts did your kids do in the movie?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: There are some funny stunts right there at the beginning.
There's a big banquet scene, and there's a lot of Spy Kids and they're all
doing--battling and fighting. You'll see one of my sons, he's flying above
all the other ones on wires. You don't see the wires, but he's holding these
two little lit-up propellers. And then he also shows up a few seconds later
tackling one of the Magna Men all the way to the ground and, you know,
knocking him in the back. And then a little tiny little guy, my little
three-year-old, comes over, looking like a little Mafia guy because he's got a
little belly poking out, he comes over and gives him a real kick in the ribs,
and there's a big sound effect, and he gets a huge laugh from the audience.
So my son gets a big kick out of that, because he's three years old and and
he's coming over to put his licks in, too, because they're beating up the bad
guys. And so there's some, you know, good physical sort of knocking around
that had to be done, you know, so I used my own children so that it would be
safe and I would make sure that it was safe.

BOGAEV: Well, there are a ton of visual effects in this movie...

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. There's over a thousand.

BOGAEV: ...in both the "Spy Kids" movies. Over a th--how does that compare
to other...

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, over a thousand.

BOGAEV: ...big-budget movies like, say, "Inspector Gadget" or some of the
others we saw ...(unintelligible).

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I don't know how many are in that, but our movies cost a
fraction of the cost of, say, like a "Stuart Little," which--I don't really
know the true budget, but what I've heard is it's like $120 million. This one
cost 38, because I make it at home. I do a lot of the jobs myself, our crew
is all that way also and we just use creativity instead of--I get to make my
own budgets, and the studio always wants to give me--it's always the reverse.
The studio says, `Are you sure you don't want more money? We'll give you $60
million.' The money's not going to make it good. The money's not going to
make it better or more creative. And the more you're limited by money and by
resources, the more you're forced to be more creative.

So I don't know if you've seen the movie, but one of the favorite scenes is
when two kids walk into a room where they can't hear each other talk, but they
can hear each other think. And the audience--you hear the audience. They're
so surprised by the idea and they laugh. That idea cost $5, because it
doesn't require anything but the idea. And when you don't have the money,
you're forced to come up with things that, you know, instead of thinking, `How
am I going to spend $100 million today?' you think, `How am I going to make
this movie good and interesting and fun for people?' And your thinking goes
to a different area, and it's so fun to try to, you know, solve these
challenges creatively. And when you force yourself to be creative by limiting
yourself with resources, that's when the magic really happens. That's when
you become that child who thinks he can do anything, and with a finger
painting can create work.

BOGAEV: So do you just sit at your computer and think up some of these
creative solutions, or do you do something or go somewhere to get your head in
that right place to take you back to that kind of kid-wacky creativity?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: This is the trick. I turn into `Night Guy,' because I found,
you know--and this happens to everybody. The way the workday works, it's
really anti-family, because you're really just starting to get cooking at your
job, whatever it is, near the end of the day. And if you stay late at
work--wow, the kids are already asleep and have already had dinner and you've
missed it. I switched my schedule around completely, and it works so much
better.

If you can be a night person, you should try this. It's really fun. What I
do is I make breakfast for the kids, because I love to cook. They go to
school, I go to sleep. I wake up, I go pick them up from school, we play for
a little while, maybe we'll go swimming. I'll work a little bit in the
garage--I do everything at home, the editing, the sound mix, everything I do
in my garage. And then I'll cook dinner for them, they go to sleep, and then
while they're asleep, I work all night.

And because they're sleeping all night, no one calls because everyone else is
gone from the office. So you have so much time to just concentrate on the
work you're doing and be creative. And you're really more creative at night.
I think that's why musicians and other artists are night people, because the
world goes to sleep and your mind is also in a semidream state, and you really
can come up with things that you wouldn't normally think of while you're being
distracted during the day. And one full night of work equals at least five
working regular days. I mean, you get so much done in a short amount of time.
That's the trick.

BOGAEV: Were you always a night owl, or how did you come on the work-by-night
schedule?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I was always sort of a night owl. But then once I had kids,
it just became the reality. I just thought there's no other way I'll be able
to spend this much time with my kids and do 12 jobs making a big movie in 10
months. You know, it's just a truncated time. Two movies--actually, I
thought the only way to get a movie done this quickly is to do two movies at
once. So at the same time, I'm doing a sequel to "Desperado" called "Once
Upon a Time in Mexico," this big epic action adventure movie. So I kind of
switch back and forth and work on both movies at once. And it gives you a lot
of objectivity in your project, because if I'm working on "Spy Kids" and then
I switch for a week over to the "Mexico" project, when I come back to "Spy
Kids," I feel like I've been away from it for a year, because your mind has
done such a switch that you've got so much objectivity you can go, `Oh, now I
can see what I need to do. Oh, this works. This doesn't work. Let me fix
this. Let me fix that.' It's just remarkable and fun, and I feel like the
luckiest person in the world for getting to do this for a living.

BOGAEV: Some people like to drive when they get stuck. It kind of spurs on
their creativity. And you're out in Texas. Are you one of the drivers?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I live way out in the boonies. I usually have to drive into
town to get something done in town. And I live about 25, 30 minutes out of
town, and it took me all this time to realize some of my best ideas have come
when I've just been on that Texas highway driving for quite a while before you
hit the first stoplight.

You know, when you're driving, it's kind of spooky, because you're supposed to
be driving, but you end up at a stoplight, and you go, `When did I get here?
I don't even remember getting here. I must have been half-dreaming.' And
that half-dream state of driving that same route with no stoplights, I found
that I've gotten some of my best ideas while I'm sort of zoned out on the
highway. And I call myself, because I can't sit and drive--I can't write. So
I leave a message for myself at home, and it's so fun to come home after the
day's work and find all these very staticy sort of mixed messages of different
ideas or song fragments or music or some idea, and I'm trying to decipher
them. And they're all really great ideas that I would have forgotten about
that I came up with while I was half-dreaming on the road.

BOGAEV: Can you give us an...

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: But yeah, I think some of my best ideas are there.

BOGAEV: Can you give us an example of one of them?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: You know the song that Floop sings in the middle of the
movie?

BOGAEV: Oh, yeah.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I didn't know if I was going to bring him back to sing a song,
but I thought, `If I bring him back, kids'll want to see him sing, and there's
no time to write a song, but let's see if I can come up with one.' He shows
up Friday, and it's Wednesday. And I got home one day after shooting all day,
and I check my message machine. And I don't even remember leaving this
message, that's what's so funny. I hear this song fragment. I was going
`Hm-hm-hm--when why--free!' And so, OK, I don't know what that is. Let me go
to the piano and type it up. And because I was humming it, I found myself
playing in a section of the piano--because I'm not that good at playing
piano--that I don't usually gravitate towards. And I go, `What key is this,
anyway?' I had to look it up--`Oh, it's in F-sharp something.' And I sang
it, I put it together, I brought to Alan Cumming the morning he showed up. He
heard it. We recorded his voice there in a closet at lunchtime using a free
computer program over the Internet called Pro Tools Free. I edited his
performance together and we shot it that afternoon.

And then you come there that weekend, you look at it and go, `When did I come
up with all of that? When did we come up with that? Suddenly, we have a song
now.' And that's just what's so beautiful about the creative process is that
it really comes to you. It's not something you fabricate.

BOGAEV: My guest is filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. He's the creative force
behind the "Spy Kids" movies. "Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams" opens this
week in theaters. Rodriguez made his first film, "El Mariachi," on a $7,000
budget, mostly by being a one-man crew. His other movies include "Road
Racers," "Desperado" and "From Dusk Till Dawn."

Robert, we're going to take a break, and then we'll keep on talking.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: OK.

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR:

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. His family movie, "Spy Kids
2," opens this week. Rodriguez' other movies include "El Mariachi,"
"Desperado" and "From Dusk Till Dawn."

The screen, technically, jumps out at you in "Spy Kids", in "Spy Kids 2,"
especially. It really pops. And I know that you're...

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Oh, good.

BOGAEV: ...you're using this new technology, high-definition digital
cameras...

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah.

BOGAEV: ...to film the movie. They were customized for the shoot. How so?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Well, these cameras are so incredible. You can go customize
them yourself and give it their own look. And I have to say something real
quick, because people get confused. It's such a new medium that everything is
called digital, whether it's mini-DVD that you shoot at home or high-def, and
there's a big difference. It's almost like there's so many different types of
film. There's super-8, there's 16, there's 35, there's 70mm. The medium you
have at home, the little mini-DVD, that's kind of like super-8. This HD is
more like 70mm. I mean, it looks amazing. It looks better than traditional
film. It's much more colorful and feels a lot more like the old Technicolor
movies I grew up watching, and I really wanted that back.

I was really disappointed how "Spy Kids" looked on film, because I was there
on the sets, and the sets were so vibrant and so colorful, but it doesn't
translate to film. Film isn't as good as it used to be, and it just keeps
getting worse because of just the technology itself. But George Lucas turned
me on to these high-def cameras, and he's always 10, 20 years ahead of
everybody, so I thought, `He's Obi-Wan. I'm following him. I'm not going to
wait 10 years to figure this out. I'm going to buy two cameras, hot rod them,
you know, figure out how to give them a really neat look, and go shoot with
them,' and it's just a revelation. I mean, you can shoot so quickly, you can
be so creative, and then the finished image looks like what it was on the set,
very vibrant colors, especially--I like to use a lot of Latin colors, very
childlike colors, very, very poppy, and it's the look I was going for.

BOGAEV: How does the technology, the high-def technology, change the actual
way you go about shooting the scenes?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Amazingly--and we're just--because we've gotten used to it.
You don't realize how much you'll dislike film until something better comes
along. When you're shooting a movie, you're literally shooting blind, because
you don't see what you did till the next day when you get dailies back, when
you get to actually see the film, because you're on the set, you have a really
bad monitor, you can't judge color, lighting, performance at all. It's almost
like being a painter painting in the dark, and then you have to wait till the
next day to see, `Hmm, I wonder if I used the right color? I wonder if I even
hit the canvas?' And with high definition, you're seeing the best picture on
the set. What you're going to see at the premiere is actually already on the
set while you're doing it.

And that's not a luxury. It's actually a revelation, because when you're
shooting a film, you never really feel like you're getting what you want. Ask
any director; they'll tell you the finished movie is 40 percent to 60 percent
of the vision they had--well, because they were shooting blind. Now I call
this movie-making with the lights on. You can really see what you're doing.
You know when you've got a performance. You know when you've got it right.
You know when you've put the flag in the day's work, and it changes your
attitude completely. Instead of leaving the day wondering, `Did I even get
it? Was I even close?' now you leave--every day's Christmas on the set,
because the actors come over and they look at the monitor and they go, `Oh, my
God, we nailed that,' or `We could do even much better than that. Let's make
this or let's try that.' And it just elevates the art form in a way
that--when you see "Spy Kids 2," it came out much better than it has any right
to be for being a number two, because we were seeing what we were doing as we
were doing it, and we really felt we were making the best movie possible.

BOGAEV: Now when you made your first film, "El Mariachi," you made it on this
really nothing budget, $7,000.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Right.

BOGAEV: And half of it was money you made by hiring yourself out for medical
research. Now...

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. I was from a family of 10. I couldn't go borrow money
from them. I had to sell my body to science. It was just such a--and then
people kept saying, `Wow, $7,000. That's so cheap.' Cheap? When you're from
a family of 10, that's, like, all the money in the world. You know, I had to
be so careful. All the money just went to buying film. Film was so
expensive. That's what I really love about digital is that you can lit--I
could really go make that same movie now for five bucks.

BOGAEV: But was there a weird period early then in your career after "El
Mariachi" was such a hit and attracted attention of Columbia and other
Hollywood studios and they started to woo you? Did they just throw money at
you for hotels and restaurants and expense accounts in Hollywood?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: It's not that they'd throw money, that's just really the
business has built itself into. And I was from Texas, so it was really
strange. I was very broke, but they--you know, part of the budgets that they
have--and that's why studios have a lot of overhead, is when you bring someone
who's considered a talent, you--oh, they put you in a real nice hotel. You
know, you get what's called a per diem, which is a daily expense account.

And I was so poor and from a family of 10. I was thinking, `Wow, this is a
really great hotel I'm staying in. Could I just have the money instead that
you're spending, and I'll go check into a smaller hotel? In fact, I'll go
sleep in my office because it's a really nice office. It's got a shower and
everything.' So they said, `Well, no one's ever asked that before.' So they
gave me the money that they would normally spend on a nice hotel. They just
let me take it as a per-diem check. And I put that away, and I was able to
put my brother through school and buy a new car. And I just slept in my
office for a year.

It was pretty--when you come from a family of 10, the survival instinct never
goes away. But, you know, in Hollywood, they don't think anything twice of
that. `Oh, yeah, you're coming. We'll fly you up first class. We'll put you
in a nice hotel.' And I'm, like, `You know, I don't really need any of that.
It's really all about the work,' you know.

BOGAEV: Now critics called "El Mariachi" a quasi-spaghetti Western. And
"Desperado" was a kind of English-language version of "El Mariachi." And
you're filming now, or you're finishing now, the third in this series of
Westerns. It's due out next year.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah.

BOGAEV: And you also made a horror/comedy, written by and starring Quentin
Tarantino called "From Dusk Till Dawn." What's the connection between these
shoot 'em up films and blood and gore and sweet, you know, G-rated "Spy Kids"
family films? And the only thing that's obvious to me is that they're all
funny and they're all fantasies.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: They're all funny--yeah, they're all fantasies. I'm into
fantasy filmmaking. What happened was before "Mariachi" came out, all I did
was family comedies because, again, I was from such a big family. I would be
at home, and I was 12 making these little action movies, and all I had around
me were my little brothers and sisters to star in them. So I made them the
action stars. And they would always win contests. So I thought, `Wow, that's
kind of a winning combination: have kids that are really younger than you
would expect doing action and comedy,' and audiences of all ages loved it. So
I really thought that would be my big movie.

And when I had to make my first film for the Spanish video market, they only
wanted an action film, so I made "El Mariachi." But even that, I couldn't
take very seriously. So I made him a guitar player who becomes a hit man.
And then Columbia wanted an action movie, so I said, `Well, let's do
"Desperado,"' which, again, is still kind of comical, and if you look at it,
is very fantastical. It's a made-up Mexico. It's guys shooting missiles out
of their guitar cases. It really makes very little sense. But I had a good
time as a cartoonist making it.

And then when they offer me "From Dusk Till Dawn," that's even a bigger
cartoon of a movie. Very comical, again, a lot of gadgets and a lot of just
imagination overdrive in what's supposed to be a horror movie. You know, I
knew every day, `OK, I've got to do something horrific because that's the
audience,' but I couldn't help but be very kind of cartoony about it.

BOGAEV: Well...

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: And I was really just gaining experience to do my "Spy Kids"
movie, because I knew that was going to be the big one. I was really just
learning effects, learning how to make a movie myself in that arena so that I
could make it a very personalized movie like I had done with "Mariachi," which
really stripped down the process so that I would be free to create whatever I
wanted. And I was really just building up to do "Spy Kids."

BOGAEV: Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. His new family film, "Spy Kids 2," opens
in theaters tomorrow. We'll continue our conversation in the second half of
the show. I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

BOGAEV: Coming up, making the vampire movie "From Dusk Till Dawn," starring
George Clooney in his first feature film--we continue our conversation with
director Robert Rodriguez. Lloyd Schwartz reviews the new CD set "Elaine
Stritch At Large," and David Bianculli reviews the E! cable channel's new
reality show "The Anna Nicole Show."

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, and we're back with filmmaker
Robert Rodriguez. His new family film, "Spy Kids 2," opens tomorrow.
Rodriguez's first film, the Spanish-language Western "El Mariachi," is said to
be the cheapest hit feature film ever made, with a budget of just over $7,000.
His other films includes the first "Spy Kids," "Desperado," "The Faculty" and
"From Dusk Till Dawn."

Well, you know, I couldn't sleep one night, and I turned on the TV at about 2
AM. And next thing I know, I'm seeing these half-naked screaming vampire
women attacking bikers. And there's green goo flying everywhere, there's
buckets of blood and people are hitting each other with lopped off body parts.
And I'm thinking, `Who left the TV on the X-rated Sci-Fi Channel?' And then I
realize, `Wow, isn't that George Clooney? And there's Juliette Lewis. And
there's--Harvey Keitel is in this movie. Good God, this is supposed to be a
real movie.'

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: That's so funny. Quentin's biggest thrill was the fact that
he's hoping someone would watch it exactly the way you did, you know. His
only regret was that they give that away when the movie comes out that it's
two movies in one. But he said the way someone should see it is they should
just be watching it on cable, watching this very desperate-hours-type,
serious, you know, movie and then suddenly, you turn the page and it's this
wacky vampire film. And you're wondering, `What did I just drink? What
happened? What's going on?'

And that was actually George Clooney's first movie. He was still on "ER" at
that time, and I really thought he could be a big star. And I gave him his
first, you know, big break.

BOGAEV: So when you make that kind of horror-gore fest, do things get out of
hand? Does someone on the crew say, `Look, I can make blood spurt 20 feet, or
eyeballs pop out 20 feet' so you just let 'em?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: It's kind of a fun job in a way. It's really harder to make a
movie like that than something that I'm more inclined to do, like a "Spy
Kids"-type movie. You still have to be creative. I mean, I'd walk on the set
and, you know, I'm not a morning guy and you always have to shoot in the
mornings. So I get on the set and I'm thinking, `OK, here we go. We're going
to do another day. What are we doing today?' `Oh, well, at this point in the
script, it says we have to pull Tom Savini's head off and kick it around the
room.' `Oh, OK. Well, that sounds like fun. Let's do that.'

And it is kind of creative and fun in a different way 'cause you know it's for
a very limited audience. It's for the horror audience. So you got to kind of
come up with, `How am I going to make a horror movie when I'm not a horror
guy?' And so it is a challenge. It is--I'm much more comfortable making
these "Spy Kids" movies. And what's funny is just because the other movies
came out first, you think it's odd that I'm making a family film when really
everyone in my family thought it was odd I was making those other films. So
it was completely backwards. And if you actually go back and watch "Dusk Till
Dawn" and "Desperado," you really see the "Spy Kids" in all those movies.

BOGAEV: Well, we have a clip from "From Dusk Till Dawn." And in this scene,
George Clooney is--he plays this biker criminal who's dragged some hostages,
played Juliette Lewis and Harvey Keitel, to a biker bar, which turns out to be
a haven for creatures of the undead. And Clooney and everyone else are all
just now coming to grips with this strange turn of events.

(Soundbite of "From Dusk Till Dawn")

Mr. HARVEY KEITEL: (As Jacob Fuller) Does anybody know what's going on here?

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY: (As Seth Gecko) I know what's going on. We've got a
bunch of (censored) vampires out there trying to get in here and suck our
(censored) blood. And that's it, plain and simple. And I don't want to hear
anything about, `I don't believe in vampires,' because I don't (censored)
believe in vampires. But I believe in my own two eyes, and what I saw is
(censored) vampires. Now do we all agree that what we are dealing with is
vampires?

Ms. JULIETTE LEWIS: (As Kate Fuller) Yes.

Mr. CLOONEY: You, too, Preacher?

Mr. KEITEL: I don't believe in vampires, but I believe in what I saw.

Mr. CLOONEY: Good for you. All right. Now that we all agree that we're
dealing with vampires, what do we know about vampires? Crosses hurt vampires.
Do we have a cross?

Mr. KEITEL: In the motor home.

Mr. CLOONEY: In other words, no.

ERNEST LIU: (As Scott Fuller) Wait a second. I mean, just look around. We
got crosses all over the place. All you got to do is put two sticks together
and you got a cross.

Mr. TOM SAVINI: (As Sex Machine) Yeah, he's right. Peter Cushing does that
all the time.

Mr. CLOONEY: OK, I'll buy that. So we've got crosses covered. What else?

Mr. FRED WILLIAMSON: (As Frost): Wooden stakes in the heart been working
good so far. And garlic, sunlight, holy water.

Mr. SAVINI: I'm not sure. Doesn't silver have something to do with vampires?

LIU: That's werewolves.

Mr. SAVINI: I know silver bullets are werewolves, but I'm sure silver has
something to do with vampires.

Ms. LEWIS: Well, does anybody have any silver? OK. Then who cares?

Mr. KEITEL: Has anybody here read a real book about vampires, or are we just
remembering what some movie said? I mean, a real book.

Mr. SAVINI: You mean like a Time-Life book?

Mr. KEITEL: I take it the answer's no.

BOGAEV: A clip from my guest Robert Rodriguez's 1996 mock horror-road movie
"From Dusk Till Dawn."

So how did you even get away with making a movie that was literally two movies
in one, first, this very serious, dark, "Pulp Fiction"-like road movie, which
turns into a vampire fest?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: That's the great thing about Hollywood is that nobody wanted
to make this movie. Quentin had written--this was one of the first scripts
Quentin wrote. And everyone said, `Oh, my God, it's two movies in one. It
makes absolutely no sense. You'll never get this movie made.' And then he
made "Pulp Fiction," and suddenly everyone wanted to make this movie. There
was a huge bidding war for it because they go, `Oh, my God, it's great. It's
two movies in one.' Suddenly, its disadvantage became its advantage.

And it gave us creative freedom to do whatever we wanted because Quentin and I
both--we make movies very inexpensively, and that's the trick. If you're
given a chance to make your movie, it would make the most sense to try to get
as much money as you can from the studio to make the best movie, right?
Wrong. The more money you get, the more they're all over you questioning your
every decision. You almost, like, become the painter who keeps getting the
paint brush pulled out of his hand and they say, `Use red, not yellow,' you
know. `Why?' `I don't know, because you're spending so much money we want to
make sure you do it right,' and then it becomes wrong.

So our trick has always been use very little money, be very creative and then
you have the creative freedom to do whatever you want. So that's why I've
always kept my budgets lower so I can make a family film without having to
have people question your move. And the studios support that because if you
make the movie inexpensively, no matter what, it'll be profitable. "Dusk Till
Dawn" was very profitable 'cause it cost us $10 million, but we had the
freedom to just do something that could become a cult movie.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. His movie "Spy Kids 2"
opens this week. Rodriguez's other movies include "El Mariachi," "Desperado"
and "From Dusk Till Dawn."

So you made a lot of pretty violent movies early in your career, for one
reason or another, and now you've been doing the "Spy Kids" movies. Are you
concerned about the level of violence that you see in films and TV movies
meant for children?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: You know, I don't think they're ever really meant for
children. When I made those movies I, you know, naively just thought, `Well,
this is an R-rated movie. That means kids aren't going to see it,' and they
shouldn't see it. And I had so many parents come up to me and say, `Oh, my
kid loves your movie "Desperado."' And--`Oh, well, that's really cool. I
liked action movies when I was younger. How old is your kid?' And they go,
`Six.' I go, `Oh, well, he's really not supposed to be seeing that.'

So it made me want to make "Spy Kids" even more because I think--I know why
they like the movie. They like it because it's got action, it's got
adventure, but it wasn't made for them. So I really wanted to make a movie
that had all those things, but that any child could watch and an adult could
watch. And I found that challenge much more enticing and much more fun: to
broaden the audience.

I really wanted the movie to be rated G, because I love the idea of `general
audience' picture, meaning anyone, anywhere can pick it up, watch it and find
something entertaining. It's much more challenging to do. And when you're
challenged creatively, you can come up with better solutions. So I kind of
like working in that area now because it brings out the best in my creativity
and I don't have to worry about someone--you know, you don't feel like you
want to have to play parent to someone else's kid, but in a way, especially in
a family movie, if you're going to get into a child's dreams, you really have
the responsibility to put something wholesome in there because they're going
to watch the movie over and over again. So I have to take that on as a
responsibility now.

BOGAEV: Can we talk about toy tie-ins? I know that the last "Spy Kids"
movie--McDonald's picked it up, right?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, that was a really great thing for us, because there's
been a lot of really good children's films that didn't do well because they
didn't have--there's so much competition out there. If people don't know your
movie exists, they don't go see it because they think, `Oh, it must be a bad
movie,' for some reason, because no one's supporting it commercially. And I
knew it was important since my movie was not a remake of an old T--that's why
there are so many remakes of old TV shows or old cartoons or other movies,
because the studio needs to have that title recognition so an audience has
heard of it before and then they're more inclined to go see it in a world
that's so competitive.

What I needed was a tie-in because "Spy Kids"--no one had heard of "Spy Kids."
So I thought if we could get tied in to a McDonald's--which would be the
biggest thing of all--suddenly it makes it feel like a bigger movie, because
22 million people walk into a McDonald's every day. In the four weeks they're
showing your product, your toys or whatever, that's something, like, 600
million people who've been exposed to it. So it's--for a low-budget movie
like I had, it was the way to get people thinking, `This is a big movie.' And
I think that's why we opened up to, like, $30 million the first weekend even
though no one had known what "Spy Kids" was, because people thought, `Oh, this
must be a big family movie for all kinds of families. Lets go check it out.'

BOGAEV: I'm curious what kind of toys you buy for your boys and whether they
have guns?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: No guns in the house at all. I don't even like water pistols.
I don't--I'd like for them to get that idea--and it's such a strange thing
because we all grew up playing cowboys and Indians and this. You don't think
about it. It's very innocent play. But I guess as you get older, you just
get more conscientious about that. And also--and there's just so many better
ways to be creative. We play shark. They sit up on the couch and they play
music from "Jaws" and I hunt them down. I say, `You can't move. If you move,
I can smell that you're moving and I can attack you,' and they just love that
game.

We play hide-and-go seek. We play all the old--we play this game that they
love called mystery tour, where I wrap them in a blanket and I carry them
around the room. They have to imagine where they're being dropped off. And
I'll drop them off, like, in the bathtub or in a closet facing the wrong wall
or something. And that little bit of disorientation, they think that's more
fun than anything in the world. And as they get heavier, it gets harder and I
have to keep thinking of new places to drop them off. But it's a lot--I mean,
I just--I'm a big kid, you know. I've been doing this 34 years. I'm a
professional child. So I think of some really fun games for us to play. So,
yeah, there's no guns. And the play that we do is always that of empowerment
and creativity.

BOGAEV: Well, Robert Rodriguez, it was really fun talking to you today on
FRESH AIR.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Thank you so much. It's been great to come.

BOGAEV: Robert Rodriguez's new film, "Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams"
opens tomorrow. The third installment in his series which began with "El
Mariachi" and continued with "Desperado" is due out next year. It's called
"Once Upon a Time in Mexico."

Coming up, "Elaine Stritch At Large." This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New two-CD set "Elaine Stritch At Large"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

Elaine Stritch has been a Broadway legend for more than 50 years. This past
Broadway season, she had a much admired one-person show called "Elaine Stritch
At Large." Now DRG has released a two-CD set of a live performance of her
show. Our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has a review.

(Soundbite of "Elaine Stritch At Large")

Ms. ELAINE STRITCH (Actress): (Singing) There's no people like show people.
They smile when they are low. Good for them. Even with a turkey that you
know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold, still you wouldn't trade
it for a sack of gold. (Laughs)

(Soundbite of audience laughing)

Ms. STRITCH: Try me.

(Soundbite of audience laughing)

Ms. STRITCH: Do you have it with you? No, maybe you left it in the cab. Did
Did you maybe leave it in the cab? (Singing) If they think they told you, you
will not go far. That night you opened and there you are. Next day on your
dressing room they've hung a star--(Speaking) There's good news and there's
bad news. The good news: I have got a sensational acceptance speech for a
Tony. Bad news: I've had it for 45 years.

(Soundbite of audience laughing)

LLOYD SCHWARTZ reporting:

The good news: Elaine Stritch finally won her Tony Award for her one-woman
show. The bad news was that CBS cut her off in the middle of her sensational
acceptance speech. It was a classic Elaine Stritch moment, which her show is
full of. Could anyone have had a tougher time or tell a better anecdote about
it? Like her breathless story about understudying the indefatigable Ethel
Merman in Irving Berlin's "Call Me Madam" in New York while she was racing
back and forth to New Haven to do a show-stopping number in a revival of
Rodgers and Hart's "Pal Joey." Like the painfully ironic story about her love
affair with Ben Gazzara and not marrying him because, in her own words, `she
flipped over Rock Hudson.' `And,' she says, `we all know what a bum decision
that turned out to be.' And like all the stories she tells about her heavy
drinking.

There are good, gossipy stories involving Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Noel
Coward and Ethel Merman, complete with imitations. And a charming story about
how she got to do one song in the review "Angel in the Wings." This is the
hit song she introduced in 1947.

(Soundbite of "Elaine Stritch At Large")

Ms. STRITCH: (Singing) Each morning, a missionary advertised with neon signs.
He tells the native population that civilization is fine, and re-educate the
savages is to holler from a bongo tree. That civilization is the thing for me
to see. Bongo, bongo, bongo, I don't want to leave the Congo. Oh, no, no,
no, no, no. Bingo, bango, bongo, I so happy in the jungle. I refuse to go.
Don't want no bright lights, false teeth, doorbells, landlords. I make it
clear that no matter how the folks speak, I stay right here.

SCHWARTZ: Stritch's one-woman show is brilliantly constructed by John Lahr,
and reconstructed by Stritch herself. Lahr is The New Yorker's theater
critic. He's the son of the great Bert Lahr, the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard
of Oz," so he's no slouch when it comes to showbiz savvy. I like the way the
verses of the songs become the pegs for her stories.

I've been a fan of Elaine Stritch since I saw her in the original cast of
"Company" in 1970. Blowsy, cynical, she put across with lacerating irony
Steven Sondheim's great anthem to New York society women, the "Ladies Who
Lunch." There's an engrossing documentary about recording the original cast
album of "Company." On the first take, Stritch sings the "Ladies Who Lunch"
with the almost improvisatory inspiration that I remember from when I saw the
show. But Sondheim and the producers want a version that's closer to what's
strictly in the score; something more for the ages than for the moment. They
asked Stritch to do it again and again.

She's exhausted, strung out, in despair. Finally, they close up shop in the
wee hours of the morning without a satisfactory take. The version on the cast
album was made several days later. It's wonderful, but not as exciting as
that first take. So now 32 years later, in her own show, Stritch does what
she calls Steven Sondheim's three-act play her own way, and it's great.

(Soundbite of "Elaine Stritch At Large")

Ms. STRITCH: (Singing) And here's to the girls who just watch. Aren't they
the best? When they get depressed, it's a bottle of scotch plus a little
jest. Another chance to disapprove, another brilliant zinger. Another reason
not to move, another vodka stinger. I'll drink to that! So here's to the
girls on the go everybody tries. Look into their eyes and you'll see what
they know, everybody dies. A toast to that invincible bunch, the dinosaurs
surviving the crunch. Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch, everybody rise,
rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise, rise!

(Soundbite of audience applause)

SCHWARTZ: Stritch is, in fact, a very good singer. Her whiskey growl is
always on pitch just as her stories find the right emotional pitch. And her
sense of rhythm is both playful and impeccable. I didn't see the show, but
even on this album, Stritch comes through as a lively and loveable
personality; raucous, hilarious, deeply touching and completely honest.

BOGAEV: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix. He
reviewed the original cast album of "Elaine Stritch At Liberty."

Coming up, the new reality TV offering "The Anna Nicole Show." This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of "Elaine Stritch At Large"; music and audience laughter)

Ms. STRITCH: (Singing) It's the little things you do together, do together,
do together that make perfect relationships. Hobbies you pursue together,
savings you accrue together, looks you misconstrue together that make marriage
a joy. Mm-hmm.

First reading of "Company" in New York. `A semicircle of 14 classy actors all
gathered together to sing and say practically anything and everything to do
with life, love and the musical marital pursuit of happiness down in the
lounge of the Shubert Theatre.'

(Singing) It's the little things you share together, swear together, wear
together that make perfect relationships. The concerts you enjoy together,
neighbors you annoy together, children you destroy together that keep marriage
intact.

Off to Boston to open and fear set in. This was big time again and I was
scared. Aside from all the grueling physical, mental and emotional energy
that Michael Bennett in particular demanded from all of us, I must have
further exhausted myself trying to find somebody to stay up with me at night
after the show. Well, there's a little Judy Garland in all of us. Judy
Garland. She said to me one night--it was our closing night at The Palace--a
big party, big celebration. And Judy Garland and I were still at it at 8:00
in the morning. When she rose to her full height in that orange sequined
sheath with the slit up the side--it was her comeback dress, I called it--she
loved that. And she put out her hand and she said, (Imitating Judy Garland)
`Elaine, I never thought I'd say this, but goodnight.'

(Soundbite of applause and laughter; music)

Ms. STRITCH: Back to Boston, Fritz Hall(ph), "Company" manager, the best
ever...

BOGAEV: Coming up, the new reality TV offering "The Anna Nicole Show." This
is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Reality TV series "The Anna Nicole Show"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

The success of the MTV reality series "The Osbournes" earlier this year was so
unexpected and so substantial that almost every network is desperate for an
"Osbournes"-type show of its own. TV critic David Bianculli says they have no
idea how to duplicate that series, but that won't stop them from trying.

DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:

It's been two days since the premiere of "The Anna Nicole Show" on the E!
cable channel and I still haven't gotten over the experience. Watching it, it
turns out, is like being sprayed by a skunk. No matter what you do, the stink
stays with you for days.

It's not the only smelly show on TV these days either. Even NBC, a once proud
network that still offers such excellent shows as "The West Wing" and
"Friends," has turned itself into a carnival midway this summer. "Meet My
Folks," an ultratacky dating competition in which parents pimp out their
daughters to three drooling competing bachelors, has joined the same network's
equally repugnant "Fear Factor" and "Spy TV."

The real smell in the air, though, is desperation. The whole thing is about
money and pleasing advertisers. On commercial TV, it always has been and
always will be. But the equation is different now. When there were only
three or four broadcast networks, even the losers had a big enough piece of
the pie to make oodles of profit, and dramas and comedies were cheap enough to
produce to keep cranking them out. As long as the networks delivered so many
viewers to the advertisers, everybody was happy.

But now two different forces have upset the status quo. Advertisers now care
so much about demographics and reaching younger viewers that they won't pay as
much for shows with only mass appeal. And with successful dramas and comedies
costing so much to produce, networks are clearing hour after hour of
prime time for shows that cost less to make. No matter how much money was
given away on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," that show still cost nothing
compared to "ER." It's no wonder ABC ran "Millionaire" into the ground. It
was runaway greed, pure and simple.

And runaway greed is exactly what is driving these copycat "Osbourne" shows
and all these "Survivor" clones. "The Osbournes" worked for the same reason
the first "Survivor" did: there was nothing like it on TV, it felt fresh and
unpredictable and it was fun to watch. So many young people watched "The
Osbournes" each week that few other programs, on cable or broadcast TV, could
match it. And it was cheaper to make an entire season of "The Osbournes" than
one episode of, say, "The Drew Carey Show."

But what happens if a network executive cares only about getting young viewers
to watch and doing it as cheaply as possible? What happens is "Fear Factor"
and "Meet My Folks." And what happens most of all is "The Anna Nicole Show."
Here's a show in which the central focus--Anna Nicole Smith--is a woman famous
for being famous. A former stripper who married a very old billionaire,
became a Playboy Playmate and continues to contest his will hoping to inherit
a settlement of more than $80 million. In the meantime, she's surrounded by
an assistant, a poodle, a camera-shy son--good for him--and a personal
attorney who not only advised her to do this show, but who appears as a
co-star. He's the kind of guy who gives lawyers a bad name.

"The Anna Nicole Show" isn't laughing with her; it's laughing at her. She's
photographed in the most unflattering clothing and positions and situations,
all of which may be unavoidable. Half the time, her voice is so slurred it
almost needs subtitles, and she admits to being steadily medicated. Even
looking for a house to rent, as she does in the premiere episode, becomes a
Fellini-esque experience, but without the artistry.

Instead, we have a dog named Sugar Pie who's afraid of the backyard view of
one house in the hills, and Anna's female personal assistance trying to
translate her employer's actions and desires into English, and a climb into
the car with such an entourage of hangers-ons, puppies and cameramen that
Anna's lawyer repeats a curious remark from some neighborhood kids all
packaged by E! into a mind-numbing TV sequence.

(Soundbite of "The Anna Nicole Show")

Ms. ANNA NICOLE SMITH (Former Model): Oh, there's no pool. Whoa, Sugar Pie!

Unidentified Man #1: ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #2: Sugar Pie, stay.

Ms. SMITH: This is kind of scary for Sugar Pie.

Unidentified Woman: The thing with Anna--she knows what she likes. And if
she doesn't like something, she's going to tell you. This is not it. She's
not going to settle for a house--move into a house that she's not happy with.

Ms. SMITH: Not this time.

Unidentified Man #1: ...(Unintelligible) is huge and you have a nice view.

Ms. SMITH: This one's too small.

(Soundbite of car door shutting; car buzzer)

Ms. SMITH: Want me to drive?

Unidentified Man #3: Why don't you sit on the other side? I'll teach you how
to drive.

Ms. SMITH: No, show me. I have to learn.

Unidentified Man #2: Hey, some kids just pulled up and asked if this was a
porno.

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, I'm doing a porno movie. And I've got--let me see--I'm
doing three--two girls and--one, two, three, four, five--six guys. I'm doing
a porno with seven guys and two girls and a dog.

Unidentified Man #2: Let's not forget the car.

Unidentified Man #3: Oh, oh, that's not fair.

Ms. SMITH: Some porno. Whoo-hoo!

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group of Singers: (Singing) Anna, Anna, fabulous Anna, Anna
Nicole. You're so outrageous.

BIANCULLI: The way this show is packaged Anna Nicole Smith isn't outrageous;
she's pathetic. And so is this bottom-of-the-barrel piece of TV trash no
matter how many young eyeballs it brings to the tube. "The Anna Nicole Show"
doesn't need viewers; it needs an intervention.

BOGAEV: David Bianculli is TV critic for The New York Daily News.

(Credits)

BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Robert Rodriguez discusses his career and his latest
film, "Spy Kids 2"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

Robert Rodriguez made his name as a filmmaker with a string of movies so
violent that one of them was banned by censors in Ireland. Who could have
predicted that the man behind the action pictures "El Mariachi," "Desperado"
and the mock horror films "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "The Faculty" would be
where he is now, the writer, director and producer of the gentle, imaginative
family films "Spy Kids" and "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams," which
opens in theaters tomorrow?

But Rodriguez's career doesn't follow any of the usual Hollywood rules. He
financed his first film, "El Mariachi," with $7,000 mainly earned by hiring
himself out as a subject for medical experiments, and he's making the "Spy
Kids" movies from his home studio in Austin, Texas. The "Spy Kids" are Carmen
and Juni Cortez, who discover that their square parents, played by Antonio
Banderas and Carla Gugino, are really ultra-hip secret agents. The kids then
become small super-spies themselves. Here they are, played by Alexa Vega and
Daryl Sabara, in this scene from "Spy Kids 2." They're being briefed on their
new spy gadgets by Machete, their uncle, played by Danny Trejo.

(Soundbite from "Spy Kids 2")

Mr. DANNY TREJO: (As Machete): I brought you all new gadgets. Check it
out--the very latest spy watch: cell phone, Internet access, satellite TV,
you name it. That baby'll do everything but tell you what time it is.

DARYL SABARA: (As Juni) It doesn't tell time?

Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) There was no more room for the clock.

ALEXA VARGA: (As Carmen) Are you sure these are new? We can't be running
around with outdated equipment.

Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) I'm going to give you the one gadget you should
always carry.

VARGA: (As Carmen) A rubber band?

Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) It's a Machete Elastic Wonder.

VARGA: (As Carmen) It's a rubber band.

Mr. TREJO: (As Machete) Yeah, but it's also the world's greatest gadget, 999
uses.

SABARA: (As Juni) Use number one: a stylish bracelet.

VARGA: (As Carmen) Use number two.

(Soundbite of rubber band snapping)

SABARA: Ahh!

BOGAEV: Robert Rodriguez, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ (Filmmaker): It's great to be back after, I think, 10
years.

BOGAEV: You know, "Spy Kids 2" has the greatest gadgets in it. There's a
little personal robot that looks like a cootie bug and a huge magnetic
aircraft which sucks up bad guys, and I like that all-purpose silver ponytail
holder, and it seemed to be kind of a metaphor for your approach to a somewhat
big-budget film with a lot of special effects, that in the end, nothing beats
the simplest solutions.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: The simplest solutions, and just sort of the low-tech in a
high-tech world solutions, you know, always having to be resourceful, and
creativity and imagination is always more important than technology and
technique. I wanted to use those two metaphors, and really, methodology ends
up becoming part of the thematic material. I really like using lower budgets,
and instead of having money to solve creative problems on the set, you just
use your creativity, and that's what makes the movie so much more creative and
more fun. And it was really essential for a movie like "Spy Kids" to feel
more creative, like a finger painting, than just big and expensive, like a big
movie usually does.

BOGAEV: Now that must have contributed to the plot line, that the Spy Kids
land on an island where no gadgets work. Even though they have the newest and
the latest and the best gadgets of all, they have to end up using their heads
to solve the case, and it impressed me as a comment on kids and gear and
labels and how technology-dependent kids are.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yes, adults as well, but yeah, especially kids. My children,
as young as they are--I have little boys under the age of six--and they're so
technologically savvy. And I live a little ways out of Austin, to where even
if a small storm comes by, all our power goes out for at least a day, and it's
always a shock to all of us how technologically dependent we are. So I really
wanted to play with the idea of loading the kids up with all the latest,
coolest gadgets and then stripping that away from them midway through the
movie, where they have to go on a mission where they have to use their heads,
and they've already forgotten how to do that. They don't even know how to tie
their shoes anymore, because it used to be automatic.

BOGAEV: So where'd the idea for a movie about child spies come from?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I grew up in a family of 10 kids, and my parents did such an
incredible job raising us and giving us these simple wisdoms and ideas that
really helped me growing into being an adult, and I put a lot of that in the
movie. I really believe all that's good really starts in the home, with the
family, and them spreads out from there.

BOGAEV: Now is it true--I read somewhere that you had an uncle, Gregorio, who
was an undercover agent with the FBI?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: My Uncle Gregorio was a special agent in the FBI. That's
what it said on his badge, big heavy leather badge. He'd show us that when we
were little, and I would think, `Oh, my gosh, I want to be'--you know, I
thought special agent meant secret agent, so I thought he had gadgets. And he
could never tell us what he could do, because he was always top secret, so we
just imagined him going on all these adventures. So I really did base the
movie on my own family--my brother Juni, my sister Carmen, my grandfather
Valentin(ph)--and you know, Ricardo Montalban plays. I just made them spies.

BOGAEV: Did you have family members working on the movies? Because you've
employed a number of people from your family and certainly your friends in a
lot of your films.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Oh, yeah. My wife of almost 14 years now has always produced
my movies. She's the producer. My three little kids were stunt kids in the
movie, training on wires and flying around. I tell my stunt coordinator, who
also has kids, `So you know there's only one way we're going to make sure kids
don't get hurt making this movie, is if the kids doing the stunts are our own
kids, because for sure nothing's going to happen to them.' So our own
children were doing the stunts.

And my sisters--two of my five sisters used to torture us growing up by
watching movies like "The Turning Point," and Mikhail Baryshnikov and they
were all into ballet, and so there's a ballet sequence in this movie that's
really funny. And so I called them up and said, `All those ballet lessons I
had to drive you to when you were little? They're finally paying off. You
guys are choreographing the ballet sequence.'

BOGAEV: Payback.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: So, yeah, my sisters choreographed it, and it came out
fantastic. They've been training all their lives for this, so it's been
great.

BOGAEV: What stunts did your kids do in the movie?

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: There are some funny stunts right there at the beginning.
There's a big banquet scene, and there's a lot of Spy Kids and they're all
doing--battling and fighting. You'll see one of my sons, he's flying above
all the other ones on wires. You don't see the wires, but he's holding these
two little lit-up propellers. And then he also shows up a few seconds later
tackling one of the Magna Men all the way to the ground and, you know,
knocking him in the back. And then a little tiny little guy, my little
three-year-old, comes over, looking like a little Mafia guy because he's got a
little belly poking out, he comes over and gives him a real kick in the ribs,
and there's a big sound effect, and he gets a huge laugh from the audience.
So my son gets a big kick out of that, because he's three years old and and
he's coming over to put his licks in, too, because they're beating up the bad
guys. And so there's some, you know, good physical sort of knocking around
that had to be done, you know, so I used my own children so that it would be
safe and I would make sure that it was safe.

BOGAEV: Well, there are a ton of visual effects in this movie...

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. There's over a thousand.

BOGAEV: ...in both the "Spy Kids" movies. Over a th--how does that compare
to other...

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, over a thousand.

BOGAEV: ...big-budget movies like, say, "Inspector Gadget" or some of the
others we saw ...(unintelligible).

Mr. RODRIGUEZ: I don't know how many are in that, but our movies cost a
fraction of the cost of, say, like a "Stuart Little," which--I don't really
know the true budget, but what I've heard is it's like $120 million. This one
cost 38, because I make it at home. I do a lot of the jobs myself, our crew
is all that way also and we just use creativity instead of--I get to make my
own budgets, and the studio always wants to give me--it's always the reverse.
The studio says, `Are you sure you don't want more money? We'll give you $60
million.' The money's not going to make it good. The money's not going to
make it better or more creative. And the more you're limited by money and by
resources, the mor

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