The El Rey Network is an English-language, general entertainment network, born out of the mind of prolific feature filmmaker, Robert Rodriguez, who is assembling top talent that is unprecedented for a such a new network. As his first original series, Rodriguez has adapted his hit movie From Dusk Till Dawn into a TV series that stars Don Johnson, DJ Cotrona, Wilmer Valderrama, Robert Patrick, Adrianne Palicki, Jake Busey, Lane Garrison and Zane Holtz.
During this recent interview to promote both the network and the premiere of the show, Robert Rodriguez talked about the genesis of this new network, the challenges of adapting the cult classic From Dusk Till Dawn movie into a TV series, the types of ideas that he’s getting to explore in the series that he couldn’t explore in the film, how important casting was, that these will be nasty vampires different from what we’ve seen before, how technological advances are allowing him to watch the shooting live, even when he can’t be on set, what it’s been like to revisit the worlds of both From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City, whether he’d like to turn any of his other properties into TV shows, and what people can expect from the Roberto Orci original series Matador when it premieres. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: First, the opportunity came to me and I’ve always liked the medium of television. I never really got into television because I’ve had lot of creative freedom in the movie business. When you make a film, you know when it’s coming out, you know how it’s coming out, you know your distributor, and you know how you’re going to put it out. The process of television seems so strange. I would see friends go work in TV and pour their life into a project, only to get a pilot finally go, and then the pilot might not get picked up, or they got a series going and it might be cancelled because it was put on the wrong night. You just had a real lack of control over how things were done, or how things were put out, and I wasn’t that enthused to go put that much work into something that might not happen. So, I steered away from TV until the El Rey opportunity came up.
A friend of mine, John Fogelman, told me about how he had started a network up, and that he thought he could do it again. He did the new network The Hub, with this opportunity at Comcast, when they were giving away independent owned and operated networks to minority owners at Comcast. And I had this flash of an idea to do the El Rey Network as a Hispanic-English language network, a lot like the movies I’ve been doing. With Desperado, Spy Kids, Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn and Sin City, you never think of them as being Hispanic, yet they are Hispanic films. But, they’re for everybody. They have universal themes and stories, to where you don’t even realize you’re watching something that’s considered Hispanic.
So, I wanted to have a network that was the same way, and find other Latin filmmakers to be able to just make really cool shows that appeal to everybody, but have more an eye towards diversity. The United States has 110 English-language networks, 10 of which are African American, but there is not one English-language Hispanic network, even though it’s the largest minority group. So, I thought, “What a cool way to do a network that’s for everybody, yet fulfills that need, at the same time?” I have five kids who live and breathe in English, but they don’t have anything on television that represents who they are, in this country. I thought there was a real need to do it, and that it was an opportunity to do really cool programming and have your own distribution channel.
As a filmmaker, even if you make TV, you’re only a content provider. You have to go through a distributor, like a network or a movie distributor, to get people to see your product. But, what if you owned your own distribution channel? That would give you a lot of freedom to be able to allow a lot more voices and filmmakers to come and tell stories directly to their audience because you’d have a direct pipeline to that audience. That’s a huge difference between being just a filmmaker, and being someone who has a network to be able to communicate to your audience directly without any interference. You’re right to the audience themselves. So for that reason, I really jumped at doing it. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to own your television network and create it from the ground up to be different from anything that Hollywood was doing.
Have there been any special challenges, in taking this cult classic film and adapting it to be a TV show? And was there anything you were looking to do in the TV format that you haven’t been able to do in film?
RODRIGUEZ: I was looking forward to the challenge of it. Someone had actually asked about doing From Dusk Till Dawn before I had the network, and I said, “No, Quentin and I control the rights to it. We really wouldn’t want to do it for television, unless at least one of us was heavily involved.” And I didn’t myself getting into television, at that time. But then, I thought of a way to do. The whole season takes place from dusk until dawn, and we retold the original story with the Gecko brothers and Santanico. In the original film, when I first read the script, it didn’t really take Mexico into account, so I added into the original movie, things that I researched about Aztec cultures and mythologies. I found a blood cult that worships snakes and I included that in the film. And the last shot of the hinted at a larger mythology.
So, I always thought that was a cool idea that we didn’t get to explore further in the film because it just wasn’t written that way, but I left it there, just to tickle people’s imagination about what it could be. And now, years and years later, when I have the El Rey Network, I thought that would be a great first show to do that would be a known title to lead people to the network and show them what the network was about, but also give a chance to re-explore some of those ideas that I had researched, way back in the first film, and expand Quentin’s story to include new characters, new trajectories and new storylines for the original characters, and really build that mythology up more with the Santanico cult, so that we could follow that in more seasons, later on.
So, the challenge was really finding a new writing team, and me writing the original script to the first episode to show how it would be expanded, so that they could emulate that style for other episodes. It was just a lot of fun. Quentin writes the best characters, so to take those characters and expand on them and see where else they could have gone or come from, was really, really exciting and fun to work with. That’s what drew a lot of our cast, as well was just getting the chance to play Quentin Tarantino characters in a television series, which has never been done before.
How challenging was the casting of this show?
RODRIGUEZ: The important thing was casting. I truly believed that, if I didn’t find the right cast, it wasn’t worth doing because it would be compared so directly to the film. But, I always believed things would work out, somehow. Everything that is supposed to happen will happen. So, we hoped that the people that we needed were out there. I found DJ Cotrona right away. He was my first and only choice for the Seth Gecko, George Clooney role. He’s a lot like Clooney, in that he was on the brink of being a star. He’s been given a lot of chances on movies that didn’t go. He was going to be the guy, and then the projects didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, like financing and such. So, it was a really ripe opportunity to get somebody just before they became a big star. And he always loved the original film.
Once we had him and Don Johnson secured, playing Earl McGraw, the rest was easy. Robert Patrick is great for Harvey Keitel’s character. Zane Holtz is awesome as Richie. We got Wilmer Valderrama, who is just bonkers awesome in this, to take the Cheech Marin role. We got a really fantastic cast to rival the original. To fill the shoes of Salma Hayek, we saw probably 50 or 60 girls until we found her, and she couldn’t be more perfect. I think things just unfold the way they’re supposed to. People come to you at the right time. It’s a little nerve-wracking, at first, because you start casting it and it’s going so perfectly that you don’t want to drop the ball with one character.
When we finally get to encounter the vampires, are they going to be nasty vampires?
RODRIGUEZ: They will be, but it’s a lot different than you expect. We got to really dive into the mythology of these vampires that we’re creating here, and they have some unique differences to what was there before. I think it’s much more cohesive. And the make-up from KNB and Greg Nicotero, who does The Walking Dead, is just technology different than in the old days. Their work is just stellar. I was really captivated, and I was the one holding the camera. It was really awesome. I think people will be really thrilled by the advances that have happened, with all of the effects.
As an independent filmmaker, how important is technology to how you’re doing your TV show? What are you doing differently with TV, as opposed to film?
RODRIGUEZ: I love technology. I love applying technology to how I work. It always enhances the methodology. We’re really always quick to jump on anything new. Having a studio in Austin makes you always think differently and outside of the box, and we always like to try to fold in technology. With the methods we use, we’re able to get a lot more money on the screen. Even though our budgets are about the same as other networks, it looks like a lot more money because of how we shoot. I was already shooting pretty fast on my films, so the television series feels around the same speed as what we were already doing. We’re getting a lot of quality with the same crew.
One of the technological advances I’m using right now is that I can actually monitor what they’re shooting on set in Austin while I’m in New York. There’s a program I put together, over the holidays, so that I can watch the A camera and B camera filming on set, even when I’m not there. I have a guest director, but I can still help support them. If an actor wants me to look at a performance, I can watch it while they’re shooting, and then text them any comments. It’s like getting to be on the set all the time, even when I’m not on the set. I don’t know of anyone else who has that. I tried doing something like that five years ago, and it worked. So, I put together some modems and some equipment, and I bought some equipment, and now I have From Dusk Till Dawn on my phone, where I can watch the live shooting, anytime that they’re shooting. It’s really cool.
With Sin City 2 coming out later this year, and this television series, you’re diving back into two previous properties. What’s it like, years later, to go back and look at those properties again, and expand on them?
RODRIGUEZ: I always forget that it’s been that long since the last Sin City. It’s been almost 10 years. It still feels so fresh in my mind, and since we were always working on it, it didn’t feel like that much time had passed. From Dusk Till Dawn was different. I haven’t been working on that, at all. I never really thought that was going to come back as a television series, but I always knew I was going to make another Sin City, so there was a little pressure in my mind, as far as how we were going to approach it. I knew we would shoot it in 3D, for instance. I knew we were going to adapt certain books and come up with new storylines. But, it was still a real thrill to go back into that world, to shoot on green screen again and have the actors back.
The amazing thing was the actors. The actors were really great in the first film, but that was the first green screen movie any of them had done. It was really new, back then. Nobody was really shooting green screen movies, at all, and they still did a fantastic job. But this time, they came back now knowing what the result was from the first film, and knowing what it was all about, and everybody just gave even better, more stellar performances. It was really cool to see that difference, from the first film to the second film.
From Dusk Till Dawn is cool. I went back into my old archives and found original artwork that I had done, back at the time, and original drawings that I’d forgotten about, and I dug up all of my old notes and old versions of the script. I found a bunch of handwritten script pages that Quentin had written, that we never shot. It was really awesome to go back into the archives and unearth some of the stuff we had done back then, that never made it into the film, and adapt it for this new version. The other thing that really hit me was, when I was on the bar set, which was a recreation of the original bar, that was like a time machine. There were several people in my crew that also worked on the original movie, and it really felt like we had gone back in time. It was quite a jolt to be there again, doing it again, but in a different way, and bringing all the experience that we’ve had since the first film, to enhance this new experience. Most people don’t get that experience in their careers.
If this show does well, which it’s likely to do, what are the chances that you’ll want to turn some of your other movie franchises into TV shows?
RODRIGUEZ: That could happen. The reason we chose From Dusk Till Dawn was because I didn’t think it was good idea to do an original show that no one has heard about and premiere it on a new network that no one has heard about. I thought it would really help us along better and get people to really know what El Rey was, if the first show was a title that everyone recognized, and that people would seek out because they were familiar with it. The second show we’re doing is Matador, from Bob Orci. That’s an original show. The third show might also be an original. We haven’t quite decided or announced which one that will be. It’s possible that it could also be an adaptation, but I’m into the idea of doing some more original work. And if we have more people watching the network by then, that’s completely doable. We wouldn’t have to adapt something.
What can you say about Matador?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I was looking for shows to do right after From Dusk Till Dawn, and Bob Orci was somebody I had been friends with and we had talked about working together before, in some capacity. And he told me he had a show idea that he’d always wanted to do, about a secret agent who was a soccer player by day, as his cover. So, we talked about it, the characters, where the art would go, and how he would do it in 13 episodes. It just sounded really, really cool. It’s a different and unique take on a spy show. So, I gave him 13 episodes for guaranteed primetime and a budget for each episode, and he’s going to start pretty soon. It’s exciting to bet on somebody like that, with an extreme talent. Sleepy Hollow is doing really well, and he’s a great guy.
From Dusk Till Dawn premieres on the El Rey Network on March 11th.