In 2001, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez launched the Spy Kids film franchise, a live-action, gadget-filled comedy adventure where kids became spies and families were the heroes. Now 10 years later, with new spies and cool new gadgets, the latest installment in the film franchise takes things to a whole new level with 4D Aromascope, making the moviegoing experience that much more interactive for audiences. This time around, the film focuses on former secret agent Marissa Cortez Wilson (Jessica Alba), the younger sister of Gregorio Cortez (Antonio Banderas), whose spy-hunting television reporter husband (Joel McHale) knows nothing about her past. When the maniacal Timekeeper (Jeremy Piven) threatens to take over the planet, Marissa is called back into action and her stepkids, Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook), are forced to put their bickering aside and join together, as a family, to help their stepmom save the world.
At the press day for Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez talked about being able to relate to the notion of wanting to stop time to be with your family, how Jessica Alba being a new mom inspired both her character and the story itself, why he wanted to add a fourth dimension to the experience of seeing the film, and that he didn’t tell any of the actors about his idea for the Aromascope. He also talked about why he feels the need to direct the sequels to his films, and how they’re trying to finish the Sin City 2 script so that they can get the cast attached and start filming. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Oh, completely! One of the reasons to do another Spy Kids was that it felt relevant to me. In the tradition of these movies, the spy kids never go and beat the bad guy. The bad guy is always just someone who is misguided and needs to be taught something, and the kids teach him something and learn something too. Their innocence comes through, and they teach him something that he didn’t know before. This was the super-villain with family values. He just wants to stop time for purely family reasons, and I completely identify with that. Even when you spend a lot of time with your family, like I do, it doesn’t feel like enough when you see them grow so much and you know that the time you have with them is very short.
How did Jessica Alba inspire her role in the film?
RODRIGUEZ: She showed up to the set of Machete with her baby and the diaper exploded. She was all dressed up with the baby, and seeing the juxtaposition of the two, I could see it. She almost looked like a spy in the clothes she had on. She was in a black outfit with heels, and I made her a spy. I told her, “You should be the mom in the new Spy Kids series. That would be a great way to introduce a new family, and have the baby on the missions because you couldn’t find a sitter.” She said, “That would be great, but I’m too young to have kids the ages they were in the other films, so you’d have to make them stepkids.” And I said, “That’s even better! You can be hiding this secret from them.” Right there on the set, we came up with the basic story. I said, “You’re harboring this secret from them, and they can feel it. Kids are very sensitive. They know you’re lying to them. You’re not telling them the whole truth, so they don’t trust you and they don’t like you as a stepmom. But, through the mission, they’re going to find what family is all about.” So, I started writing it, and wrote it on the set.
RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. You should smell it right away. The idea is that you don’t even have to scratch it. You just rub it, and it comes off. With the old scratch-and-sniff, everything smelled like batteries after two smells. This was much better. I was very pleased to discover that the technology has gotten much better. It’s amazing! It doesn’t have that old, give-you-a-headache alkaline smell that the old ones had. The way they make it is a whole process. They make it ahead of time, knowing that the smells get stronger as they sit. They’ve been adding more activators in it.
Was it an after-thought, or was it integral to your writing of the film?
RODRIGUEZ: I wrote it all in, but I didn’t tell any of the actors. None of the actors knew why they were saying, “What’s that smell?” I didn’t tell anybody but the studio chief, Bob Weinstein. I said, “You don’t have to commit to it now, but I’m shooting this with Smell-o-Vision.” Spy Kids was such a scrappily innovative series, for its time. We started shooting digital on the second one, which made me figure out that I could probably bring 3D back, by shooting two cameras together. I did the third one in 3D, which was the first 3D movie in 20 years, and that was the biggest of the Spy Kids movies. That really started this resurgence of 3D, eight years ago. So, to do a fourth one, we had to just keep raising the bar against ourselves. So many movies now are 3D that we couldn’t just come out in 3D. The next one will have to be in 5D. It was pretty fun to think of that.
It was integrated enough into the story where it didn’t get in the way, so if I were to drop it at the last minute, you would never know, but it’s a fun addition. My kids, and kids in general, are so much into interactive gaming that when they watch a movie now, it just feels so passive to them. They’re like, “What, we have to sit for two hours and watch a movie?” By bridging the gap and making it more interactive, where it’s like they’re actually playing a game, they really go crazy. My kids just wanted to keep trying it, over and over again, when we were testing it out. And, the smellier the better. They were like, “It’s gotta stink!” They wanted it just to reek. It’s so funny, how kids are. But, it works really well. We tested it and the kids would say, “It really felt like we were closer to the movie experience because we were smelling the same thing the characters were.” That’s what you want from an extra dimension. You want to be brought even closer to the movie. The Spy Kids movies are very empowering to children, and they feel very close to the characters and dream about being spies. Anything that draws them closer to that, as an experience, makes that identification bond more.
RODRIGUEZ: I try to get them in the business, as much as possible, so that they will not want to be a part of it at all later. I want them to do something real with their lives. Hopefully, they’ll be sick of it. My second son really likes it a lot. We’ll see.
As one of the few filmmakers who directs the sequels to his films, what compels you to return to characters, whereas a lot of filmmakers tend to move on to something else?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, very few people have actually created those characters and created the stories. You’re a lot closer to them when you’ve actually made them up. There are a lot of directors who really are directors-for-hire. Not in a bad way, but they’re brought a script and they say, “Okay, I’ll go direct that.” There are not many filmmakers that I can think of – maybe only George Lucas – who have also done several series, but he didn’t direct all the films in the Indiana Jones series and the Star Wars series. I have the Mariachi series, the Spy Kids series and now the Machete series.
When you create a series yourself, you’re much closer to it and you feel like you have a vision for it and really need to do it yourself because so much of it is in the details. If it was something where it was a script that was brought to me, I wouldn’t feel like I needed to direct each one of those. I think someone else’s vision would be good for it, going all the way through. But, this is so much a part of who I am. Coming from a family of 10 kids, it’s based on my family and it’s named after my siblings. For anybody to get that right, they would have had to have lived in the same household. That’s why my brother and sister work on the movies with me.
Now that you’ve said it’s a very real possibility, when do you think the Sin City sequel will happen?
RODRIGUEZ: We’re just trying to finish the script, and then we can start shooting. We already have the money for it and we’re ready to go. There’s no cast attached yet. We can’t attach them until we have a script. If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage.
RODRIGUEZ: I don’t know what will actually be next because it’s all coming to a head, at the same time. It might be Machete 2 or Sin City 2, or something else completely. We’ll see.
Are you still not in the Director’s Guild?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I’m still not in the Director’s Guild.
Has that had any impact on you, in terms of your career?
RODRIGUEZ: Well, I’ll never get nominated for any awards, but I don’t think I was going that route, anyway. You can still work with unions. I’m in all the other unions because I’m the cinematographer and the editor. I have all these union cards. I’m not in the Writer’s Guild or the Director’s Guild because they don’t like hyphenates. They get mad at each other, all the time. There’s too much in-fighting. I live in Texas, so it doesn’t apply to me. I left the Writer’s Guild even longer ago, after Spy Kids. Rather than them having to change their rules for me, being such an oddball, I thought I should probably just go play in a different sandbox. If I did a big studio movie, I might have to join, or at least it would be under the rules that they have for personnel and credits, but I haven’t had to join.
As far as the business itself, has a lot changed since you started making films?
RODRIGUEZ: It was a very different time, when I came in. I came in right at the beginning of the independent wave, and that’s now gone away. I don’t even know what the next wave is. It’s not as clearly defined. That was very defined by very scrappy, very budget conscious filmmakers, who were doing things, for the first time, for no money. El Mariachi was the first really low-budget movie that came out and got a lot of attention, got other people making movies and started a whole craze.
What do you see as being next in film?
RODRIGUEZ: There’s so much stuff that keeps coming out, on a monthly basis, that you just want to get your hands on it and see what you can do with it, storytelling wise, to push the envelope more. There are so many technical companies that are so eager to get your opinion on it, so that they can cater to your needs. That was harder to do earlier, but now it’s much easier.
What are you doing with Quick Draw Productions right now?
RODRIGUEZ: Quick Draw is my new company, which is something where we can not just write and create the material, but we can develop it, we can finance the movies themselves and pretty much make the whole thing. Then, we go to a distributor, like a studio, to put it out. Eventually, we’ll be doing our own distribution as well.
Do you have an active slate?
RODRIGUEZ: Fire and Ice is one of them, we’re doing another Machete film, and we’re doing an animated film as well.