NYCC 2015 Interview: Robert Rodriguez Talks ‘From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series’

In 1996, director Robert Rodriguez took audiences on a vampiric adventure unlike any other. The tongue in cheek horror/action spectacle ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ was a film that garnered a cult following and basically put Rodriguez on the genre map. Now in season 2 of the ‘Dawn’ series, we see a new side to the film’s characters and Rodriguez’s unique filmmaking style. Rodriguez was kind enough to sit down with me at New York Comic Con to discuss the El Rey series and the direction in which it is headed. Here’s how that interview went:

So what was your creative process going into – because it was a very different sort of ensemble kind of split up between, you know, everyone’s separated, but they’re in different groups and they have different motives. What was the kind of process like?

Well, it was fun because the whole reason we did season 1 the way we did, remaking the film, was to set it up in a way that we could have sequels of seasons because if we had just started the first season taking off where the movie had left off, most of those guys were dead, so we had to keep some people alive to come up with a deeper mythology, sort of build the groundwork, so I thought, let’s just remake the story of the film in season 1 in a way that surprises people, that expands the storyline, and when you think one thing is going to happen like in the movie, it doesn’t. It goes a different way. We just set the stage so that in season 2, we can really start the story, so now we’re really starting the story. It almost feels like a real sequel to the film because you see Seth and Kate together, you see the brothers are split up. One of the brothers is still alive when in the original film, he died, and new characters and everything that they’re going for, and we found a lot of parallels between Mayan mythology and these cults and the crime world. So we’ve been putting together a crime world with a vampire world. Our special vampires are called Culebras. I really just wanted to tell a story that just set everybody on a new path and that you would never know what’s going to happen next, and I just directed the tenth episode. We’re going to show seven minutes today. It’s my favorite episode of all the episodes, a real blow-out. I knew we needed to end the season on a real bang, and it’s awesome, so, can’t wait.

We got access to, like, 8 and 9, and I’m waiting for episode 10 to come out.

10 will have you screaming because it so pays off everything so well.

I’m screaming right now!

It feels like a feature. Well, there are some cliffhangers. You definitely want to come back for more, but yeah, the writers after they saw my episode, they said, “That’s my favorite episode of both seasons.” It’s like, good, we were trying to top the snake dance and all that, and it’s very, very, very awesome.

So are you setting up episode 10 for the season 3 villain?

We’re going to hint towards somebody that might be, but as these things work, we have a kind of idea of where we want to go, so it’s really fun to discover that when we actually start writing the third season. Some of those ideas we have always get bigger and better. It’s kind of the fun of doing a season. You don’t want to lock yourself into something early because you discover a lot during the making of a season. It’s good to have a road map, a mental road map, but you want to have a lot of room to explore and to take full advantage of the character that is really exciting where it could go.

If I could piggyback on that, I actually have been noticing, especially toward the end of the season, a lot of sort of elusions and parallels to stuff in the first season and sort of for you working backwards while writing the second season, going back to season 1 and going, okay, so this was interesting, like, something very specific that I noticed. Kate in the pool, I’m wondering if you went back to for a very specific elusion to the end of the season.

There were some parallels to that. You didn’t see the episode yet. (laughs)

There’s a clue into –

There’s a very similar shot, a very similar kind of thing going on. But some of the things we knew, Uncle Eddie in season 2, we just talked about him all through season 1. One of the things that my showrunner kind of taught me, that trick, like I would say, “When do the characters get to El Rey?” “Oh, not until season 5,” or something like that. It’s like, season 5? We’re still only making season 1. They know kind of hallmarks of where they want to go, and they push it as far back as possible, so we only talked about Cousin Eddie all the way through season 1, even more in season 2 because we knew we were going to meet him later in the season because we knew he was an important figure in their lives. So things like that, you don’t have to, in a movie, everything is very fast. You set something up, you’re paying it off right away, whereas in a series, you really can go, you’re making 10 movies a season basically, so you have to be kind of patient and really just kind of set things up more. So it’s interesting. It’s a completely different dynamic. That said, my episode 10, I made it feel like a feature. I wanted it to have this relentless pace and these huge set pieces and payoffs.

So any fun stuff behind the scenes that you want to share with us? Anything that freaked you out?

Well, the thing about my episode is that’s the last thing I did. That was just so much fun because I told Demi Lovato, now, I want to direct your episodes if you come. I talked about it in season 1, you should come be in next year, but I want to direct your season. I want to capture – something about her energy, I wanted to try and capture, because she was fantastic, give her a cool villain role. We had so much fun that I just directed her music video yesterday, and it’s awesome. You should check it out. It’s on Vevo, and it is action-packed. It feels like an action film, but you can tell that when you see episode 10, that the seeds were planted for that, us wanting to work together in a bigger way. And people say it’s her best video. It’s her vs. Michelle Rodriguez, and I could tell, I made her different than she was in Dusk because in Dusk, she was villainous. She showed her ass-kicking prowess there, and we capitalized on that, and then just the idea of just staging something musically like the snake dance was so iconic. I wanted to have another killing to music with a band playing, and there’s this very elaborate sequence that we’re going to show today that is my favorite thing that I’ve done in a very long time.

How long after the original film were you thinking of doing a series?

Well, the film was in ’96, and I never thought of doing a series of it, really. But I had the matte painting in my office since the beginning, since the end of that film. It’s the last painting that the camera pulls back and shows the pyramid. It was something that was not in the script. It was something that I made up, and it was a pull-back shot, and I had that painting. It was in my house for a long time. It was in my office, and I would see it all the time, and I wished I had done more with the mythology that I was trying to elude to. But it was just too short a film, so I wasn’t ever going to, I couldn’t cram more in there because it wasn’t really about that. But when I got a television network, it was the first thing. Oh, we should do From Dusk Till Dawn, because I keep seeing that painting and the mythology is haunting me, and sort of this Hispanic network. Even though it’s an English language, it’s for everybody to watch, but I wanted it to have the mythology in there that rang true for people who are Hispanic. And the pyramid and the Aztec mythology and Mayan mythology, we wanted to kind of put that into the show, and that painting has served as a 18-year reminder of this idea that I planted, this seed of an idea never really cultivated, and now it’s in a huge way, which is kind of strange and coincidental that the name of the network is the name of the place they’re trying to go. I picked that name because it was also the name of a song and it was also one of my other characters in another movie, named El Rey. So it’s kind of that it follows me around, and when I picked this, I didn’t know I was going to have From Dusk Till Dawn as a TV series, as our first TV series. So it all kind of felt like, we all feel like we’re going to this El Rey place, we’re all being drawn there. It all feels like fate that some of these pieces that we planted years ago are now coming back. When we rebuilt the bar, some of my crew members have been working with me that long. My prop guy, my first AD, one of my camera guys, they walk on set and it’s like a time machine. They remember being there when we shot the first film. Danny Trejo shows up. He was in the first film, and he sees it and it’s like walking back in time. We never thought it would revisit us that way, so I never really imagined, so it’s a real thrill to do this sort of full-circle in your career when you’ve been around that long, when you see things just sort of come around again. It feels more cyclical than you would think when you start charging through the property.

What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned in terms of being this really up-and-coming network in a time when there’s so many entertainment options and things you might do differently moving forward?

Well, something completely different than anything I’d ever done in the movie world. I had ideas in television, but I never really cared for the process. It seemed that the television world is very different from the movie world. The people who were in charge, you could go make a series and maybe get cancelled on the first day. So much was out of your control, and I was never that enticed. Getting my own network, it was like, oh, this will be fun! Any show I want to put on, we’ll put on, we’ll renew it for a second season, we’ll renew it for a third season, and we can make all the decisions. You give yourself a chance to try new things and explore because anyone who says they have a set plan, they’re lying because it changes and shifts quickly, and it’s really interesting. It’s different from a movie. A movie, you put out and if it’s not setting the box office on fire, it dies. With a network, you can get feedback from an audience and change. If you don’t perform one day, you can perform the next day because you make a shift and change something, and suddenly, things can work. So it’s really exciting. It’s a living, breathing thing that’s constantly being put out. There’s something really exciting about that, so I don’t know what I would do differently. I did think when I first got it that it was kind of, it’s a linear channel. Things are so digital now. People have digital channels, how would that compete with digital channels when it’s so traditional? We’re finding that people that have digital channels, they want linear channels too. They don’t have it. There aren’t any more of those left, so you’ve got something that’s actually very valuable. A linear space is still really, really valuable.

Are there any other of your past films that you’d like to go into, like more in-depth stuff like what you did with this?

Any other past films I’d like to go make a series of? None that jump out right away like that. I have ideas for original stuff. I think maybe we’ll do a movie tie-in with it and make it a bigger property, but of the older stuff, we could always do a Desperado series I suppose or a Machete series, but right now, we have some ideas for some cool new shows that I want to try.

And how does it feel to be more creatively free now with From Dusk Till Dawn? Like, in the beginning, it was already kind of set and kind of started out, but now you’re more free.

It’s fun to just have – I mean, I really like doing the first season too because even though we knew what the map of the story was, we knew they had to get to the bar, you were just free to just go anywhere you wanted within that world. You didn’t have to stick by it, so you had some freedom there. But now, completely, the audience has no idea what’s going to happen next.

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