It’s a hot, muggy Monday morning and I’m in Austin, Texas on a press junket arranged by Twentieth Century Fox Studios to tour writer/director Robert Rodriguez’ Troublemakers Studio. Troublemakers and Fox is celebrating the DVD, 2-Disc Blu-ray release of Predators which Rodriguez produced.
Rodriguez started the studio facility around 2000 with Spy Kids and has subsequently shot most of his projects here. As his résumé grew so did the studio. It was built on an old airfield with plenty of space to construct any type of set imaginable, plus house the largest green screen in Texas, along with shops for props, special effects, costumes and anything else that might be needed. But it’s the creative talent that Rodriguez has assembled that makes the place work so well. They all genuinely love making movies.
The following is our interview with the multi-talented Robert Rodriguez.
QUESTION: A long time ago you originally wrote a script that was supposed to be a sequel to the Predator movie. Did anything from that version make it into the new Predators?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: We kept the idea of the Predator planet, and then they’re not knowing whatís hunting them down, and the different traps and such, different creatures on the planet. The crucified Predator that they find and then getting his help to escape was also utilized. The group was different so we had to change a lot of the characters. There were even more characters, there were a lot because I wasn’t having to direct. It was just a writing assignment, so I wrote it big and crazy, like, “It’s not my problem!” I didn’t have to figure out how to shoot it because the technology didn’t exist at all at the time, back then it was the mid 90’s, so I have no idea how they would have made it back then. When I got it back I thought, “There’s no way to even make it today! Weíd have to refashion the whole story.” So we changed it.
QUESTION: How deeply did you get into the physiology and the background of the Predators and was there an idea of where they came from regarding an evolutionary standpoint?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Some of them we came up with as we went [along]. There was one of the creatures that escaped from the cage and then there was another creature that they run into that they shoot by accident thinking it’s a Predator. But we’ve got to tie some of these together. So let’s add some bugs. There’s bugs coming out of the one that left its skin, so maybe its skin comes off. We started developing the idea as we went because when it came in it went very quickly. We didn’t know how many creatures we had or how many we were going to have, but we had the hunting dogs. We had to figure out if it was something they found on the planet, is it something they brought? Does it have biomechanical elements that they adapted these things to work, should they have metal coming out of them? We tried a bunch of different designs to help us to tell where they could have come from, if it’s the same species, the falcon sort of creature, should it be organic, should it be biomechanical, should it be a gadget. There was a lot of those kinds of discussions.
QUESTION: Were there any things you had to change or cut out because of the two AVP: Alien vs. Predator movies?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: We didnít consider those. I just said, you bring me on to this, Iím going to pretend like I’m still back in 1995 making this as a sequel to the first movie only, so we’re not going to take into consideration any of the story points from the other movies. Not to be tied into that. We decided to keep ourselves pretty unlimited.
QUESTION: When youíre dealing with a franchise like Predators, how do you stay true to the franchise, but put your own stamp on it?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: That was one thing: Should we consider all the movies, but then should we consider all the comics because there’s a lot of terrific stuff in those as well. Then I decided that back in the day there weren’t any comics when I first got this assignment, so I decided to just keep it clean. With the time we had let’s just do what I originally set out to do and just do the movie as if it was ’95. So let’s just make it a story that only has as its reference the first Predator movie. I don’t even know what stuff might have been contradicting the other movies because I didn’t watch them that closely. ‘Cause we knew we [didn’t want] to have to be tied to them. The big fan favorite was the first one because the first one was the one people still said they loved the most, that’s the one that we stuck with. I think, if it were a different type of series, where you had a great love for all the movies, well then you’d have to consider all of them.
QUESTION: Is there anything from the ’95 version of the script that you wish you could have gotten in, but couldn’t?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Yeah. I had some crazy, crazy creatures from this Japanese designer that were just bonkers. They looked like they were from another planet ’cause this guy was just insane. I went out and visited his shop and I just looked at his shelf of models that he built from scratch and said, “Okay, that one is going to fight this character!” And I told him to come on as a designer, I’m going to take your creatures and put ’em on this planet because they were amazing, very imaginative, very out there. We were making this [one] and I said, “We canít go there because that would take another year just to figure out how to shoot those things.” But if this movie were successful, we could… it would make more sense in the sequel, than in this first Predator. It would feel jammed in there. And I tried to keep it jammed in there, and they said, “This section doesnít make any sense!” And I said, “I know.” You have to kill your darlings, and I’ll save it for another movie. I tried to keep it in there because I’ve wanted to see it for so long, so that was probably one of the things…
There was a section in there where when they got captured initially, there were human cages where other things were caged. It was like Gladiatorial brutality games, where you were pitted against other species. There was some bizarre shit where you’d go walking out there not knowing what you’re going to go up against, and out would walk something on two hands, and you’d go, “Oh, okay. I’m screwed.”
QUESTION: You mentioned talking to Schwarzenegger briefly at some point in the process. Did you ever talk to McTiernan (director) about the first Predator film?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: No. This was after Predator 2. He wasnít involved and mainly it was the studio just trying to… They didn’t have a director. I wasn’t supposed to direct this Predator, I’m just supposed to write the script, so they weren’t going to hire a director until after a script was written. And they were hoping he’d [then] say, “Yeah, I’ll do it!” because he wanted to do it, but at this point he was on to other things. But they thought it was worth a shot and it was inexpensive, well here, go write something, and see if we can entice him. Sometimes studios develop things that don’t happen, but it’s worth a shot to them if they can attract… I don’t know who they would have gone to if they would have made it. I never actually thought about it until now that you mentioned it.
QUESTION: So this is basically your baby so how come you didn’t direct it yourself? Why did you get Nimrod Antal to direct it and will he be coming back for the sequel?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Well, it was interesting. It was the only script I’d ever written that I wasn’t writing for me to direct myself. I didn’t really like the experience because I thought, well that’s kind of an easy gig, you go write something, you hand it over, you don’t actually have to make the movie, and you get paid. Then it’s never like that because you invest a lot of yourself in a script, you have to work on it, you have to come up with these ideas that you end up liking, and then it goes away and it might get made, it might not get made, it might get made crappy, it might get made really good but it’s someone else’s idea and you’re not a part of it. So it feels like you give birth to a baby and then they take the baby away from you and hand him off to somebody else. So I never did it again. I decided I’m only going to write stuff that I’m going to direct, and it’s hard to write a script and write something that you know you’re not going to get to finally direct. It’s really hard, when you’re a writer/director, and I never did it again.
So when they brought the script back I was kind of happy to see them come back saying, “We dug up your old script 15 years later, and we really like it. It was really good, why didn’t we make this?” Well, because Arnold didn’t want to do it. “Oh, that’s right, well can you direct it now? We want to bring the franchise back.” And I said, “When do you need it?” And they said they needed it for this summer [July, 2010], which was last summer, so I said, “I can’t, Iím doing Machete. I can’t direct it.” And they suggested producing it, so I said let’s try it. I’ve never produced something that I didn’t direct, especially something that I wrote. But it had to be changed so much. I don’t think it’d be a difficult situation where I feel like I’m giving it to somebody else, and I have such a particular vision, it’s going to be a different vision.
Nimrod had a great take on it, he wanted just to go really dark, and make it just about the chase. He wanted to cut out a lot of stuff and make it about the chase and the hunt. So that’s pretty streamlined, we can do that for the budget they’re giving us. They gave us less than the last Predator, which was the cheapest of all of them. We felt we needed to do much more with the money, which is why they wanted me to do it here without any interference from them. They said, “You just do it, do your Troublemaker magic, and make it seem like a bigger movie than it is!” So that was the challenge, and seeing it finally get made, that’s what I was excited about. I wanted to see Predators walking around the studio. That was the coolest thing, was to walk out of my office and see these Predators running around, ’cause when I was working on Machete I didn’t get to see anything like that. Sometimes Iíd walk outside and see them (Predators) jumping off of scaffolding into a green pit and the sun setting real nice with the actor’s walking around in costume. Predators walking around with a cigarette. All great fun. It’s like your dream of having a studio with several movies going on. There are several shots in Machete where we couldn’t frame out the sets, so I said, “Oh, just leave those big Predator trees out behind him. No one’s going to notice. No one’s going to know that that’s Predators. We’ll point it out on the DVD.Ē
QUESTION: Can you give us any hints about something for the sequel?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: The sequel? We have some ideas of where we can go. I probably want to include some of these ideas, a more expanded universe. If we stayed on that planet, it might be for a little while. There’s a lot to explore, which is nice about them not making it their home planet. You can go so many places, you can do a lot of things. There’s several ideas, directions we can go, depending on how much theyíre willing to put into it.
QUESTION: What was the casting process for the human Predators?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: It was so fast, we literally finished shooting Machete two weeks before we started shooting Predators. So the casting had to happen as I was finishing that up. There was no time [to go to] LA and meeting with people. You normally would go through the process, create a list of names, and some people are so big you just send them a script. With smaller people you want to go meet with them, see if they’re cool, see if you all get along because then they’ll want to do the project more, you explain it to them. This one, everyone was cast on the computer. My casting lady would send me video tape of people or they would do a reading. Alice (Braga) did a reading. The video was that big (holds hands up to show a very small square), it was that small, and it was like, “Yeah, I think that’s good.” If they could register that on the big screen, that would be awesome. We cast everybody off that.
Adrien (Brody) was the only one where I sent him the script via e-mail, and we had an e-mail conversation about it several times. I had actually gone out to him for another character, and he said, “Well, I’m actually trying to go to a different place. I think I could be the hero.” And itís like, “What?! You wanna be the hero guy?!” He goes, “Yeah, I think I can buff up in time.” I said, “Well, we shoot in a few weeks.” And he said, “Ah, I still think I can do it.” That’s more interesting to me than the other choices we had, so if Adrien Brody was going to commit to it… I think he’s a terrific actor and I thought that would be more fun. But that’s how everyone was cast. The only other time I did that was Once Upon a Time in Mexico. It was such a fast shoot. There was no time to go cast [normally]. Everyone was just picking names, calling them up, sending them the scripts, not even meeting them in person. And then with Eva Mendes (Ajedrez in Once Upon a Time in Mexico) my casting lady gave me a video tape of a reading she had done for another movie. I was looking for a very Sergio Leone-type face, and it was like, that’s the girl. This is the girl we’re looking for. It was, “Yep! Okay, she’s in!” That was very rare that that happens.
QUESTION: What was your biggest fear about remaking Predators?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: You try to avoid these types of films where they’re big, fan-based movies because you know you have to live up to peoples’ expectations. Whenever I would read websites or Ain’t It Cool News and see people bitching and moaning about sequels and stuff and saying, “This is going to be shitty,” and “They’re not doing it right!” I always think, well I’m glad I make my own original stuff ’cause there’s no expectations of what it should be, there’s no requirements. I don’t feel like I’m working for an audience, I’m working for myself, and then hopefully they’ll like it. That’s why I normally tend to do original pictures. They offered me back in ’96, X-Men, Superman Returns, Wild Wild West, all these kind of movies where I thought theyíre going to have such big fan bases that I’m probably just not going to enjoy the experience. I’m so independently minded, I’d rather not be told what I can’t do or feel like I have to deliver a certain movie.
I want more freedom. This one was different because there had already been a couple movies, especially the last one, where people were like, “Ah, this Predator series is dead.” There were no expectations, so you had a clean slate pretty much. You could make as terrific a movie as you wanted to make, and people would just be surprised and happy that you did it, “Oh, there’s gonna be another one?! We didnít even know there was gonna be another one! Thatís exciting! Hopefully it will be good!” And that was the idea so it wasn’t like, “You better not screw up our series ’cause it’s been perfect up ’til now!” We didn’t have that on our shoulders. So this was the best of both worlds, but I really didnít even know if I should do it. Is it past its time, are people just tired of him, or maybe just the last ones werenít as good as people wanted, thatís why it died off? I went to ask my artist upstairs, and if you walk into the rooms they had all these Predators busts and dolls on their shelves. And I said, “Do you like the Predator character?” “Yeah, I still like that character. Favorite character.” And I said, “Well, I’m thinking about doing the sequel to it.” Obviously, theyíre still collecting the dolls ’cause they still like the character, they still enjoy that character.
QUESTION: From a writing perspective, what is the thought process you go through trying to decide “chopping” order, particularly in Predators where Danny Trejo doesnít really have much screen time?
ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: Well, that was not my idea originally. The writers were trying to write varied types, so the first thing they wrote for Danny [the character Cuchillo] was “Danny Trejo Type.” What is that? There is no Danny Trejo type! There is only one Danny Trejo, and we’d have to go hire Danny. Iím not giving him another job, I just gave him a big job with Machete. He’s not going to get a free job on this ’cause it’s in the script. And Danny is calling up the AD saying, (in a Danny Trejo type voice) “Hey, it says apparently thereís a Predators script that says ‘Danny Trejo Type.’ I look just like Danny Trejo. You should hire me.” I said, “No I’m not going to put you in, you get killed too quickly and I need you on Machete.” And then I thought, well, he is Machete, and if he gets killed right away you know everyone else is screwed. So there was that. And he really couldn’t survive long. There were a few other beats we had, a couple of extra scenes that he’s in that we cut where he had some extra dialogue, but they always felt he didn’t need to be there, that he wasn’t supposed to stay very long. And it was really just so you could keep the audience off-guard. Like he’s really not that important. You see Danny and you think, oh, he’s going to be fighting until the end, and it’s like, “Oh, no! He’s first to go!” We thought we could just work both ways, work as something that would just throw the audience off, and feature him in the trailer.