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Confessions of “Sin City”‘s Robert Rodriguez

On his taste for hard-boiled noir tales:

Robert: “I just love this material. I’ve always wanted to do a film noir. I love the seediness of film noir. I love the excitement of it, the visceral quality, the fact that you get to go meet people that you would never meet in your normal life, doing things that you would never see. It enters your dreams. Film noirs have always been enticing to people, and I think it’s because of the dark side. It’s very appealing.”

On when he realized he could bring the “Sin City” comic books to life:

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Robert: “I’d been buying it and people think it’s such a great idea to make it into a movie – it took me years to figure it out. I’ve been buying it since ’92, and I’ve always wanted to do a film noir. I never put two and two together, that this one should be the thing until just a couple years ago, after doing the ‘Spy Kids’ movies and learning so much about lighting and technology that I realized I could make this movie. The time was right to make it and make it look like the book.”

On convincing writer-artist Frank Miller to trust him with the care of his “baby’:

Robert: “I pursued Frank just like a wild dog trying to find him to do this movie, because I got it in my head that it was possible and I did a test and I saw what it was looking like, I knew I wouldn’t get this excited about another project for a long time. I had to hunt him down and find him and convince him that we were going to do this movie, because I could already see it, and I wanted to do it really bad, so it just felt right. That’s why nothing would get in my way: when the DGA goes, ‘Oh you can’t do the movie like this,’ I said ‘Then I’m leaving.’ I can’t stop, man, The train is rolling, and everyone jumped aboard because it’s just too new, too right.”

On the short film he made to convince Miller he’d do “Sin City” right, which now opens the movie:

Robert: “There’s a [comic book] collection called ‘Booze, Broads and Bullets,’ and there’s a short story called ‘The Customer Is Always Right.’ I always loved that one for introducing people to ‘Sin City’: ‘Here, read this – It’ll take you two minutes.’ And it would be like ‘Wow!’ It kind of encapsulates the series. They’re all love stories, they’re all creepy and cool, and have a twist, and that’s a good little sample. I thought it’d be cool to start with that, because if Frank still decides he doesn’t want to do the movie, I’ll at least have that short film that I can go ‘I got a cool short film with Josh [Hartnett] and Marley [Shelton]. This would have been ‘Sin City.'”

On translating Miller’s distinctive dialogue and imagery directly to the screen:

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Robert: “The more I looked at the book to adapt it I realized it didn’t need adapting. It’s visual storytelling, and it works so well on the page, I felt it could work exactly the same way on the screen, so my idea was-Traditionally, what would happen was if you liked the ‘Sin City’ books you’d take it to a studio, they’d buy it, they’d give it to a writer who’d then change half of it because he’s got to earn his pay on it. You wouldn’t do what I did, which is put the book up and just transcribe it directly, word for word, and then edit down to pace. I said let’s not change anything, let’s not even develop it-let’s just start shooting right out of the books. There won’t even be a screenplay. We’ll just shoot right out of the books. And Frank was like ‘What planet is this?’ And he was so thrilled and when he started working he saw how the translation was working. It’s the visual storytelling medium and that’s what makes the movie so unique is that it doesn’t feel like a movie. And I didn’t want to make a movie out of ‘Sin City.’ I wanted to turn the movie into the comics. I wanted to turn cinema into the comics, not take it and turn it into some regular movie, It just wouldn’t have been right.”

On the choice to build the film around three “Sin City” storylines, “The Hard Goodbye,” “The Big Fat Kill” and “That Yellow Bastard”:

Robert: “I just looked at them again and thought these had the most overlapping characters, and it seemed like a good way to give people a good breadth of what ‘Sin City’ was about. Instead of taking one book and padding it out, take three stories and truncate them, so people really got a tour of ‘Sin City,’ a whirlwind tour, so that people really got a lot of the interlocking characters and felt the world. Because I knew they wouldn’t get it from one story. There’s just too much great stuff in there.”

On his decision to co-direct the film with Miller, which ultimately required Rodriguez to quit the Directors Guild of America:

Robert: “I didn’t know it was against the rules until a week before we were about to shoot and they came to us and said ‘Well, as you know, you can’t have two directors.’ I said ‘Really? I see two directors all the time.’ ‘Oh, those are special cases, where they’re already a team before they joined…’ ‘I thought the guys at Pixar, they can co-direct?’ ‘Oh, those aren’t considered directors. We don’t represent them as directors.’ ‘But they make the best movies of anybody!’ The rules are so old, they don’t conform to our ideas of how things are done, and this movie’s half-animated anyway. But we were just about to shoot and it felt so right, felt like such a new thing that it wasn’t going to fit into a lot of rulebooks. So I just thought, rather than just have them change their rules, which somebody might come and take advantage of-a studio head says ‘You have to make me a co-director now,’ y’know? They really wanted that rule. They didn’t want to turn it into the Writers Guild or the Producers Guild, where there’s so many that you can’t tell who did what. So I understood their position, and said ‘Well, this is such a weird movie, it’s better if I leave anyway.’ Because I was already thinking of bringing Quentin [Tarantino] on as a Special Guest Director, and THAT would never fly, so it felt better just to leave. The implications? Nothing really. I mean, I can’t do a studio movie that was developed by the studio now, but that just means I should be doing my own material. George Lucas wanted to do ‘Princess of Mars’ at one point and couldn’t get the rights, so he wrote ‘Star Wars.’ That’s what I should be doing.”

On sharing directorial duties with Miller:

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Robert: “It was very complementary. I really wanted him to be a director rather than just there as a writer or as a producer, because if he just came as that they might stick him in a corner and feed him a sandwich every once in a while, but if he came on as a director then everyone would have to listen to him. I wanted it not to be ‘Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City.’ I love the books so much, I wanted it to be as close to something he would do as a movie as possible. And it was very complementary. I tried not to do anything contradictory-if he told an actor to do one thing, I wouldn’t tell them the exact opposite. It was more like a tag team – Tag! He goes in, and he actually let me handle all the visual stuff. He was really there working with the actors, knowing the characters so well.,,,I would be on the camera working with the actor there, and he would be on the monitor and then come tell the actor something, or we’d all talk about things. It felt very natural, felt like it just worked, and when I’d get a shot and I thought I had it, and the actor knew, sure enough I’d turn around and Frank would have a huge smile on his face and he’s say ‘We got it. Let’s move on to the next shot.'”

On how the stories in Miller’s head that haven’t been committed to the page yet helped the cast:

Robert: “He was able to tell them things I didn’t know anything about, because it’s not all in the books. A lot of it’s in his head. They loved being able to know where the character was going in future volumes or what he was thinking when he put it together, how it was formed. I told him, because I used to be a cartoonist, it’s not very different from drawing, directing. You’re not going to have to show up with a headdress and rattles and be the director. It’s really more like what you’re used to doing as a cartoonist. He was floored that it was so similar and he was able to make basically a ‘Star Wars’ movie his first time out and within a couple weeks he know how to do that.”

On departing from the comics to tone down the explicit nudity of Jessica Alba’s character, the stripper Nancy:

Robert: “Some of the things were decisions for keeping the sexiness but not necessarily being like it is in the book, where there are single panels but when you go to the movies the scene keeps going and after a certain point it would look like we’re just filming for our own pleasure rather than telling the story [laughs]…Jessica probably wouldn’t have done the topless nudity. And also the way the Nancy character was built, nobody’s gonna really look like that, so it would’ve have to have been a special effect anyway. You look at her in the book and it’s just like unbelievable, you go ‘Frank! I think your pen went a little astray here.'”

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On directing his “Spy Kids” mom Carla Gugino in her decidedly not-toned-down nude scenes:

Robert: “It wasn’t very difficult, because we were going so much by the book and we knew exactly what we needed to do. It was interesting-she had felt very comfortable with me because we had worked together so long, and I think that was the only way she would have done it. And I said, ‘Y’know, with effects, we’re going to put shadows exactly where we want, so we’ll look like we have the most technically proficient cinematographer ever, getting the light just right.'”

On Special Guest Director Tarantino, who helmed the harrowing sequence in the car between Dwight (Clive Owen) and (Jackie Boy) in “The Big Fat Kill”:

Robert: “He was great. Originally I thought there would be more shorter stories in the movie as well when I first told him about it, and it ended up being the longer ones, so I told him ‘What if you direct one of the sequences?’ Frank originally issued them in small issues, that’s why you always see his characters die every ten minutes, because he always wants you to come back to the next comic book, so each book was made up of several smaller issues. So I had him basically do an issue…Quentin came in SO prepared. Frank and I had been shooting already and this was our last episode, and he was afraid to be unprepared, so he over-prepared to make Frank and I look like bums. He came in with every shot ready, colors, all this visionary-[in quick Tarantino patter] ‘Oh, we’re going to use colored lights, and they’ll stay black-and-white , and it’s be colored flashing lights, and they’ll speak in an outer voice and camera will come in…’ And I’m like ‘Wow! You have worked this out!’ And he said ‘I was afraid I’d be unprepared, so I over-prepared.’ And we just blasted through it, and he had a blast doing it. The first shot, I said ‘Well, we’ve got a car there that you can put the actors in, but truthfully we haven’t been using the car. We can’t quite get the angle. We’ve just been sitting them on a green apple box in the screen room.’ ‘Oh, no, put them in the car. I want to see them in there.’ Quentin’s a very real-for-real, ‘I want to see them squeezed together.’ And after one shot he’s like ‘Okay, we’ve got to get rid of the car.’ He got right into the way of shooting with the green screen, and loves it. The rain, the car, the road-nothing was there, and he got to just concentrate on getting performances. That was the beauty of the green screen. All the other stuff that usually takes up all the time, and then ‘Hurry, hurry, get the performance’-all that was GONE. We were just getting performances, and I think that’s why the performances were so great. All they were concentrating on was just eye-to-eye, working with each other.”

On catching Tarantino and his team in the act:

Robert: “The coolest thing is I kept the camera rolling, so I’ve got a lot of that footage. In fact, there’s one 16 minute take where I just kept rolling–it’s the real camera, not behind-the-scenes, the real camera-so you get to see your whole process. You see Quentin actually come into frame and give you all direction…It was just brilliant. People are going to learn a lot from seeing that. I’m going to put that on the DVD, an uninterrupted 16 minutes. You see pieces that we use and you see a lot of in between, Quentin coming in and saying ‘I think we