A Maverick Director, At Home On The Range Sin City director Robert Rodriguez has been making movies away from the Hollywood machine for years — he does most of his filming in his studio in Austin, Texas.

A Maverick Director, At Home On The Range

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For nearly a decade, fans of movie director Robert Rodriguez have been waiting for a sequel to the noir film "Sin City." It's the story of corrupt cops and killers in a fictional place called Basin City. It was based on the graphic novels of Frank Miller - the film is black and white with a little bit of color. That style won it the technical grand prize at Cannes. The sequel is called "Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For." It's in 3-D and it opens tomorrow.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Sin City's where you go in with your eyes open or you don't come out all.

MCEVERS: Sin City's also where you go to get lots of booze, broads and bullets. Rodriguez makes other films too - funny Spaghetti Westerns, vampire flicks and four movies and a series called "Spy Kids," about a brother sister duo of super sleuths. NPR's Mandalit del Barco met up with Rodriguez in Beverly Hills.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Robert Rodriguez has been in and out of Hollywood, putting the finishing touches on, and promoting "Sin City 2."

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: It's a very professional town. I mean, people really know what they're doing here and I learn a lot from them.

DEL BARCO: But he's quick to tell you that this town is really not for him - with his trademark Stetson cowboy hats and jeans, the hunky six-foot-two director is really an Austin, Texas guy.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: I love being at home in Texas around family and that's kind of where my inspiration comes from.

DEL BARCO: And it's where Rodriguez started making movies as a boy, growing up the third in a family of 10 kids in San Antonio. With his siblings he crafted eight millimeter movies he shot in their backyard, like this 1991 comedy "Bedhead" about a girl who gains superhuman powers.


REBECCA RODRIGUEZ: (As Rebecca) I can bring peace to the Middle East. I'll become the first Mexican-American female president of the United States - but first thing's first. And the first thing I'm going to do is get rid of that bed head.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: It has my little sister in it and my little brother, and it won a bunch of awards. And it's pretty funny - you can see it's a precursor to like, "Spy Kids."

DEL BARCO: As a student at the University of Texas, Rodriguez drew a comic strip "Los Hooligans," and he made a comedic action movie set on the U.S.-Mexico border. "El Mariachi" is the story of a traveling musician who's mistaken for a criminal bent on revenge. To finance it, Rodriguez subjected himself to experimental drug trials. He used the $7,000 he was paid to shoot "El Mariachi" on sixteen millimeter. He edited it off-line at a local public access cable station at night when no one else was around.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: I mean, I literally made it so that nobody would see it. I made it in Spanish to put in the Spanish video market and the action market and it was called basically the guitar player. I mean, who's going to rent an action movie called the guitar player? It was kind of a joke. I was kind of making a fun joke. I really just wanted to see if I could get it made and see how much I could sell it for.

DEL BARCO: Columbia Pictures took notice. The studio bought the rights to "El Mariachi" and asked the then 23-year-old director to remake it as a sort of sequel called "Desperado," starring Antonio Banderas and Selma Hayek. But Rodriguez insisted on doing it his way.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: I shoot very unusually. I shoot with editing in mind, so I don't shoot correctly. If you got my footage you'd be going well, what do I do with this? But I know how I'm going to piece together so I would shoot little pieces. And I asked to edit the movie and they - I remember Columbia said, you can't really because no director's ever edited his own movie. It just hadn't been a precedent - that's not how the business is run. Actually, they probably were just afraid I didn't even know what I was doing, because I was really - now that I look back, I like, 23. I probably wouldn't have trusted me either.

DEL BARCO: But Columbia Pictures agreed and Rodriguez has been doing it all ever since - even making his own movie trailers, posters and soundtracks.

REBECCA CAMPBELL: He's a one-man film industry for Austin.

DEL BARCO: Rebecca Campbell, the executive director of the Austin Film Society, says Rodriguez has inspired a new generation of filmmakers, especially in Texas.

CAMPBELL: People have a ton of affection and respect for him. He's always pushing the envelope when it comes to production. He really prides himself on having to figure out ways to make movies cheaply and the importance of making them cheaply is that you can retain your independence.

DEL BARCO: In Austin Rodriguez has his own film studio, Troublemaker, located at the defunct Austin airport. Inside the old hangers are production offices, soundstages and huge green screen for filling special effects. It's also where he runs his own Comcast Cable TV network for young English-speaking Latinos called "EL Rey."

RICHARD LINKLATER: It's his own back lot, it's his own studio - it's his own kingdom.

DEL BARCO: That's another of the director's Austin fans - fellow filmmaker Richard Linklater, whose latest, "Boyhood," is drawing praise of its own. The two have known each other since the early 1990s. They're both independents and Linklater says they're following the footsteps of an earlier generation of indie filmmakers.

LINKLATER: Is was very revolutionary when Lucas and Coppola and people like that went up to the Bay Area and did it. And I think Robert's setup here in Austin is a new version of that. The industry's totally come to him. I mean, Robert is a visionary.

DEL BARCO: Rodriguez began shooting in digital 3-D in Texas long before became the trend in Hollywood.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: By living in a bubble over there in Texas and making my own studio, you kind of innovate new ways of doing things - that maybe are surprised at the methods sometimes that I'll use. It's kind of when you're out in left field and George Lucas told me that - he said it's good you're in Texas, that's why I'm in Marin County. When you're outside of the box like that, you just will automatically kind of question everything. And you don't really know how it is done, and you'll sometimes you stumble upon a new way of doing things.

DEL BARCO: By sometimes relying on the old way - making movies with his family. His ex-wife is his producing partner. One of their sons came up with the idea for "The Adventures Of Shark Boy And Lava Girl 3-D." In fact, his five children were the inspiration for the "Spy Kids" series. And loyalty is also important to Rodriguez. He resigned from the Directors Guild of America when it refused to give graphic novelist Frank Miller co-directing credit for the "Sin City" movies.

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ: The system stepped in and said, you can't be directors together because that's not part of the rules. We go, well, we just have to continue anyway. So you have to sometimes break rules and regulations in order to follow your passion and your heart, and something that you know you have a burning desire to do, even if it seems like really bad career advice.

DEL BARCO: It doesn't seem to have turned out that way. The maverick Robert Rodriguez is already promising "Sin City 3." Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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