Álvaro Rodríguez is a screenwriter, best known for his collaborations with his cousin, Robert Rodriguez. Most notably, Álvaro is the writer of From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999); co-writer of Shorts (2009) and Machete (2010); and a writer on the first two seasons of the television series From Dusk Till Dawn (2014-15). His forthcoming projects Last Rampage (2017) and You, Mine are an adaptation of a true story about a 1978 jailbreak, and a post-WWII drama based on the novel Tu, Mio by Erri DeLuca.
Eyecrave.Net spoke to him recently, in support of the new book On Story – Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films from the Austin Film Festival and their On Story series of panels and podcasts.
You wrote for two seasons on the TV version of From Dusk Till Dawn, adapting and expanding the mythology of a cult film that didn’t – originally – delve much into the mythological elements of the story. In the film, the monsters just appear and have little explanation or cohesion, other than a teaser image of a Meso-American temple in the final credits. The television version has given us a much more concrete, and historically rich background and culture. How much of that mythology was already there, but left off-screen, and how much of it was new research and new extrapolation?
I think there was a lot that was implicit, from the storyline of the original film. Between the original movie and the series, there were also two other films. I had written what became From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter, which was a sort-of Spaghetti Western prequel that delved into the background and mythology of the Meso-American vampire legends, so it was in my wheelhouse. In terms of the show, it was a matter of taking those cues and expanding them, basing it on both real Aztec and Mayan mythology, and putting our own spin on it.
Your next two projects are a literary adaptation, and something based on a true story. How does that differ from what you had been doing with From Dusk Till Dawn?
It’s fairly different. That first project is an adaptation of a coming-of-age novel set in Italy in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. It’s very tonally different, obviously. There’s no vampires, no reliance on gags and cheap thrills. In doing an adaptation like that, you’re always trying to stay true to the source material, but at the same time, trying to give it your own voice. If there’s anything that unites them, it’s that genre is less important than story, and story comes from character. That’s what takes us where we want to go.
Did you find that was also true with Last Rampage, where you were dealing with real people, rather than extrapolating from existing trope-specific characters like the gangsters and criminals in From Dusk Till Dawn? There would seem to be very wide gaps between the Gecko brothers, the real life spree-murderers of Last Rampage, and the boy at the heart of Tu, Mio.
The challenges, no matter what the material is, are the same. Does this feel authentic? Does this feel real? Even in the case of something like Last Rampage, where there is a record and these were people that lived, and breathed, and walked the earth, it’s not always easy to locate those references. These weren’t really well-known people. As the writer, that allows you a lot of leeway in creating the character that you see, based on that person. So much of that too, comes from the actors who breathe life into all of these words that were just voices in your head. Again, I think that the ultimate challenge is just making it feel authentic. If you’re in post-war Italy, it feels real. If you’re in 1978 Arizona, that it feels real, or even if you’re in some bordello/biker bar/temple of a Meso-American vampire Goddess, that that somehow feels real and authentic.
You’ve done a lot of work with the Austin Film Festival and the On Story program: interviewing people like Silence of The Lambs screenwriter Ted Tally; dissecting films like Cronenberg’s version of The Fly; and discussing horror and genre with other screenwriters. How did you get involved with AFF?
Austin Film Festival has been a very important part of my development and my exposure as a writer. I came to the festival for the first time in 2009, just as a member of the public. In 2010, when Machete came out, I was invited as a panelist, and that really opened a lot of doors for me. It allows me to exercise passions of mine, whether they’re passions for storytelling, particular kinds of films, writers and filmmakers that have influenced me… Over the last few years, being able to partner with Austin Film Festival doing some of these panels, and meeting other writers and filmmakers has allowed me to impart some of that passion and excitement with others in the film community, at whatever stage in the process they may be in, whether they’re just starting out, or well on their path.
You’re a fiction author and poet, as well as a screenwriter. Do you find there’s a big difference in how you approach screenwriting as opposed to prose fiction?
One of the major differences is that screenwriting allows for collaboration, sometimes thrives upon it. Film is one of the most collaborative art forms there is. As a prerequisite, you have to work well with others. That kind of interaction and dynamic is a very important part of the process for me. Working on a series and working in a writing room, bringing ideas to the table, tearing them apart and rebuilding them together is a powerful experience. In terms of screenwriting in general, there’s a sense that whatever your work becomes, and whatever the final outcome is, it’s going to be dependant on so many other people in so many ways – especially as compared to a poem or a short story. The level of interactivity in filmmaking and television is so much more dynamic and so much more involved.
Many thanks to Álvaro Rodríguez and the people at On Story and Austin Film Festival for arranging the interview.
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL PUTS EMMY-WINNING
TELEVISION SERIES INTO THE HANDS OF READERS
“On Story – Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films”
Takes Film Lovers into the Minds of Renowned Movie Makers,
Revealing the Creative Processes of the Most Iconic Films of Our Time!
Austin, TX- October 17, 2016 – On Story – Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films presents renowned, award-winning screenwriters and filmmakers discussing their careers and the stories behind the production of their iconic films such as L.A. Confidential, Thelma & Louise, Groundhog Day, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Silence of the Lambs, In the Name of the Father, Apollo 13, and more. In their own lively words transcribed from interviews and panel discussions, Ron Howard, Callie Khouri, Jonathan Demme, Ted Tally, Jenny Lumet, Harold Ramis, and others talk about creating stories that resonate with one’s life experiences or topical social issues, as well as how to create appealing characters and bring them to life. Their insights, production tales, and fresh, practical, and proven advice make this book ideal for film lovers, screenwriting students, and filmmakers and screenwriters seeking inspiration.
On Story – Screenwriters and Filmmakers is co-edited by Austin Film Festival Co-founder and Executive Director Barbara Morgan and Maya Perez, producer of the Emmy-winning PBS series Austin Film Festival’s On-Story, with a foreword written by James Franco. In 2012, Barbara and Maya assembled transcripts from the archives of over 20 years of AFF panels and post-film-screening Q&As. Their goal was to make these fascinating and insightful film discussions available to a larger audience than the festival’s attendees.
On Story – Screenwriters and Filmmakers on Their Iconic Films was published in October 2016, just in time for the 23rd Annual Austin Film Festival. Order the book here: http://bit.ly/2diqngd
About On Story
Austin Film Festival is dedicated to furthering the art, craft, and business of filmmakers and screenwriters, and recognizing their contributions to film, television, and new media. A natural progression of the AFF mission, The On Story Project consists of a variety of entertaining and informative programs presented in different media platforms to give viewers an inside look at the creative process behind some of the most popular and critically acclaimed films and television shows.