Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez Interview

The two writer/directors get real on their double feature funhouse!

They are two of Hollywood's greatest directors - and now, for the first time - sort of, they're directing a movie together. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez take on separate films in Grindhouse.

Grindhouse - noun - A downtown movie theater - in disrepair since its glory days as a movie palace of the '30s and '40s - known for "grinding out" non-stop double-bill programs of B-movies. A double-bill of thrillers that will recall both filmmakers' favorite exploitation films. Welcome to the Grindhouse - it'll tear you in two.

It's the second time they've worked together, the first on Robert's Sin City, where Quentin helped co-direct. In Grindhouse, Robert directs the zombie-filled, torture fest, Planet Terror. Naveen Andrews, Freddy Rodriguez, and Rose McGowan star. Quentin brings aboard Kurt Russell to his in Death Proof; Kurt plays the wild and crazy Stuntman Mike.

And not only are we treated to two films in one, during the breaks of the films, there are three different trailers - fake trailers directed by Eli Roth (Thanksgiving), Edgar Wright (Don't), Rob Zombie (Werewolf Women of the SS), and Robert's (Machete).

Both writer/directors also did their own camera work, acting as their own DP's. Movieweb.com and SplatterFilms.com had the chance to speak with the two. Here's what they had to say:

When did you guys first enter each other's radar?

Robert Rodriguez: 1992, Toronto Film Festival. I knew about his movie, Reservoir Dogs already cause my agent had seen it and said, 'You're going to love this guy Quentin Tarantino; he's made a new movie, Reservoir Dogs, it's really cool.' I saw it at the Telluride Film Festival; he wasn't there, but then we met in Toronto. So Toronto Film Festival, we ran into each other in the lobby; I had already seen the movie and I just went on and on about it. And he hadn't seen Mariachi yet.

Quentin Tarantino: It was like, 'Oh, you're that Robert Rodriguez guy. El Mariachi, I've heard so much about it.

Robert Rodriguez: We went to the El Mariachi screening together; he sat next to me, because by then we had become fast friends. I was video taping all my screenings at that time to get audience reactions; I couldn't believe anyone was screening the movie. And so I had gotten the Telluride screening on tape with Quentin's laugh track through the whole movie.

Quentin Tarantino: It's like a machine (laughs).

Robert Rodriguez: It's like, 'Wow.' So I have reaction to the first time Quentin saw my movie.

You two have very different personalities and styles; what makes these two movies come together?

Robert Rodriguez: That's what made it perfect; we both loved these types of movies and we could go and make a double feature and an audience isn't going to be like, 'Oh, you're making a zombie picture, too? At the same time?'

Quentin Tarantino: Yeah.

Robert Rodriguez: They're just different enough that it creates that exact kind of experience you would have had going to the drive through for the double feature. These movies may be both in the horror genre, but they're completely different beasts. You really feel like you're getting a double feature, your money's worth - and not just two very similar pictures.

Quentin Tarantino: And as a frustrated theater owner, the program double feature, either for the festival here in LA or the festival I do in Austin - you don't want the movies to be too similar. That's why in Bible House, they showed two Marx brothers movies; it's like, 'G-d, I can't handle two Marx brothers, one right after another. You want a little variation going on there; and that was a staple when they would particularly make horror double features, is that, one was maybe more fantastical, and dealt with monsters, while the other one was about a guy terrorizing a babysitter. And I also liked the fact that we're trying to make this whole Grindhouse experience work, as this one big experience, it is a double feature; there's not supposed to be a similarity going on there. Robert's movie should feel like a Robert movie and the Quentin movie should look and feel like a Quentin movie; they're not just an extension of each other. But hopefully, blended the right way, they should look like a double bill.

Robert Rodriguez: At first, I was going to be the director of photography on his; and then the more I was shooting mine, the more I realized, 'You know, if I shoot his, it's going to start gravitating towards my kind of shots rather than his. And it's going to start looking too similar to mine.' So I convinced him to be his own DP, so we'd have two completely different looking movies as well. He shot on film, and I shot on digital.

How is it to control not only the production of the movie, but shooting in your studio?

Robert Rodriguez: Well, first, ever since I did El Mariachi out of Austin, I realized, 'Wow, I don't have to be in Hollywood to make a movie.' I just made that out of my apartment and the studio bought it and released it in Spanish even. So that just opened the flood gates as far as me being able to call my own shots from then on. So I just kept making movies in Austin and built the studio system down there for my own, and I always keep my budgets low. That's the best way to keep a studio off your back, is at the end of the day, they'll give you your freedom because you're not spending anything and they're not going to be climbing all over your back saying they want to see a cut early. Which they would have more of a right to if you're spending $100 million; they're going to tell you who you should cast if they're the ones holding the purse strings. But when you're giving them a huge movie for nothing or two movies for nothing, they really can't -

Quentin Tarantino: $55 (million)

Robert Rodriguez: Yeah, I think $50-$55; that's about how much they spent on Sin City, and Sin City was probably about $49-$50 for one movie. Here we have two films, and internationally, they'll release as two movies. So, with the stars that we have it in and the cast we have in it, it's unbelievable how much production value they get for their money at Troublemaker. So they just want the movie, they don't care how they get it; they're just like, 'Whatever you want to do Rodriguez.'

What about other studios other than Weinstein?

Robert Rodriguez: No, I think other studios know that's how I operate; other studios have enticed us to go work for them, and they said, 'We'll let you work the way you're used to working, and you'll make 'em for us instead.'

Quentin Tarantino: Even in that same vein, I'm really proud of Robert, cause he really does have a whole set-up, and I got a chance to experience that. He's got a crew, he's got a crew and they're waiting; sound stages - way to go! And it was really funny, the first time I had actually gone down to Troublemaker to actually see what it is he had done - he had already made a couple movies at the time. I was looking around and I said, 'You know Robert, Coppola's dream with American Zoetrope - that's your reality.' 'Wow, that's right; we gotta do something with that.'

What was it like tapping into his head?

Quentin Tarantino: Well, you know, I brought my own head kicking and screaming. But, it was wonderful; it was like being in Robert Rodriguezland. You go to Disneyland and there's Tomorrowland and Frontierland; Troublemaker is definitely Robert Rodriguezland. And it is really neat because, look, I didn't go the green screen way with my stuff, but just knowing that I could, under any circumstances. Robert's always been sort of lovely so far in that, 'Quentin, my studio is your studio; anytime you want to do something here, show up here you go. Here's the crew, here's the people, here's your office; you go anywhere, this will always be yours. Enjoy!'

What are you trying to bring a modern audience with this?

Quentin Tarantino: Well, one of the things that me and Robert notice that little by little things have chipped away in the last few decades of film expedition. Back in the 70's, they were doing these drive-ins and Grind Houses; there was more involved in theatrical expedition, there was more ballyhoo, it was a bigger deal when you went to the movies. The places weren't just multiplexes - and I'm not down on them - but they weren't just the multiplexes, they were these big houses, and they had these huge posters and giant murals reaching 10 feet in the air hanging above the marquee. And there was a whole set of lobby cards, and then you would go in and see the movie, and there were trailers, and then all this cool stuff between - not just trying to sell you crap. Cartoons in the middle of the movie, it was a whole presentation; there was a lot of ballyhoo involved. Now, it just seems like you rent a seat and that's all you get; and not only that, you get commercials in front of it. And we really wanted to make going to the movies and exciting event; there's a reason you're getting off the couch and not just waiting for it to come to DVD, not just watching it in your living room. And even part of this whole Grindhouse experience, of like the messed up prints, the missing reel; that's also created. But what's important about these movies is an audience interaction aspect of it; whenever we wrote these films, whenever we talked about our movies, we're shooting scenes the audience will go, 'ooooh' or 'ahhhh' or 'urghhhhh.' That's how you can tell if it's hot, and we're kind of orchestrating a movie; if they're not screaming at this moment, we've messed up. If they're not gagging at that moment, we've messed up...at that moment, we've messed up.

How did you go about capturing that innocence of style?

Quentin Tarantino: That was the idea completely and utterly.

Robert Rodriguez: It just adds a bit of texture and vitality to it in a way; it just feels more real if it's screwed up. I did it with computer effects. The acting is just something we worked out with the actors, day by day, whether we should go this way or that way.

Quentin Tarantino: His was done in a certain style that he had actually mapped out before the shooting; mine, I did old school at the Delux lab. We did that by shooting some test footage and putting it through all these different processes to try and get that, to have gone through the El Paso drive in, meat grinder look. But one of the things that was actually fun with this is, if anyone else were to do something like this, it'd be described as guerilla filmmaking. But everything could fall under Grindhouse, so it was kind of a liberating thing where all of a sudden, something wouldn't work well, a cameraman bumps into a wall - he was supposed to go through the doorway and he hits the doorway just a bit, and there's a little jiggle in the camera. That would happen and be like, 'We like that; that's good.' The focal point - you couldn't just nail the focus on somebody, so you'd have to find it for two seconds, especially with me operating the camera. The zoom doesn't quite know where it's going until it figures it out. In the editing room, 'Oh, that's terrific!' The mismatched shots, they're not supposed to throw you out, but a neat little rhythm to it.

How do you create such well developed female characters?

Quentin Tarantino: First, thank you, and two, I'm a writer; that's what I do, that's my job. Part of the thing about it is, you don't just write about yourself - but I am writing about myself to some degree, one way or another; everyone is a little, there's a little part of me in everybody I write. But anyone who can only write about themselves or their life experiences, in my mind, isn't a very good writer. It's my job to look at other people's humanity and it's my job to, 24/7, look at my life and listen to everything everyone says, watching their faces, the little idiosyncratic aspects of human beings - it's like a sponge, I take it in. It could be 10. 15, 20 years before it ever gets used, but when I'm sitting down, it's like an antenna, it just opens up those doors and when it's appropriate for a character it comes out. That includes speech patterns and everything else.

Robert, when you created this idea, there were no zombie films and now there's a ton.

Robert Rodriguez: Yeah, the first 30 pages I wrote Planet Terror, was the same time I was doing The Faculty; I was telling Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett, all the actors, Clea DuVall, 'I got this zombie movie. I know zombie movies have been dead, but I know they're going to come back.' And they were so excited about it; they were fighting about who was going to be the person running down the road as the cars come by, the zombies.

What did you know?

Robert Rodriguez: These things come in cycles, and I knew I had to get on it; but then I got sidetracked with other projects. And sure enough, four or five years later, the zombie wave came and went; but it didn't do quite as I wanted to do it. When we came to do this movie, it was the first thing I picked up; I had wanted to do the zombie pic for long time, and I could finally do it.

Choosing Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger for the make-up, what makes them the perfect choice?

Robert Rodriguez: I'd never think to work with anyone else.

Quentin Tarantino: Yeah, I know, they're our friends. It would never even occur to me to go with anyone else; one, their work is so fantastic, and it's almost as if we've grown up together.

Robert Rodriguez: Their story boarding is great; Greg was first to call and say, 'Hey, do you want to go over it.' And I said, 'I'm not even ready to think about that yet, but yeah.' They had a few ideas, so we ran some tests; they start sending you some stuff, so they're very pro-active like that. Nobody else would do that.

Quentin Tarantino: Over the course of time, me and Robert have had so many adventures and experiences with both Greg and Howard that it's like they're family. I was just with Howard for four months in China, every single day; there's just no one else I'm going to go to.

Robert Rodriguez: I know guys like Stan Winston; Stan always goes, 'Hey, I know you're always working with Greg, and I'm sure it's never going to happen, but I've got an open door.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I know; Greg and I just go way back.'

Are there any metaphors in this movie?

Quentin Tarantino: I actually think there is a little bit in mine; and again, it doesn't have to work this way, like something you could take in later, a couple or three times down the line as the years go on. But you could almost say there is, in terms of these women; it could be a comment on the feminization of men when it comes to these other guys in these movies. The women are just so much more powerful than them, especially the girls in the first half; but then, along comes Stuntman Mike - he's like a dinosaur from a complete and other time, and they've never met anyone like that before, and don't know what to make of him. So there is that kind of, almost metaphor of the courting rituals of today.

What attracts you to actors who may be past their prime?

Quentin Tarantino: One of the things I like about this is I just love these actors as fans for a long time. It's kind of like, 'Well, how do you do this?' Here's the deal; when most casting directors you deal with, they're all going to come up with the same list of actors; they'll be a few that'll be a little different. But my list goes much longer and it doesn't have to do with any of these Hollywood lists; you just have to be alive and I like you to make it in your movie.

How are the Irish car bombs and are the Roller Girls going to make it into the DVD?

Quentin Tarantino: Well, the girls - Punky Bruiser's in it, Venus Envy's in it, Tim Murphy is the ring announcer for the XRD, he's the bartender in it. So they're all in it; I shot a couple scenes that I didn't end up using; I may put them into the alternative version.

What's next, Sin City 2, 3?

Robert Rodriguez: We'll see, we'll see; usually a week after I'm done, I kind of forget. But Sin City 2 could be shooting as soon as June.

What about a Machete movie?

Robert Rodriguez: We're doing a full-length Machete movie; it'll come out the same time as the Grindhouse DVD.

Grindhouse slashes into theaters April 6th; it's rated R.