It’s a typical evening in the scrubby outer suburbs of Austin. Dad’s tinkering in the garage. In the house, Mom watches her three boys dance as kiddie pop blares. ”Wash up,” she tells them. ”It’s time for dinner, and your father’s cooking.” (This news is met with excited shrieks, as Dad’s dinners usually consist of fajitas or pizza.)
Heading out to the garage, Mom finds Dad hunched over a control panel, fiddling with switches and toggles. Before him is a huge screen across which flicker elaborate scenes of Technicolor fantasy. Dad’s ready for a break, but there’s one last issue he wants to address.
”Where’s my fart noise?” he asks two of his mixing buddies. ”Also my pfft is getting cut off.”
Robert Rodriguez’s home is his castle. No, really. It’s actually a castle. Made of stone. Complete with turrets and secret passages. ”This is the house I drew when I was a kid,” explains the 34-year-old director of El Mariachi, Desperado, and The Faculty. ”I wouldn’t be able to come up with it now.”
Rodriguez’s home is also his movie studio. Complete with soundproof mixing facilities (the aforementioned ”garage”), an editing bay, and banks of computers for tweaking sound and visual effects. He even has a live-in producer in Elizabeth Avellan, his partner in film — and family — for 12 years.
What Rodriguez is doing in the garage is making what he likes to call ”my home movie,” a pet project the rest of the world refers to as Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. The follow-up to 2001’s surprise smash Spy Kids (the gadget-packed juvie Bond adventure that made $168 million worldwide and millions more in video and merchandise sales), Island sits in a stream of expectations. ”It’s our Spider-Man,” states Dimension Films head Bob Weinstein. ”The Scream franchise played out. This is our next one.” He’s not wasting any time, either: With Island opening Aug. 7, Spy Kids 3 is already a go. By the time the trilogy concludes, Weinstein predicts it will generate from ”$750 million to $1 billion” in gross revenue. Not bad for movies that cost $35-37 million apiece, despite containing (in the case of Island) 1,047 special-effects shots.
That’s not overkill. Rodriguez needed every last pixel to spin a wild yarn involving holographic wristwatches, arachnid robot pets, and a menagerie of creatures. And that’s not even getting to the core story, a high-stakes spy-kid rivalry pitting original rugrats (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara) against newcomers Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O’Leary and Emily ”Haley Joel’s sister” Osment), their spy dad, Donnagon (Mike Judge), and a scientist of uncertain loyalties (Steve Buscemi).
Pretty ambitious for a ”home movie,” but to Rodriguez, it’s child’s play. And when this guy plays, he plays hard, serving as director, writer, editor, director of photography, production designer, visual-effects cosupervisor, and cocomposer of the score. Consolidating labor is fine by him: Rodriguez is no fan of big budgets. After making his 1993 debut with the $7,000 indie hit El Mariachi, he developed a reputation for passing on projects like Planet of the Apes and the never-filmed Superman Lives. ”When the budgets are big, the studio’s all over you. Now I can cast whoever I want, write whatever I want,” he says, leaning back in the chair he uses to roll from his editing station to his electronic piano. Spy Kids had at least as many special-effects shots as Titanic, and Rodriguez says Island ”will be much grander, but the same budget. Which never happens.” Weinstein confirms that. ”Usually guys have a movie that does $100 million, they ask for $100 million to do the next one,” he says. ”Robert’s never lost the mentality that he’s making El Mariachi: ‘How do I make it cost-effective and look great?”’