Four renegade directors are ready for Hollywood -- Rusty Cundieff, Eric Schaeffer, Kevin Smith, and Robert Rodriguez talk about their transitions into studio men

By Beth Pinsker
Updated June 23, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Last year’s crop of directorial wonder boys earned their stature with a set of microbudgeted debuts that steered clear of Hollywood’s money, influence, and propensity for interference. Now they’ve moved on to their second efforts, but this time they’re coming to terms with a town that’s not quite used to young filmmakers with such — as Robert Rodriguez’s mariachi might say — cojones. Far from corrupting them, though, Hollywood has surrendered, giving them the freedom they demand in return for a minimal investment. Entertainment Weekly talked to Rusty Cundieff, Eric Schaeffer, Kevin Smith, and Rodriguez to see how they’re handling the transition from renegade filmmakers to studio men, and hear what they have to say about the pressures of making a film for Hollywood with more than a few thousand dollars of somebody else’s money.

The sophomore class:
Cundieff, 30, who made last year’s rap mockumentary Fear of a Black Hat for $1 million. Spike Lee served as executive producer for his recently released second feature, Tales From the Hood, a horror anthology from Savoy that cost $6 million and has already made $9 million at the box office.

Rodriguez, 26, who won a Sundance Audience Award in 1993 with the $7,000 Spanish-language action thriller, El Mariachi. He returns in August with Desperado, a $7 million sequel from Columbia starring Antonio Banderas, followed by a segment of the anthology film Four Rooms, and the Quentin Tarantino-scripted vampire film From Dusk Till Dawn with George Clooney.

Schaeffer, 33, who, with his best friend, Donal Lardner Ward, 31, coproduced the semiautobiographical feature My Life’s in Turnaround for less than $150,000. Schaeffer’s follow-up (his first solo) is TriStar’s $5 million comedy If Lucy Fell, which stars Ben Stiller and Sarah Jessica Parker and is due in early ’96.

Smith, 24, who shocked audiences and the MPAA last fall with Clerks, a $27,000 black-and-white film about two funny, foulmouthed philosophers who work in convenience stores. His $6 million Mallrats, made for Gramercy with Shannen Doherty and Jason Lee, is due out in October.

EW: Do you feel like a director now?
SCHAEFFER: The ideas that I feel like a director and that I can make a living at it [are] totally autonomous from each other.
CUNDIEFF: I feel like I guess I’m pretty close to there. Probably. I’m getting offers to do other things. But a lot of those aren’t things that I want to do.
SMITH: Sometimes I’m like, wow, I have a job.

EW: Is there pressure to succeed?
RODRIGUEZ: I always heard that a filmmaker drops the ball on his second feature, and I was always afraid of that. So I saturated the market with a bunch of movies at once so people wouldn’t know which was actually my second film.
SMITH: [Because expectations were so low,] I don’t think any movie I’ll ever make will be as well reviewed as Clerks.