Screens The mayor of Sin City

Robert Rodriguez is the head of a council that includes 'Sin City' author Frank Miller and pal Quentin Tarantino

Although graphic novelist Frank Miller swore off having anything to do with Hollywood adaptations of comic books after the disastrous Robocop 2 and Robocop 3 of the early '90s (two films for which he wrote the screenplays), one director had the persistency and vision to change his mind and create a film that would satisfy Miller's imagination as a writer and artist: Robert Rodriguez.

Bruce Willis looks pensive in Sin City, Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek look scared in Desperado, and Johnny Depp shoots without looking in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Miller said Rodriguez repeatedly tried to convince him to commit to a feature film based on Sin City, a seven-book series set in a morally corrupt metropolis. Finally the legendary illustrator decided he would entertain the idea and met with the San Antonio-born Rodriguez.

"I really didn't want my baby Sin City to be in a moviemaker's hands. I thought they would just ruin her. I thought that one bad movie would destroy my comic-book series that I spent 12 years on," Miller told the Current at Austin's Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel.

Unwilling to concede, Rodriguez invited Miller to come to Austin to shoot a single scene "with no strings attatched ... after that, if you still say no, we just won't do it."

After 10 hours of shooting a short film with Josh Hartnett (Wicker Park) and Marley Shelton (Uptown Girls), based on the Sin City story The Customer is Always Right, Miller knew he had found someone that was as passionate about his work as he was.

"The hook was so deep into my mouth," Miller said, "my next question was, When do we start casting?"

Rodriguez, 36, whose screen credits include El Mariachi, Desperado, Spy Kids, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, delved into a moviemaking experience very few directors have attempted: shooting an entire film in front of a green screen and adding the background digitally during post-production. Sitting in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel sporting a black cowboy hat, Rodriguez said that using the relatively new method to film Sin City liberated the actors from the "millions of things that get in the way of performing" on regular sets.

"If anything it helps them focus on what they should be focusing on, which is each other," Rodriguez said. "They don't have to be worrying about rain or standing in a street or 'Cut! We've got a helicopter flying overhead now.' That breaks the whole vibe." Moreover, he said, stylizing Sin City with computer generated backgrounds gives the film a more genuine noir quality and lurid tone.

"If someone had tried to shoot this movie like a regular movie that would have robbed the audience of that visual experience," Rodriguez said. "The visuals are the first thing that grabs you. They are insanely cool."

Along with the visually stunning graphics, Rodriguez said Miller's original dialogue and storylines from his graphic novels were the "perfect marriage" to the special effects.

"It had a great rhythm that you just don't find a lot," Rodriguez said. "I didn't want to change that, so I just transcribed right out of the book. It's like Quentin's (Tarantino) dialogue. It's very specific. If you start rewriting and changing words it will throw the rhythm off. I didn't want to have to study it and understand it and learn it and then write my own version of it. Why not just use what is already there? It works."

With a solid script and a dream cast, which includes Bruce Willis (Hostage), Jessica Alba (Honey), Benicio Del Toro (Traffic), Nick Stahl (Terminator 3), Rosario Dawson (Alexander), Jaime King (Lone Star State of Mind), and Mickey Rourke (Man on Fire), Rodriguez' next task was to lure Miller onto the set to assist him with directorial duties. Although Miller had no experience as a director, Rodriguez said he felt it was essential for the creator of Sin City to have an influential voice during production.

"I've created my own material before, so I know what that means," Rodriguez, who is also credited as the producer, editor, screenwriter, composer, and cinematographer said. "I wanted him there to co-direct and get great performances from the actors like he got out of his drawings. I felt like he was ready because of the work he had done. It was obvious that he knew visual storytelling better than most directors."

Because he wanted Miller to be credited as a co-director, Rodriguez, at the time a member of the Directors' Guild of America, was given an ultimatum by the organization, which does not allow more than one director to receive screen credit for a film. Rodriguez chose to resign from the guild so that he could bring on Miller and Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), who had promised he would direct a segment of Sin City for $1. (They made the deal when Rodriguez agreed to score Kill Bill: Vol. 2 for the same insignificant, but contractual, amount).

"`The DGA` wanted me to join so I could set a good example for young filmmakers," Rodriguez said. "But, eh, they were just giving me a hard time. I'm from Texas. I don't make movies like that. I didn't know it was against the rules until a week before shooting. It was better for me to leave. Then I could bring Quentin on, too."

As the director, Miller said Rodriguez was open-minded and straightforward. Because of what he learned from Rodriguez, Miller says he is already looking forward to his next opportunity to sit in the director's chair.

"He's got a beautiful sense of things being possible," Miller said. "As a director he doesn't come at you with a headdress and rattles like a witch doctor that's doing something mysterious that can't be figured out. He teaches fast and well."

Actress Jamie King, who plays twin characters Goldie and Wendy in Sin City, added her thoughts about working with Rodriguez - a director she said always had a clear vision. "He is such a wonderful example of a person that, no matter what they want in life, can achieve it because they put their heart into it," King said. "Being an actor and working with him, you trust him completely."

By Kiko Martinez


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