Robert Rodriguez is trying to find a quiet place for our interview. Not so easy when you are at SXSW in Austin, the mega three-part festival that covers interactive, film and music and draws an energized crowd of thousands from around the world every year. We settle on a room that is bustling with people but at least somewhat removed from the loud rap concert outside. "This is South by Southwest after all," he laughs.The 45-year-old Austin resident has seen the growth of the festival over the years. "It was around the time I was making 'El Mariachi' that the festival added its film component. It's grown from what was a regional music festival to now a world-recognized festival covering new media, movies, television and music," he says. "People are saying it's getting too big, but they have been saying that for 15 years. I think its a wonderful opportunity to have the eyeballs of the world on what is screened here."
This year the film festival focused its attention on the small screen as well, adding an "Episodic" component to its programming, showcasing some of the original and creative talent in television. For Rodriguez it was a perfect chance to premier his new television show "From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series" and the launch of his new network El Rey. The festival also showcased AMC's "Halt and Catch Fire", about early computer hackers in the '80s; Showtime's hip horror entry, "Penny Dreadful"; Hulu's web series, quirky supernatural comedy "Deadbeat"; and HBO's "Sili-con Valley", creator Mike Judge's humorous take on the tech geeks of Northern California.
Rodriguez may not quite look like the next TV mogul, dressed in jeans, trademark weather-beaten leather jacket and cadet cap, but with El Rey, the genre-bending film maker ( "Desperado", "Spy Kids", "Sin City", "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D" and "Machete" among his many films) has big plans to shake up the TV landscape.
El Rey is one four new channels to be carried by Comcast, the country's largest cable company, fulfilling a promise to carry more minority-owned stations after seeking federal approval for its majority acquisition of NBC-Universal. Other stations include ones headed up by Magic Johnson and Sean "Diddy" Combs. El Rey is set to soon reach 40 million homes in the US.
"I just felt like we needed something like this. There is no English language Hispanic channel that shows cool programing for the largest minority group in the US," says Rodriguez, who in 2000 founded Troublemaker Studios, an Austin, Texas-based production facility of which he is co-owner and president. "Most of our directors, writers and talent are Hispanic but it's still a network anyone can watch. It is like my movies, "Spy Kids" or "Desperado". You don't think of them as Hispanic movies because anyone can enjoy them."
This supernatural crime series that pits bank robbers, Texas Rangers and a viperous den of vampires is a reimagining of his 1996 cult classic of the same name, which was written by Robert Kurtzman and Quentin Tarantino and had a cast including George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis and Salma Hayek. The new series stars D.J Cotrona and Zane Holtz as the murderous Gecko brothers and Don Johnson and Jesse Garcia as the Texas Rangers.
"'From Dusk Till Dawn' was one of the early films I did with Quentin Tarantino and still the one people love and say it's one of their favorites. Quentin has never had his characters on television and it's a perfect medium to see his characters come to life," says Rodriguez. "I'm so excited to expand the world and let the characters breathe."
Rodriguez, who has directed four of the first eight episodes, has already done a fine job of expanding the series judging by the first two episodes. There are definitely familiar story arcs—the Gecko brothers holding up Benny's World of Liquor, a flashback to the bank heist and abduction of the bank employee, as well as an expansion of the colliding story of the Fuller family, this time with Robert Patrick as the preacher in crisis, Brandon Soo Hoo as his adopted son and Madison Davenport as his rebellious daughter.
"It's been wonderful new talent, finding the next Salma Hayek. We have Eiza González as Satanica. She is a revelation as the series progresses," says Rodriguez.
"There are familiar scenes from the movie but then it immediately goes into different directions. There are new characters and different fates of the characters. If you are familiar with the movie it will be a real surprise to see what happens in the series, " says Rodriquez. Rodriquez also says the mythology of the Aztec temple, the famous pull-back last scene of the movie will be expanded. "The mythology is spreading—it sets the stage for last few episodes of this season and onto future seasons," he says.
The multitasking Rodriguez is already working on his next scripted production for El Rey, "Matador" created by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman ("Sleepy Hollow", "Fringe"). It focuses on a globe-trotting soccer champ and playboy who is secretly a top-secret CIA operative. It will have a July debut. Also set for the network is a director to director chat series in the vein of "Inside the Actors Studio" as well as a U.S.-based Mexican wrestling show "Lucha Libre" from producer Mark Burnett.
"I really think once you turn on our network you wont turn off." he says confidently. "We have some of the most kick-ass and coolest programming you will find on TV."
But he also insists the network (which won't be required to post ratings for a year) won't be just a fanboys' hit list. "I want this network to also be a voice for new filmmakers and voices. I like to call it the People's Network."