As a fan greeted Robert Rodriguez during the Q&A of his latest film “Hypnotic” at the SXSW Film & TV festival, the fan recalled a story that after seeing Rodriguez’s breakthrough “El Mariachi” in 1992, he then immigrated to America and watched the TV movie “Roadracers” from 1994. And seeing Rodriguez’s name in the credits again made him perk up.
“I’m glad that guy got to make another movie,” the fan recalled thinking.
“I say that to myself too,” Rodriguez responded.
Because, though he’s directed three “Spy Kids” movies and most recently an expensive cult sci-fi like “Alita: Battle Angel,” there was a time when Rodriguez was a scrappy indie filmmaker unsure if he would get a second chance. And while his latest film “Hypnotic” may star Ben Affleck and other major stars, he told the crowd of largely fans at the Paramount Theater that the experience of making this film resembled some of his old school days making movies cheaply and on the fly.
Production on “Hypnotic” was shut down three times during COVID after first being announced at the American Film Market as far back as 2019. And because it wasn’t a studio film, all the starts and stops meant that all the money that came in from international distribution deals had disappeared, Rodriguez explained. The “constant back and forth” of scouting locations and rescheduling actors to account for quarantine windows made production a nightmare. And the most effective way of cutting budget on “Hypnotic” was to cut shooting days. So a 55-day shoot became 50, 45, then 40, and finally 34. And because that baked in quarantine time, the crew worked on what Rodriguez described as “French hours,” with no lunch and max-10 hour days that meant the real pace felt more like a 20-25 day schedule.
“We’re going to be flying,” Rodriguez said. “I was talking to Ben, and I said, ‘Ben man, it’s going to be like the roaring ’90s again! Remember when we used to shoot fast and loose, guerrilla style, handheld, running around, 22-day shoot. I was so glad I had Ben, Ben’s the best. He was like, ‘Yeah man, I stand around so long on sets, I didn’t think anyone shot like that anymore.’ Well, we don’t have any choice.”
Rodriguez finally gave in and decided to shoot the entire movie on his studio backlot Troublemaker Studios here in Austin. For better or worse, that feeling that it was all shot in one place shows up on screen. And Rodriguez sees it too, to the point that he baked that quality into the story of “Hypnotic.”
Courtesy of Ketchup Entertainment
“Hypnotic” was presented as merely a “work-in-progress” screening to the SXSW crowd (though it certainly looks completed). So any significant plot details are still being kept under wraps. But in it Affleck plays a detective investigating the kidnapping of his daughter, only to become entangled in a government conspiracy involving some mind and reality-bending twists.
Rodriguez however compared it to Hitchcockian thrillers like “Psycho” and “Vertigo,” not necessarily in plot but in execution, where all the thrills and other-worldly surprises are presented strictly through edits and cinematic trickery, and no special effects. Even the title, “Hypnotic,” was a one-word title like “Spellbound” or “Notorious” that Rodriguez dreamed up as though it were a movie that Alfred Hitchcock would’ve made if he kept making movies past his death.
But the real reason Rodriguez took “Hypnotic” to SXSW, finished or not, was because it was a chance to celebrate the 30th (ok, 31st) anniversary of “El Mariachi” and for Rodriguez to celebrate his home community. Rodriguez is no doubt a hometown hero in Austin, and a large number of locals showed out for the screening, with lines that stretched around a city block downtown and many fans even being turned away to get into the 1500+ capacity theater. Those who did get in were treated to a 50-minute Q&A session that Rodriguez aimed to make “the best Q&A session of all time.”
Enamored fans each got the chance to share their favorite Robert Rodriguez movie with him and what those films meant to them. Everything from “The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3-D,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Spy Kids,” “Spy Kids 2,” and really deep cuts like “The Faculty” and his 1991 short “Bedhead” all got shoutouts. And the director then presented each fan with a signed, original poster of whatever movie they name dropped along with an invitation to tour his Troublemaker Studios. One aspiring filmmaker got an invite to sit behind the camera with him on set of his next film, another handed him a flash drive with his movie ready and waiting, and a third who wasn’t even in attendance got his friend to hold up the phone to the mic and express his admiration.
You’d be hard pressed to find attendees who didn’t get some kind of door prize, but he did leave everyone with a piece of advice that came straight from his roots.
“I’m so appreciative of everyone here and the career I’ve had. But I tell you, I don’t feel any different than I did when I was in an apartment making something,” he said. “The art itself is the reward. Just do it like that. It enriches the lives of those around you.”
“Hypnotic” has U.S. distribution from Solstice Studios and Ketchup Entertainment and is meant to come out later this year, but it does not yet have a release date.