With its March 8th world premiere at SXSW and March 11th series premiere on the El Rey Network only days away, things are starting to heat up for the television adaptation of the Robert Rodriguez cult-hit From Dusk Till Dawn. Many have wondered how the indie director plans on transforming his beloved film into a long-running television series; He took a moment to chat with us and explain.
“I wanted to expand the story in order to do more about the temple and the culture,” said Rodriguez, regarding how he plans to transform the very self-contained story of the film into something larger. “We had to go back and retell the original story in a different way,” he added, explaining that much of the love for the culture came out of the director’s research for the original film. “It’s really evident when you see the first episode how we take a moment from the film and expand it into a full episode with back stories, alternate characters, alternate trajectories for the characters that existed… You’ll follow the Geckos, you’ll see Earl McGraw, you’ll see some new characters, but they’ll behave differently, they’ll act differently, they’ll have different motivations and different destinies.”
Of course something one must ponder about From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is: Where has Mr. Tarantino been? He wrote the script and originally conceived the idea of the Gecko Brothers, so why hasn’t he been all over this? “We both control the rights to it,” said Rodriguez. “When people have been interested to make the show before, we never allowed it. We kind of froze them out until [El Rey] came up, my network, and we knew it would be something that would be done with the right amount of creative freedom and be done just right. There wouldn’t be executives on it, it would be what it needed to be.” Adding “I went to [Tarantino] and told him about it and gave him the whole pitch of what it was going to be. That the whole season was going to take place from dusk till dawn, and he was really impressed. He was like ‘wow, when did you come up with all of that?’ And he was really intrigued at the time, and he was busy with his films so he just let me go off and make it.”
A curious dilemma for the writers of the series is finding a way to make the audience care about two guys who, at least in movie form, are ruthless thieves and killers. It’s one thing to take a journey with that personality type for two hours, it’s another to do it for 13. Rodriguez said, “The way we’re doing this story is different from the feature. So when you start out, if you think you can judge somebody, you’re gonna get a lot of surprises and start liking people you didn’t think you’d like and vice-versa. We take it on a journey. We really thought it out. We have a great writing team [headed by showrunner and Nikita alum Carlos Coto] and the characters really stand up to the evolution and expansion [from the film]. It’s really a testimony to the malleability of good story, of good characters, that you can take something that seems very contained and turn it into a sprawling saga”
One of the things that make From Dusk Till Dawn’s original film so iconic is the clear split between straight dramatic thriller and all-out fantasy horror. When asked how the show handles that kind of split, Rodriguez explained, “I describe [the show] as a crime saga with supernatural elements,” adding, “you’ll get that from the very first episode. Everything will always be like that… The surprise [of the film] is already out. We don’t have to play it that way [with a break from grounded to fantasy]. It’s more about making the story that works from the beginning, and having characters’ destinies tied to that temple in a much stronger way from the very beginning. You’ll see it in the first episode. You’ll get kind of where it’s going, but you won’t know where it’s going. You’ll just see how expandable it is and how you bring those elements in early so by the time you get to the bar, it’s really cathartic and astounding. Now you’re really with the characters, and it’s the last place you want them to go, because you know what it means to go there.”
Behind the scenes, there’s a lot riding on From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, as it’s the first project from the newly formed television network El Rey, which was conceived by Rodriguez himself. Though many filmmakers are beginning to break into television, until now, none of them owned their own network. Rodriguez said, “Yeah, it’s really amazing. I go to filmmakers and say ‘I want to communicate to an audience. I want to bypass distributors. You don’t have to go to a studio; you don’t have to go to a network. Come to me with your idea. If it fits my audience, we’ll talk about the idea.”
Speaking to a real-world example of how he plans to transform El Rey into a home for artists, Rodriguez explained, “Bob Orci brought me this show idea, and even he has Sleepy Hollow on right now. He did Transformers, he did the Star Trek movies, even he had done two other pilots that didn’t go because that’s the way the networks work. They’ll order a bunch of pilots – they don’t really know what they want – they’ll only make a couple of them into series. Those people who’ve made those pilots, those things are dead; they’ll never see the light of day…. [Orci] was kind of tired of that. So he came to me with an idea right around the time he was doing Sleepy Hollow and pitched it to me. We talked about it, made some adjustments and I said ‘based on that, I’d give you 13 episodes, guaranteed prime time, this amount of money per episode, I’ll direct the first one if you want – for free – cause it’s cool, and let’s go.’ You never get that. It’s really exciting. I want to be really artist friendly. Let the audience decide rather than a bunch of executives.”
Based on the way he speaks to it, Rodriguez has a lot of love for the television adaptation of his beloved film. This isn’t some hack-job money grab, this is a real attempt to make something new out of something beloved by so many. Be sure to catch From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series when it premieres Tuesday, March 11th at 9pm on El Rey.
And if you’re in the Austin area on March 8th, you can catch the SXSW world premiere of the pilot in the Vimeo Theater at Austin Convention Center at 4:30pm.