Sunday, February 12, 2017

Picture of a Man at Work

It's an old picture, torn from the pages of the September 1995 issue of Premiere magazine (remember that one? It's been off the newsstands since 2007) and tucked into a three-ring page protector. I rediscovered across it in the bookshelf cupboard in the Batcave while tidying up the other day.

It's a picture of Robert Rodriguez, one of my favourite directors. He's made a lot of movies I've really enjoyed over the years, most notably Desperado with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, probably the sexiest action pic ever made. He made his first movie, El Mariachi, for a reported budget of $7,000, on mostly borrowed equipment, which he financed by being a paid subject of medical experiments (and where he met the man he cast as the villain!).

His repertoire has a ridiculous range, second only to George Miller in my estimation, directing violent affairs like Machete and Planet Terror right alongside the family-friendly Spy Kids franchise. But while all of these facets make him cool, they aren't what make him one of my favourite directors.

It's his character.

Comic creator Frank Miller has a well-deserved reputation as a bit of a difficult crank to work with, and had expressed disbelief that anyone could adapt his own works in a satisfying manner. Rodriguez again used his own money and a volunteer cast to create a short based on Miller's brutal but brilliant noir crime story, Sin City. Miller loved it and agreed to co-direct a feature film with Rodriguez.

But the Director's Guild of America does not permit co-directing, so Rodriguez quit the DGA in order to make the movie in a manner that satisfied both himself and the property's creator. Although he did subsequently rejoin, it was a poignant statement about creative independence.

As evidenced in the Black Mamba commercial he shot for Nike with Kobe Bryant, Robert Rodriguez is someone who takes his work seriously, but doesn't take himself seriously.

But neither that anecdote nor a funny, self-aware shoe commercial is  what makes him  one of my favourite directors. And the picture always reminds of just what it is that distinguishes him in my eyes.

It was taken by Brian Smith during the filming of Desperado. Rodriguez looks just impossibly badass despite the fact that it is a staged shot. He wears cargo shorts and a grey t-shirt, accessorized by a fisherman's vest full of lenses, and a red bandana tied around his head kerchief-style to keep the hair out of his eyes. He has a bandage on his nose (covering the two stitches he got from an altercation with a viewfinder), but the most notable feature is the steadicam he is holding, attached to the harness on his chest. The dramatic backdrop, a flaming Lincoln situated mere feet behind him, completes the effect.

The accompanying article talks about his difficulty in moving from an indie film like El Mariachi to a big-budget actioner from a major studio. How he annoyed some reps from Columbia because he claimed he didn't know what an AD (Assistant Director) was. How he kept even this larger budget under control by casting a cameraman as a cancer patient. How he took a three day course in steadicam operation so he could take the shots himself to save both time and money.

The bulk of my admiration, though, comes from a single anecdote: with rapidly diminishing light, Rodriguez determined a superior angle to shoot a scene. His production assistant said there was no time to move the dolly tracks that would allow the camera to move laterally in a smooth enough fashion to capture the pan the director wanted, and said they would simply have to keep the shot they already have.

Rodriguez surveyed the ground, framed up what he wanted in his mind's eye and said, "Nah, get me a shopping cart and a steadicam, and I'll do it myself."

I don't know what I like more about this tiny tale, this microscopic Tinseltown fable; the fact that Rodriguez had such a clear picture of the shot he desired, or that he was able to come up with such a creative and unconventional way to get it.

Sometimes I struggle to determine what the heck it is I want, as I am sure many of us do from time to time, and when I do know, I will often take the path of least resistance to get it. Not every time, to be sure, but enough to annoy myself in retrospect.

Looking at that picture of a man who not only has a clear vision, but has equipped himself in a way that removes as many obstacles between him and it as possible is, to me at least, inspirational. That's why I tore it it from a magazine that I bought in Edmonton so I could have it in view on my desk in Mississauga while working in sales for Games Workshop.

This overly dramatic image of a man I have so little in common with is a great reminder of the importance of vision, the value of persuasion and persistence, and the notion that there are nearly an infinite number of ways to accomplish most things. Important ideas, these, and timeless.

So much so, in fact, that I think I will bring it to work tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. "Mulder didn't say that it was Alex Trebek. It was just someone that looked incredibly like him."