PASADENA, Calif. – Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez says the secret to success is failure. The man who made his first movie at 24 for $7,000 has never stopped moving in spite of setbacks. “When I do a seminar on filmmaking I tell people the biggest mistake you can make is to fear failure,” he said, perched on the edge of a desk chair in a meeting room here.
“You should always fear forward. If you have a fear, you should go, ‘Oh, that means I’m on the right track. That means I’m doing something I didn’t try before.’ If you play safe, you’re probably wasting your time.”
Known for films like “Sin City,” the “Spy Kids” franchise and “From Dusk till Dawn,” Rodriguez faces his biggest challenge yet.
He is founder and chairman of the new TV channel, the El Rey Network, an English language network aimed at Hispanics. He’s creating and producing its first original 10-part series, “From Dawn till Dusk,” based on his movie. It begins airing this week.
Even when he was a kid, Rodriguez, 45, never let defeat deter him. The problem was he couldn’t concentrate on any particular goal. He made poor grades and didn’t excel at anything. “I had scattered focus,” said Rodriguez.
“I hated sports. I wanted to be a cartoonist. I loved photography. I loved music. I loved filmmaking. I had so many hobbies. And you just realize you want to find something that you’re passionate about, that you can focus your attention on and put all of your ‘thing’ into it. I’ve been doing it since I was 12, and I’m still doing it.”
What he’s doing is searching for unique ways to attack hurdles. “It’s going a lot by feeling and knowing that you’re going to make mistakes and knowing you’re going to learn more about it by your mistakes. Hopefully you’ll fail, and that will be your best gift: seeing how you messed it up and then doing it better the next time.”
One of 10 kids, Rodriguez worried his parents. “My older brother and sister were great in sports, great in school, and I was always drawing in class. I couldn’t pay attention. Not that I was hyperactive at all, just very quiet. I was worried about myself thinking, ‘What job am I ever going to get? I’m not getting very good grades. I’m going to be stuck in some menial labor job because I’m not going to make a living drawing.’ That’s all I liked to do – and making little movies.”
But his dad, who sold cookware, supported his quixotic ways. “When I said, ‘I think I want to play saxophone.’ My dad got me a used saxophone. When I said I wanted to study piano, they gave me piano lessons. When I said I wanted to borrow his video camera to make a home movie, they let me do that. They wanted me so badly to find an interest. And I found it was ALL those things.”
That’s why Rodriguez still insists on doing everything himself. He directs, operates the camera, edits the film, mixes the sound and embraces every new technology.
Mastering technology has been one of his missions, ever since he was 16 and worked part time in a camera shop. Though he didn’t know it at the time, that experience changed his life. The owner told him to learn the camera so he could sell it more effectively.
“So I went home and shot pictures of my brothers and sisters, brought them back, and he’s like, ‘These are so creative. These are amazing photos. You have to learn how to be technical, though, because most creative people are not technical and technicians are never creative,’ he was told.
“ ‘A creative person – if they apply themselves – they can become technical. It’s against their nature. But if they really apply themselves they can be technical. And if you’re creative and technical you’ll be unstoppable.’ I remember at 16 hearing the word ‘unstoppable,’ going, ‘Wow, that makes so much sense.’ ”
Launching a new network is part of his unstoppable drive. Through El Rey, Rodriguez will have a built-in distributor for his films. It also offers newbie Latino filmmakers a place to display their wares. But it doesn’t stop there, says Rodriguez, sketching a timeline on a piece of paper.
“Don’t just do a film. Don’t just do a TV show. Don’t just do a book. Think of an idea that is so strong – it would be film, a TV show, a series of books for kids – think of an idea that can live in all the media that exists … You’re not doing five things anymore. You’re doing one thing and it’s just different outlets for it.”
The divorced father of five children, ranging in age from 8 to 18, Rodriguez said he plans to marry his girlfriend of five years in May.
While he’s running a network and creating product, he’s also an enthusiastic father. He loves going into his kids’ classes and talking about creativity.
“The kids are so free in their creativity that I’m addicted to it. They’re going to need to know this because the jobs they’re going to have don’t exist. They’re going to have to innovate their own jobs, they’re going to have to know how to be creative.”