Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I've been lucky enough to have visited many different kinds of sets in my time writing for this site, from huge mega blockbusters to everybody-pitch-in shoe-string indies, but I can't quite remember ever doing a set visit quite like this one.
One of the things you have to be conscious of when visiting a set is to keep an eye on where the camera is pointing. That way you don't have to be told by an angry assistant director or camera op that you're in the shot as everybody is gathering to their places moments before a new take goes up.
There are tricks I've figured out over the last decade (okay, most of them are centered around hanging out near a monitor and following it should it ever move, but still...). On the From Dusk Till Dawn set I was able to figure out how not to end up in a shot by watching girls in bikinis. Not in a creepy way, I promise.
You see, I happened to visit while the crew was shooting on the newly rebuilt Titty Twister set at Robert Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios and the scantily clad ladies would pop up dancing seductively on second story ledges, just like in the movie except not quite as... exposed. This is a TV show, after all.
Anyway, these lovely ladies would keep warm (and covered) in heavy robes off-set by craft services except when they were on-camera. Then they'd put their books down, go up to their spots, drop the robes and dance seductively in their two piece outfits as the main actors recreated a big moment from the original film. So, while the entire Titty Twister interior was built as one giant set filled with crew, cast and extras, I could always tell where the camera was pointing by watching for the ladies to take their spots. If the second story alcoves were empty then the camera was not seeing it. Not a bad method, I have to say.
The original From Dusk Till Dawn film was a big deal for my development as a movie geek and, as luck would have it, my future contributor to this crazy world of movie blogging. Rodriguez held an Austin premiere of the movie at the Paramount theater back in '96 and a 15 year old me jumped at the chance to buy some extremely reasonably priced tickets. I loved the film and it was a trip seeing Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez in person at the premiere and after party. You have to remember these two men transformed the movie industry and were riding about as high as any filmmaker ever was at this time. They're still major voices in cinema, but this was fresh off of Desperado and Pulp Fiction and as a young movie geek who was just really beginning to absorb cinema this little regional premiere was kind of a massive deal.
While at the premiere I remember seeing this big dude with crazy red hair that I would occasionally buy movie memorabilia from at the local City Wide Garage Sale. A few months later I'd run into this dude and his dad at the Quentin Tarantino Film Fest (where Tarantino showed vintage grindhouse awesomeness from his personal film collection) and hear about this website thing he just started and bizarrely named after a John Travolta quote. The rest is history. Geeky, nerdy, beardy history.
I'll skip over my other, terribly depressing, From Dusk Till Dawn story, but suffice it to say that while the movie may be awesome it's perhaps not the best film to take a sweet country girl to on a first date.
It was more than a little weird stepping onto this set, which I very much recognized, watching characters I very much recognized doing a scene I very much recognized. I imagine this is a little like watching a high end stage production of another classic play except this is being done by all the same behind the scenes folks as the original. Robert Rodriguez was setting up a shot, my pal Gino Cragnale and the guys at KNB were touching up the Santanico Pandemoium prosthetics and Steve Joyner's folks were keeping the actual set together. Most of them worked on the original and were back at work trying to recreate that magic.
Rodriguez was his usual self, seeming completely calm while moving lightning fast. I don't know if I saw them go over 2 or 3 takes the whole time I was there. I was only on set for a few hours and I saw them shoot Santanico Pandemonium as she danced for the Geckos and Fullers, saw her turn into that snake/vampire thing, Richie get his hand stabbed and Santanico throw some tough biker dudes around.
Robert came up to me when I first got there and immediately showed off an app he's been using on his iPhone that live-streams every camera's footage, whether recording or being set up for a shot. If the camera's on he can see the footage. This has allowed him to be true overlord of this series as it is being made. He can see a set up before it's rolling from anywhere and if there's something wrong or out of continuity he can call up the crew/director and alert them to it.
That is an awesome tool for filmmakers (especially those that are forced by limited means and budget to have multiple units shooting at once), but God forbid studio executives start using this technology.
DJ Cotrona and Zane Holtz play Seth and Richie Gecko and the very first thing I saw the crew shoot was Richie watching Eiza Gonzalez dance. It was his coverage, so what the viewer will see is Gonzalez's legs and Richie's quasi-hypnotized stare. (No toe sucking... not that I saw, anyway). What I saw was a fully vamped out Gonzalez dancing seductively. The following shots required her to be in full makeup fucking up some biker dudes' day. The prosthetics were pretty extensive and took a lot of time to apply, so since they already had the footage they needed of Satanico in her human form as long as the camera only got her still-human legs they could shoot out Richie's coverage and move straight to the stunt work without having to wait for the makeup or having to settle for a double's legs. Quite a mixture of emotions seeing a sexy snake-vampire dance, let me tell you.
Also at the table were the Fuller family (Robert Patrick, Madison Davenport and Brandon Soo Hoo), but I didn't get to see them work much. The next shot up was a fight scene where stunt guys were rigged up to go flying when Satanico attacked.
If you've seen behind the scenes material from any action movie this set up would look very familiar to you. Padded matts on the ground, a bunch of stunt guys manning a rope and pulley system and a palpable feeling of tension as each take went up. There were no accidents and only a few repeated takes to get focus and timing right. Like I said above, Rodriguez was moving crazy fast.
In fact it seemed like if he didn't need to wait for lighting and camera changing direction he'd probably have shot the whole episode that day. It was always during the change in setups that he'd come over and bullshit about stuff, like the Frank Frazetta Museum he ended up setting up during SXSW and how Sin City 2 is coming along. On one of these breaks, right before lunch, he brought me into his office and ran the Sin City 2 trailer that was released a couple weeks back.
I was surprised to see Stacy Keach's name in the credit list. For whatever reason I had no idea he was in the movie. Robert spoke very well of him and said that he keeps a list of actors he wants to work with and every project he tries to find a place for them. If you've seen any of his films in the last 10 years you know he's really good at squeezing in as many famous faces into his movies as he possibly can.
I asked if Richard Dreyfuss was on that list and he got really excited. Apparently, he hadn't ever thought of it, but the idea of finding a role for him got him smiling and promising to add him to the list. Don't say I never did nothin' for you, Mr. Hooper!
Lunchtime arrived and I ended up sitting with all the actors minus Ms. Gonzalez and Mr. Patrick. The publicists probably assumed (and rightly so) that I'd immediately pull up a picture of Edward Furlong and say “Have you seen this boy?” if I ever sat across from Robert Patrick.
I talked mostly with Cotrona and Holtz about the challenges of crafting a unique performance while recreating a very well known story. They both seemed very passionate about not just mimicking Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney. The beauty of doing this as a TV series, they said, was that it allowed them more time to flesh out the characters, expand upon stuff that was just hinted at in the movie.
Wilmer Valderrama was also there. I made some joke about how pissed he must be that Topher Grace beat him to the Rodriguez family and he laughed, saying that his hero worship of Robert Rodriguez was well known amongst the That '70s Show cast members and when Topher got the gig on Predators he'd send Wilmer taunting texts on a daily basis. He definitely had a “Now it's my time!” vibe going on when telling that story.
Show regular Jesse Garcia joined us, accompanied by Madison Davenport and Brandon Soo Hoo. I secretly kept hoping Brandon would slip into his character from Tropic Thunder and I wanted to egg him on to do so, but didn't want to make the kid feel uncomfortable, so I didn't mention Simple Jack once. Not once!
Every single one of the actors seemed to be excited for the possibilities beyond season 1. In this season they have some freedom with their characters, but they are tied into pre-existing material. No matter how much they get to explore aspects of their personalities they'll always have to go back and copy something that has happened before. At the time it wasn't known if they were going to get a second season (it has since been announced), but they were psyched at the prospect of going into unexplored territory.
None of the DTV sequels followed the survivors of the film so it's an open world once they get beyond the Titty Twister. I could tell they were all excited about getting to break free from the shadows of Tarantino, Clooney and Lewis and really make this world their own.
Before I left for the day I wandered around Troublemaker a bit, talked with Steve Joyner, who showed me the massive undertaking the show has been for the art department and a ton of Big Trouble in Little China reference photos (he was looking for stuff that really featured big sets) before showing me the new Titty Twister sign that was being constructed and painted the day I was there. This one is the similar to the original except the lady on the sign had to have a pasties painted over her nipples.
I also got to meet some designers as well as the dude who makes all the posters and designed the title sequence. What was awesome about this stop was he had cases upon cases of reference material from the original movie in his office. I spent a good 5 minutes flipping through continuity polaroids from the original Titty Twister scene. Continuity shots are typically taken by hair, makeup, props and wardrobe to make sure there's no glaring mistake scene to scene, like a ripped shirt being whole again a scene later or a wound that keeps moving around, etc.
The polaroids had bloody fingerprints all over them, so I imagine this lot came from the makeup folks. Lots of shots of Tarantino's death scene and detailed looks at the crazy arm and neck tattoo that's revealed for Clooney's character. Maybe I'll be able to talk them into scanning a few of these in for a story later on, but they were some of my favorite things from that visit. I'm weird, though, and really get a kick out of that kind of stuff.
That about wraps up my time on the set of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. The big Titty Twister episode I talk about above airs this Tuesday on the El Rey Network 9pm Eastern and Pacific.
If you haven't figured out where El Rey is on your cable box yet, do yourself a favor and seek it out. Rodriguez has done a bang up job curating some amazing '70s Kung-Fu flicks that never get the time of day on any other movie-centric cable network. Plus, he has the rights to air the bulk of John Carpenter's movies and from what I understand he has Carpenter himself giving intros to each flick. That's pretty awesome, right?
Thanks for reading along! For your viewing pleasure here's an exclusive time-lapsed look at the construction of the Titty Twister set. It really gives you an idea of just how much work goes into constructing something like this.