So it’s 2am on Black Friday, 2010, and I’m hanging out at the Wal-Mart with a couple of my family members. I’m there for the long haul, waiting for 5am, so my mother can get a TV that’s not from 1992 (though I must say, there was nothing wrong with that TV and in fact it’s outlived other, younger models). Needless to say, I had a lot of time to peruse the rest of the store, including periodic checks in the DVD section to see what two-dollar goodies they were hauling out this hour.
I almost passed right by the bright orange DVD (I don’t mean the cover, I mean the actual case), as it was clearly a kids’ movie. But I glanced at the title: Shorts. And I recognized it from way too many fangirl hours scouring imdb.
“Oh, hey,” I said. “This is one of Robert Rodriguez’ movies for kids – you know, he made Spy Kids.” This was a clarification for family members who didn’t see Grindhouse five times in the theaters. Rodriguez fan though I may be, I probably didn’t need to buy his kids films (okay, my arm could be twisted on Spy Kids). Idly I flipped the DVD over and read the special features.
“Ohmigod! A ten minute film school and a ten minute cooking school!” Without a second thought, I chucked the DVD into the cart.
Now, like the rest of my family, you may be wondering why I was so excited about a few special features on a DVD aimed at nine-year-olds. You obviously haven’t been introduced to the World of Robert Rodriguez’ Special Features.
Rodriguez started out as a low-budget, indie filmmaker. He gained critical acclaim with his movie El Mariachi, famously made for only $7000, and went on to make sequels Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, as well as movies pushing the horror genre like Sin City and From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, and finally the aforementioned kid films.
Even as his theoretical budgets got bigger, Rodriguez still employed many self-taught, small-budget tricks. His do-it-yourself mindset has extended, at some point, to every stage of production: production design, editing, even music. His house is basically his studio, as I understand, and much of his filming takes place in and around Austin, Texas.
After Rodriguez got big, he went around in the mid-90s giving seminars on making films the cheap and creative way. BBC broadcast one of his talks. While that early talk is fairly basic, his DVD special features allow him to go more in-depth on several movie-specific subjects, without becoming exhausting and boring.
Ten Minute Film School
Several of Rodriguez’ DVDs contain specials called Ten Minute Film Schools. These typically cover tips and tricks that were used specifically in that movie. Unlike your typical behind-the-scenes specials, these short features deal with the more technical side of film-making, from stunt work to using Photoshop to clever editing, usually with an emphasis on doing things inexpensively.
A particularly fun Film School to watch is this 15 Minute Flick School from Sin City. Warning, though: it’s pretty much imperative that you watch the movie first if you don’t want to be spoiled. If Sin City isn’t your style, it’s still interesting to watch, but note that there are still some violent clips from the film (though they lose their effect once you see the green screen).
Ten Minute Cooking School
There aren’t as many of these around, but they’re all worth a watch. My personal favorite remains the breakfast tacos from Sin City, but there are a few other dishes floating around out there. The Cooking School on Shorts is quite different from the others – he makes cookies with his daughter. Adorable, but he doesn’t use his trademark Cooking School phrase (and when you watch one, you’ll understand what I mean and why).
Movies to Find
Pretty much any movie from Once Upon a Time in Mexico ’til now is loaded with interesting special features. From scouring amazon, I see that both Spy Kids 2 and 3 have Ten Minute Film Schools. Strangely, I can’t seem to find any information on Sharkboy and Lavagirl - maybe there are some geek parents out there who can help me out?
Of course, there’s always Youtube, but what’s out there is woefully incomplete (I couldn’t find the features from Shorts, for example). For many, special features are something to skip – but I could listen to Rodriguez talk film and food all day. Mmm.
Um, I’m thinking of the volcano cookies. Of course I am.