In the late-'90s, two hot names in independent cinema – Quentin Tarantino, fresh off of Pulp Fiction, and Robert Rodriguez of El Mariachi and Desperado – teamed up for the unconventional '96 horror film From Dusk Till Dawn. One part story of two thieves on the lam (played by George Clooney and Tarantino) and one part balls-to-the-wall vampire film, From Dusk Till Dawn, as a property, proved it had legs. Perhaps it was the story's cunning thieves, Seth and Richie Gecko, or perhaps it was the unapologetic and grotesque portrayal of the vampires (they sure ain't pretty). Whatever the case may be, it spawned two sequels, a comic book adaptation and a video game.
You can now add "television show" to that list.
In today's climate of spin-off shows based on feature film properties, From Dusk Till Dawn doesn't seem like an obvious choice as the original film took place…from dusk till dawn. Rodriguez - who spearheaded the series which will be housed at Rodriguez's El Rey Network – aims to open up that vampire-populated canvas even further with the show, promising new characters as well as a few familiar ones.
Shock Till You Drop spoke with Rodriguez about what we can expect, Tarantino's thoughts on the series and how From Dusk Till Dawn will evolve on the small screen.
The 10-episode serialized drama is centered around bank robber, Seth Gecko (D.J. Cotrona) and his violent, unpredictable brother, Richard "Richie" Gecko (Zane Holz), who are wanted by the FBI and Texas Rangers Earl McGraw and Freddie Gonzalez after a bank heist left several people dead. While on the run to Mexico, Seth and Richie encounter former pastor Jacob Fuller and his family, whom they take hostage. Using the family RV to cross the border, chaos ensues when the group detours to a strip club that is populated by vampires. They are forced to fight until dawn in order to get out alive.
Ryan Turek: We've seen this world expanded before in remakes. But it looks like you're remaking the first film and then using it as a jumping off point, am I wrong in that? I read earlier that you said this new series is more of a novel as opposed to a short story…
Robert Rodriguez: This only takes into account the first film, the Quentin Tarantino script. Taking that script and treating it as if that was a short story and this series is a novel. So, we're expanding characters and expanding the storyline. Adding new characters, adding different trajectories and different outcomes for characters and a bunch of new stuff. In Quentin's script for instance, they went to a bar in Mexico but Mexico wasn't really taken into account. When I read the script the first time I said I wanted to research the Aztec and Mayan mythologies, if there's anything similar to the vampire cult that we could base the mythology on – that's where the snake iconography came from and the end of the movie with the temple in the back. There wasn't a whole lot of room, the way the original script was written, to put a bunch of stuff in. I wanted to hint there was a little more there and people really liked that last shot. It was a seed I planted without knowing it. And years and years later, when I got my own network, I thought the first show we should do was From Dusk Till Dawn because it was a fan favorite and a known title. It was such a known network, I needed to find something that would entice people to see the network out. It just felt there was so much that could be explored. You could look at that pyramid in the movie and imagine what was going on in there for a television series.
We needed to tell the story that's in the movie in order to get to that point. So, about the first half of the season, there are some sign posts from the movie, but different things happen. By the second half of the season, you're in new territory, you don't know where you are. It's drifted from the original story a lot in cool ways.
Turek: With shows like Hannibal or Bates Motel, fans wonder when the show will hit familiar significant moments. With this, obviously the show will carry its carries to the Titty Twister bar, yes?
Rodriguez: There's definitely iconic things in our show. We know we have to do our version of things, we have to have our version of that. It's familiar, but something completely different happens. You really can't do your homework beforehand in order to guess what happens. But it's interesting, with a fuller story, it's very much like a novel and a complete storyline than you could ever get in a single film.
Turek: Did you run anything by Quentin and what were his thoughts?
Rodriguez: He liked the whole idea of the network. We control the rights to From Dusk Till Dawn so nobody could ever make it into a show. He felt this was the right time to do it and he knew I was into it. He was working his film and he gave his blessing on it for me to go do it. He loved the whole idea of turning it into a series and expanding it. The whole season takes place "from dusk till dawn" and in that timeline. He's been seeing the materials and he's really excited about it.
Turek: You're known for your run and gun style of shooting. Did that apply nicely here for television and the shooting schedule you had?
Rodriguez: Yeah, I wasn't sure how that was going to work. [laughs] We shoot completely different in Austin, I don’t know any other way to compare it to. We’ve always done it in our own way to put the money on the screen, to have more creative freedom. I was interested in seeing how we’d adapt to this television pace. I had heard it was fast. I only directed half the season, we’re on episode eight [now] and I just enjoyed doing them so much. I realized we had always been shooting at a television pace and didn't know it. It wasn't that much faster than the movies. This show is going to look really big. By the time you get to the bar, you can see all of the stuff we have going on. The quality of the FX and the make-up FX that KNB did, post-The Walking Dead, looks amazing compared to what you saw in the first film. It's really freaky.
Turek: I wanted to touch on the design work of the FX. Have they changed a bit?
Rodriguez: Absolutely, because of this new way we're treating them and the mythology we're telling, they don't look like the ones in the original film.
Turek: I remember reading about the FX of the original film and how you liked the diversity of the vampires: One turned into a bat creature, another turned into a giant rat… Is that diversity still there?
Rodriguez: The original script was written because Quentin was given an assignment by a special FX make-up guy who wanted to showcase their FX on a low budget movie – this was before Reservoir Dogs. So, they hired him to write this script about a couple of robbers who show up at a Mexican bar and it turns out to be a bar full of vampires and they had different creatures to showcase the FX. Quentin ended up liking those characters so much, he wrote the first half to showcase the character work and the second half they finally get to the bar. [laughs] Nobody could understand why half of it was one kind of movie and why the other half was a vampire movie. But that's what gave it that charm. This one, the creatures make a lot more sense to the story we're telling. The cult we're telling has its own mythology and that's what we're really building up and decided to tackle.
Turek: Let's talk about D.J. and Zane as Seth and Richie. How does their dynamic or characters differ from Clooney and Tarantino's?
Rodriguez: Just because of the nature of how we're telling the story, there's a lot more going on between the brothers. With Richie in particular. There's a lot more supernatural going on to the story early on. Everything is tied together a lot more. Everyone is drawn to that bar for a reason and that changes the dynamic between Seth and Richie. Their trajectories are different than what the film original was. They're chemistry is fantastic. The film had a great cast and we didn't want to settle here. We got a really great Richie. Jesus, he's great. D.J. is just primed to be a star a lot like Clooney was. He's a big fan of Dusk and what Clooney did. He was my one and only choice for that role.
Turek: Excellent. Look forward to seeing the premiere, see you soon.
Rodriguez: Thanks, brother. Talk soon.
From Dusk Till Dawn will have its world premiere at SXSW on Saturday, March 8th at 4pm in the Vimeo Theater. Stay tuned for our coverage from the event! Look for the series debut on March 11th on the El Rey Network (check your local listings).