CCI Day 3: The History and Geography of "Sin City"

Sat, July 24th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

TV/Film
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

Cracking jokes and nudging one another like old college roommates, acclaimed director Robert Rodriguez and legendary comic creator Frank Miller led an enthusiastic crowd on a trip into "Sin City" at Comic-Con International in San Diego Saturday afternoon. They were joined on stage by three of the film's gorgeous actresses, Jaime King (who plays "Goldie"), Rosario Dawson ("Gail") and the widely cheered Jessica Alba (the stripper "Nancy"). They called out several times for cast member Nick Stahl, who played the Yellow Bastard.

Rodriguez admitted that he had a hard time tracking down and contacting Frank Miller, who was less than enthusiastic about taking calls from Hollywood after disconnects like he had on the "Robocop" franchise. The Comic Reel chased down Miller after the panel and asked him, "Who made the connection between you and Robert Rodriguez possible?" Miller replied, "[DC's] Bob Shreck gave Robert my phone number."

After a few phone messages, Rodriguez got aggressive. He called Josh Hartnett down to Texas to film the first portion of the movie (a story called "The Customer is Always Right") as a "test." "If Frank didn't like it, it was a test," Rodriguez said with a shrug. "If he like it, it was the first scene of the movie." Rodriguez then said, "I called Frank and said, 'hey, just by chance I'm gonna be in New York on Friday or Saturday, I'd like to show you this thing I shot, just as a test.' Frank says, 'Okay.' So I got off the phone and told my wife, 'Pack up the kids, we're going to New York.'"

Miller was wowed by the reel, as were a number of other parties. Again with the easy banter between them they encouraged each other to tell the stories. While showing it to a Hollywood agent for one actor, they related the story of how Miller had been "screwed" by the movie industry before, and the slow-talking agent said, "Welcome to Hollywood." After seeing the scene (which was shown in its entirety for the crowd), the slow-talking agent said, "wait, you did all this, you got Josh Hartnett, and you didn't have a deal?" Rodriguez, reportedly sitting in the man's office wearing a cowboy hat said, "Welcome to Texas."

They soon got a chance to show the opening scene, with its stark visuals and delicate use of color, to actor Bruce Willis. According to Miller, Willis watched the whole scene on a large flat screen monitor, and after it finished he asked, "Was that what's in the book?' Miller replied positively and Willis stood up to say, "I'm in."

When the topic swung to the conflict with the Director's Guild of America, Rodriguez first suggested to Miller that only Miller would be credited as a director, "since when he was writing this, that's what he was doing, directing. He shouldn't have to come in to directing at this level," he said, indicating a low or journeyman level, "he should be up here, he should be with me." Miller considered the situation and said, "On my tombstone, it will say, 'does not play well with others.'" So Rodriguez resigned, "which let us bring in Quentin, who also isn't in the DGA ... we broke every rule there was."

"It was a really easy schedule," Rodriguez said. "We'd shoot, and then we'd take off two weeks to cast the next part. Frank picked it up really quickly, he learned it in like a month. I used to be a cartoonist, I know -- the job of directing is like drawing. It's a ball ... if you're in Austin."

Jessica Alba was simple in her praise, sayin, "that f***in' rocked!" after seeing the excerpt. She joked, "okay, I had to make out with Bruce Willis, how hard is that?" Referring to a scene where Alba does a striptease to an Emmylou Harris song, Rodriguez turned to Miller and said, "You were misting up, or crying, weren't you?" Miller said, "I got emotional, it was just great, seeing a scene that's been in my head since I wrote it."

Rosario Dawson was equally profane and enthusiastic. The costume manager was originally afraid Dawson wouldn't wear it, but she called it "My S&M superhero bit," and wore it with relish. "Don't grow up," she told the crowd. "Robert lives in a castle with all his toys, and makes these beautiful things."

Other fun tidbits include: Quentin Tarantino came down to film in digital, for just one day, for his first time. Miller told Rodriguez, "This day is the most fun I've had in my life." When Rodriguez asked if he'd won Tarantino over to digital filmmaking, the "Pulp Fiction" director said, "Mission accomplished." There will be new "Sin City" books inspired by ideas that came up during production. Rodriguez ended up reigning in Miller, who'd say, "I have a new idea on how to do this," and Rodriguez would reply, "I dunno, it's not how you inked it." "There were only small dialogue changes," Miller said, "that were revealed on the set, to stay more true to the source material." The completed running time is supposed to be just about two hours, but Rodriguez will include every scene on the DVD, "so you can watch the full cut stories, like if you say, 'I wanna watch Big Fat Kill today,' you can watch a full fifty minute movie.'" Also, fans will be able to download "The Customer is Always Right" within two weeks, which helped discourage pirates.

Finally, Rodriguez talked about bringing Mike Allred's "Madman" to the screen. "It'd be more of an adaptation than a translation, which is what this [Sin City] is. 'Madman' is so schizophrenic, we're trying to find a way to cuisinart it all together. It's next."

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