Robert Rodriguez On Creative Action: “You Don’t Have To Know Anything; You Just Have To Start”

The writer-director behind “Sin City” and “Spy Kids” discusses the creative power in acting without questioning and his new project with BlackBerry.

Note: This article is also included in our year-end creative wisdom round-up.


Robert Rodriguez has been collaborating with his children for years. In fact, his son Racer Rodriguez was credited with developing the story for The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl when the boy was only eight years old. So the elder Rodriguez knows from cultivating a child’s creative mind. “Naturally kids just create,” he says. “But as they’ve gotten older, I’ve had to teach my kids how to be kids again, and it works wonders for them to hear it. As a kid, you don’t know anything–you don’t have to know anything. You just have to start. As you get older you start to think, What if I fail? What if I can’t do it? So you reteach them what they already know: You don’t have to do anything. Just show up. You’re not going to know what you’ll draw until it’s done. All you have to do is show up with a pen in your hand and a blank piece of paper. But unless you pick up the pen and start, it’s not going to come to you. You’re not going to just dream it up. You have to start the process.”

Now the filmmaker wants you to take his advice and apply it to work…with him. Rodriguez has teamed up with BlackBerry for its Keep Moving project, aimed at promoting the new BlackBerry Z10. The Austin, Texas-based filmmaker rallied his production team from the upcoming Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. When they wrapped the feature, they shot Two Scoops, a short film starring Electra and Elise Avellan–his nieces, whom you might know from Machete and Grindhouse–as “ice-cream scoopers by day/danger-seekers by night.” But there are elements missing from it. Which is where his fans–anyone, really–come in. As three just-released videos lay out, there are opportunities to act, design a creature, and take photos.

“People are constantly writing me on Twitter, saying, Put me in your movie!” says Rodriguez. “Now they can! We have a whole blank screen waiting for them.” He literally made the movie with holes in it. That’s pretty close to how he does it with his usual collaborators, as he explains. “I give them a sense of what I want–a huge monster–then they go and design it. They run it by me and I give them notes,” which is what he’ll do with the most intriguing entries. “I would say, ‘Yours is one of the finalists; I love what you did here but now I want you to give me, say, three heads instead of two.’ I’m going to respond to whatever they send me. That’s what’s so fun. You take what people bring to you and figure out how to make it work.”

From the beginning, the project was a collaboration. As Rodriguez recounts, BlackBerry came to him with the idea of making a short film that leaves holes for the audience to contribute. Rodriguez said yes, but he threw it back at them: He challenged them to take a pass at the script. They cooked up 17 pages that laid out the ice-cream truck scenario, and they suggested casting Rodriguez’s nieces. They also threw out the idea of including Austin local Jesse James. “So he’s in it as a guy who gives them a gadget to go get the monster with.” Right now that gadget is a green stick; it’s your job to come up with a design–3-D drawings or popsicle sticks, the director says–for what it will be. Rodriguez will choose one and his team will craft it in CG. And it better be effective–it has to kill that creature, which is another thing you can create.

“If you’ve been waiting to be part of something, this is your chance–and BlackBerry’s footing the bill,” he says. The budget is comparable to that of a major commercial. “They gave us a great budget. It looks like a real movie–I have my own money-saving tricks. We made the money they gave us go a long way,” says the director who took props from his previous films. “We still have money left to do the CG on what the audience brings us.”

So now it’s your turn.


[Images Courtesy of Felix Lamar | Acne Productions]

About the author

Ari Karpel is a frequent contributor to Fast Company and Co.Create and an instructor at UCLA Extension. His writing about culture, creativity and celebrity has also appeared in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Men's Health, The Advocate and Tablet.