Pure unbridled passion and drive are the fire inside Michael S. Rodriguez. His personal inferno fuels this ambition. While many have tried to extinguish his dream, repeatedly he perseveres, and he does so on his own terms. This photographer turned filmmaker is taking control, and he’s got something to say.
Michael S. Rodriguez on Overcoming Obstacles:
On the home front, especially when you come from nowhere, the Hollywood dream won’t happen to you. It can’t happen. I was told that from an early age. So I took a job here and there and I realized that is not who I am. If I could have done it over back then, I would have believed in myself more. Now, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I am running out of time. This is my time.
Sometimes I think the negativity propels me. I’m kind of a rebel and I don’t like to be told what to do. I think the more resistance I get I move forward. Someone I respected criticized my directing and I took that and grew from it. But I also know that if I can create NIGHT OF THE SEAMONKEY (2013) and make it work I have the self-confidence that I can do a dozen more projects and make them work. I sold my Dad’s car to make that movie. I was in the game. Negativity keeps my drive alive. “Can’t” or “shouldn’t” motivate me. I flip off everybody on camera like Carol Burnett tugs her ear. That’s my message to everyone who told me I couldn’t do something.
My daughter came to me and said her friends liked and knew of my work and I told her I was glad she knew what I did and was proud of me for it. The time and travel it takes to do a production isn’t easy to understand if you haven’t lived it, so I’m thankful that they appreciate what I do. It makes it all the more rewarding.
Michael S. Rodriguez on his Inspirations:
I’ve always liked the way THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) was shot. I totally love exploitation films. Most people think horror films are my favorite movies, but in all actuality, I love musicals. Rogers and Hammerstein, OKLAHOMA (1955) and stuff like that. I’m very eclectic.
My inspiration is all over the map. Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, Jack Hill, Russ Meyer… I find inspiration in them all. I try to use elements of all of these in my films. Jim Van Bebber is one of the biggest influences in my whole life and I knew I had to work with him on HOMEWRECKED (2016). I was so amazed that he is on this independent level, but would hit so hard. He is so visual and I take a page from him and am truly inspired by him.
I don’t go to the movies a lot. When I go and there’s a bunch of generic jumps and fluff and that really pisses me off. I like to film with a writer’s point of view, and just really make everything I do feel authentic. Many don’t see NIGHT OF THE SEAMONKEY for what it truly is. The subtext is about the disconnection of the kid and his parents that don’t actually care about each other. It’s a dysfunctional childhood based on my own story.
I don’t like films that pretend to be exploitation pieces, where they really hammer you over the head with an aesthetic. I just try to make it as natural as possible by controlling the colors to reflect the decade of the piece.
Michael S. Rodriguez on Arch Hall Jr.
I remember watching a late show, THE SADIST (1963) and I was just blown away by Arch Hall Jr. For a black and white film, it was absolutely colorful. When social media came around I befriended him. I really wanted him in NIGHT OF THE SEAMONKEY but didn’t have the guts to approach him. Lynn Lowry was in it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to ask. So when it came time for my next piece, I knew that if I didn’t reach out to him I’d be absolutely filled with regret.
We started corresponding through email and eventually we called each other and talked. I told him the clock was ticking on making another film and would joke around about him being 70. I sent him the script and he turned it down. A month went by; he went on vacation, came back and decided he wanted to do the film after all. I already cast his part, so I wrote in a new part for him that he and I developed together. Later I asked him why he decided to work with me, and he said “I saw fire within you, but mostly because you reminded me of my Dad.”
Arch Hall Sr. was an old cowboy actor in the John Wayne films who decided to open his own studio. He didn’t have enough money for big actors like Cary Grant, so he looked around and decided “Hey Arch Jr. you’re going to be an actor!” That wasn’t Arch Hall Jr’s dream, but he couldn’t turn his Dad down.
Unfortunately every time his Dad made a film, the overhead just killed any profit and he would have to sacrifice a lot financially. Once Warner Brothers wanted to come in and work with him, which would have meant needed income, but he turned them down because he couldn’t have complete creative control.
That’s the same kind of person I am. I’ve had offers, but these are my babies and I won’t butcher them. They need to be my vision or I will not be involved. I’ve always held Arch Hall Sr. in high regard and that was the biggest compliment I’ve heard from anyone. He came out, he delivered and to this day we’re dear friends.
Michael S. Rodriguez on Filmmaking:
I had these ultra-religious, judgmental family members that inspired LAMB FEED (2014). In it the family justifies killing self-righteously because the people are “worse” than them. But are they really? The family’s moral compass is way off. Basically they’re incestuous cannibals. If the story calls for me to push your buttons, then I’m going to push your buttons. And with each film the realism seems to be escalating.
I put a lot of symbolism and subliminal messages in my movies. If you watch LAMB FEED in slow motion you’ll see I put a lot of words in there, serial killers, vintage porn, full frontal nudity… I always start very traditional but as we reach the climax of the film, shots become rough until it gets to an apex of being disturbingly raw and real. I always like to include a peek of reality in between what is happening cinematically as well, just to throw in the real ugliness of the world with the fiction.
I film with a digital Sony a6000 camera, and for HOMEWRECKED and NIGHT OF THE SEAMONKEY I used digital vintage glass lenses to achieve the desired look. Eventually my goal is to shoot on 16mm or 35mm. The problem is that you don’t have instant access to what you just shot like you would with digital. You just have to shoot and hope for the best.
During HOMEWRECKED I give the film almost a surveillance camera type of feel, but at the same time I wanted it real tight. To achieve this I filmed the same take up to 12 times. By the last go around the actors became super aggressive so it really worked for the scene as well. I always film different angles. For the first 10 minutes you’re going to get traditional shots but as the film progresses you will see more erratic angles. I do have experimental ideas that I’d like to further explore.