'From Dusk Till Dawn' Bites into a Big Kahuna

Director Eduardo Sanchez on El Rey, Rodriguez, and that tasty burger

I'll take a Utah meal, double pineapple. The famous Big Kahuna Burger opens its doors From Dusk Till Dawn.
I'll take a Utah meal, double pineapple. The famous Big Kahuna Burger opens its doors From Dusk Till Dawn. (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

It's a mystery that plagued cineastes since Reservoir Dogs. We know they got some tasty burgers, but what does the inside of a Big Kahuna Burger look like? Tonight, in the latest episode of From Dusk Till Dawn, director Eduardo Sanchez swings open the doors on the most famous fake fast food joint in the world.

Last Fall, anyone driving up Austin's Airport Boulevard would have seen the old Stallion Grill converted into Central Texas' first Big Kahuna Burger. Created by Quentin Tarantino for his first completed feature, it's been a running a visual gag in both his films and those of his long-time co-conspirator, Robert Rodriguez. Now the Austin film maker has included it in his newest project, the TV adaptation of his 1996 horror-crime-comedy From Dusk Till Dawn on the El Rey Network.

For the show's third outing, Rodriguez hands off directing duties to Sanchez. A horror hall-of-famer for redefining found footage in The Blair Witch Project, now Sanchez films the first scenes inside the diner. When he turned up on set, everything was designed and in place for him. He said, "I honestly didn't know how big a deal it was until later."

Firing up the Kahuna grill is not Sanchez's only job: He also has to extend the mythos of the original film to episodic length. "I can't believe they let me loose," he said. "We loved so many bits of that movie, so we wanted to expand on things but not lose that chemistry."

In the first two episodes, Rodriguez put the lens on Texas Ranger Jesse Garcia (Freddie Gonzalez) and the Gecko brothers: Most particularly screwball sociopath/supernatural conduit Seth (Zane Holtz.) Tonight, it's bank robbing brother Richie (D.J. Cotrona) and mysterious Mexican gangster Carlos (Wilmer Valderrama) under the microscope in this expanded, parallel universe trip to the Titty Twister. It's filled with revamps from the movie. Case in point: "The classic hotel room scene, where Quentin sits on the bed and asks the teller to come over. … What I loved was taking these little moments that, obviously, in a feature film you can't expand on, and spending almost half an episode in that hotel room."

The idea of working on the show came up last year, when Rodriguez first told him about his nascent TV network: Aimed at the young Latino audience, and delivering a lot more than cliche-riddled telenovellas, he's planning for El Rey to be a game changer. Sanchez said, "I told him, It's about time someone does something like this, and anything you need, I'm there."

It puts him in the rare position of walking into Rodriguez's pre-assembled Troublemaker Studio's machine as a director. Add on the extra pressure of being the first name on set after Rodriguez's double barrel opening blast. "He asked me to direct one of the episodes, but he didn't tell me it would be right after him."

Even though Rodriguez had the set wired so he could remotely watch the whole proceedings, he didn't play helicopter producer. Calling him "a great collaborator," Sanchez said, "He came by just to make sure everything's alright and pretty much left me alone."

Even with Rodriguez only a video link away, arguably Sanchez's biggest challenge was solving the riddle of what this version of From Dusk is, since the series is a lot grittier and grimier then the original movie. When he signed up, Rodriguez was still in production on his episodes, so Sanchez had to feel out the new tone carefully through constant consultation with the crew. He said, "I met with Eduardo (Enrique Mayén), my DP, and I said, 'just let me know what you've been doing, and keep that pace going, keep that energy going.'"

Even without El Rey, Sanchez is becoming a regular visitor to Central Texas. He shot his latest found footage feature, Exists out at Spiderwood Studios, and debuted it to rave response and an audience award at SXSW. That was a bitter-sweet moment for Sanchez, who had to miss his own world premier because he was out of town on another project. "I went, 'oh my god, they're showing my movie right now," he said. "It was pretty depressing, but great to experience from afar."

However, if From Dusk is a hit, don't rule out another visit to the ATX. Sanchez said, "I hope there's a second season, and they ask me back."

From Dusk Till Dawn episode three debuts Tuesday, March 25 the on El Rey Network at 8pm Central. More info at www.elreynetwork.com.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

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Robert Rodriguez, Troublemaker Studios, Mexploitation, El Rey Network, From Dusk Till Dawn, Eduardo Sanchez, The Blair Witch Project, Exists, Quentin Tarantino, SXSW, Spiderwood Studios, Zane Holtz, D.J. Cotrona, Wilmer Valderrama, Eduardo Enrique Mayén

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