SXSW Gets Mesmerized by First Look at Robert Rodriguez's Hypnotic

The Austin filmmaker blows the roof off the Paramount

Ben Affleck in Hypnotic, the upcoming thriller from Robert Rodriguez (Photo by 2023 Hypnotic Film Holdings LLC)

The Paramount Theatre played host to many packed and exuberant screenings throughout weekend one of the South by Southwest Film & TV Festival – opening night crowd-pleaser Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, Eva Longoria's directorial debut Flamin' Hot, and HBO's new Austin-shot true-crime drama, Love & Death, to name a few.

There was a thunderous response to the action-packed flick, which hearkened back in tone to Rodriguez’s bloody and cool Mexico Trilogy – coincidentally, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the release of his debut, El Mariachi, and Rodriguez received a celebratory cake onstage from Festival Director Claudette Godfrey.

As was to be expected by the writer of classic microbudget how-to handbook Rebel Without a Crew, the Q&A quickly metamorphized into an impromptu film school, starting with the inspiration for his thriller about an Austin cop (Ben Affleck) searching for his missing daughter. One word: Hitchcock. In 2002 he was editing Spy Kids 2 and he “had a DVD of the newly restored Vertigo playing in the background. I just thought, ‘Oh, those Hitchcock movies are so cool.’” What really struck him was how Hitchcock rarely showed violence but implied everything through the cut. Like in Psycho, where the knife never enters the skin in the shower scene. “It’s just edits.”

That inspired the script for Hypnotic, which he worked on for the next two decades. He originally set it in Austin, but when it was finally greenlighted by Solstice Studios the action moved to Los Angeles and the filming relocated to Santa Clarita. However, the start date for shooting was set for April 27, 2020, and the pandemic put paid to those plans. “Then it was going to be in Canada, but then there was going to be so much quarantine time up there just for bringing up day players, that wasn’t going to work, and finally I said, ‘Let’s just go back to Austin.’”

It was moments like these that proved the wisdom of words he shared from George Lucas, who had encouraged him not to move to L.A. but, just as the Star Wars creator with Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, to open his own studio. As Lucas told him, “When you live outside of the box, you think outside of the box.” This was when being a regional filmmaker was a rarity (Rodriguez noted there was George A. Romero in Pittsburg, John Waters in Baltimore, and Richard Linklater in Austin, and that was about it) but his decision to stay here and build Troublemaker has turned out to be the right one.

However, while the filming delays meant he could bring the movie back home, it also saw the budget burn away on those false starts. “The best way to cut money is to cut days. It started on a 55-day schedule, went down to 50, 45, 40, 34. And not 34 real days, because it was COVID, so it was what’s called French hours – no lunch, you shoot straight through, and 10 hours is the max you can do, so it’s really six to eight good hours. So it was really a 20- to 25-day schedule.”

The key now was winning over his leading man to this style of shooting, and Rodriguez admitted to luring Affleck in with his own experiences as an indie filmmaker. “‘Ben, man, it’s going to be like the roaring Nineties again! Remember when we used to shoot fast and loose, guerrilla style, handheld?’ I’m so glad I had Ben, he’s the best. He said, ‘Yeah, man, I stand around so long on sets, I didn’t know anyone shot like this anymore.’”

And that’s where Rodriguez delivered his own wisdom to aspiring filmmakers. “Just start. … If I waited until I was ready, I wouldn’t have got anything made.”

Hypnotic is scheduled for release later this year.


Narrative Spotlight, Work-in-Progress Screening

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