An Interview With Alvaro Rodriguez

TMP: What is it that drove you toward a career as a writer?

Alvaro: I was always attracted to writing, from earliest childhood. I admit I was a little perplexed by the nebulousness of it all, the challenge of making something out of nothing, and figuring it all out. I started with short stories and poems, a few stabs at something longer and more substantial, and then out of college started screenwriting.

We always encounter aspiring writers wanting to make the move to Los Angeles or New York, yet Texans seem to do just find migrating toward Austin. The city seems to have a great film community so can you tell me a little bit about being a screenwriter in Austin?

Working outside of Hollywood certainly has its challenges. If you want to be a screenwriter and you can be in Los Angeles, then be there. But if you can’t, by all means, write wherever you are. “A writer can write anywhere” is a maxim that really does bear out more and more. Austin is as vibrant a film community as exists anywhere outside of Hollywood. The level of talent and interest and opportunity in Texas is frankly incredible. Get yourself known and do good work.

How long do you normally take to complete a screenplay from start to finish? And can you give us a little insight into your process?

Alvaro: Screenplays are tough to quantify sometimes. It all depends on the story. That’s why I like to spend a good amount of time pre-writing and hammering things out, getting a significant lay of the land before I dive into the script itself. Once I have the map, a draft could take a month or so to complete, but the preparation can take longer. You have to be vigilant that you’re not over-procrastinating and avoiding the real work. You can easily circle the drain of Act I until you drown in it. Eliminate distraction and set reachable goals. It’s not the easiest thing but when it works, it feels really good.

TMP: I stumbled across your story, ‘El Nino Actor’ which was great. What was your inspiration for the story?

Alvaro: “El Niño Actór” grew out of a series of border-set short stories I wrote a while back, each dealing with love and loss and this sort in-between space where impossible things sometimes happen. It’s the story of a broken man asked to recall the singular event of his boyhood, when he was selected to play a small role in a Western shot near his hometown in south Texas. It was inspired by the film of “Viva Zapata” which was shot in Roma, Texas, in the 1950s, and starred Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn.

TMP: How would you compare the process of writing traditional narrative fiction to screenwriting?

Alvaro: They are two different animals, but they share some common DNA. In narrative, the writer is fairly unbridled and can wander through story with character’s thoughts, narration, incredible detail and description. In screenwriting, you are dealing with a much more skeletal beast. You’ve got to get things down to their essence and create a world in the reader’s mind with limited resources. What comes through both styles and types of writing is the writer’s voice. That’s evident, or at least it should be, whether you’re writing a novel or a script.

TMP: Your your short story displayed a deep-rooted appreciation for literature so I was wondering if you have any screenplays in your vault that display more of a dramatic tone? And do you feel it’s important for writers to experiment with different genres or try to find a niche?

Alvaro: Absolutely experiment. Don’t limit yourself to one thing — others will be all too ready to do that for you. But while you can, try out new material, new genres, whatever piques your interest. I’ve tried my hand at many of them, from vampire westerns to kids’ movies, from border-set period pieces to tentpole action adventures. That’s really how you find out what you’re good at, what your strengths are. There are a handful of novels I’d like to adapt, and a good many real-life stories, too.

TMP: We often get asked what the next step is after completing a screenplay and even encountered a few people at the last AFS Screenwriting Seminar with that very question. Do you have any advice for an aspiring screenwriter about what to do when the script is “finished”?

When it’s finished, start another. While you’re doing that, get the first one out. Get some reads, some feedback. You can try some of the bigger contests — Nicholl, Austin Film Festival. If you rank high or win, you’ll get some attention. You can also target queries to potential managers and agents. A little research goes a long way in getting your script into the right hands.

Your most recently produced screenplay was ‘Machete’ which I enjoyed very much. It’s a fun watch and I enjoyed the freedom the characters enjoyed in their world, but, while writing ‘Machete’ was there anything that you cut out because it was actually too over-the-top?

Alvaro: Plenty was cut from “Machete” which turned out to be a good thing. One example of a particular “over the top” moment: the scene where the character played by Robert de Niro shoots a pregnant woman crossing the border. An earlier draft of the script has him walk over to her body and carve out what we think is her fetus, which turns out to be a large bag of dope she had surgically implanted. It was just way too much and it muddied the storyline.

I may be wrong here but I believe I read somewhere that the concept for ‘Machete’ was hatched some time before ‘Grindhouse’ so was the original concept the same thing that ended up on the screen?

Alvaro: The concept for “Machete” goes back to when Robert Rodriguez was shooting “Desperado” and had first met Danny Trejo and talked about creating a vehicle in which he would be the action hero. “Grindhouse” provided the opportunity to make the trailer for “Machete,” a “fake” trailer, because the movie wouldn’t really be made. I think the film that finally did get made is an evolution of that original concept, but the first idea, Danny Trejo as a wronged ex-Federale bent on revenge, is still evident.

TMP: There was a recent announcement about a few sequels for ‘Machete’ so we wanted to know if you’ll be penning those as well?

Alvaro: “Machete Kills” is currently in development. We’ll have to see how it comes together.

TMP: Do you have anything in the pipeline we should be on the lookout for?

Alvaro: I’ve just been hired to write a Western which I’m very excited about, and I’m developing a couple of horror projects and a neo-noir thriller with some really great people. It’s an exciting time.

If you want to learn more about Alvaro you can read his short story ‘El Niño Actór’ or take a trip down to your local video store (for as long as those still exist) and grab a copy of one of his films.