Film is a major cog in the machine of SXSW, but television is beginning to gain traction at the popular media festival, and one new show ready to lead the charge in 2014 is from Austin's own backyard.
A product of the new El Rey Network, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a bold step for a young television channel. A spin-off of the 1996 Robert Rodriguez-directed cult horror film with a script by Quentin Tarantino, the TV series looks to do more than just separate itself from its source material — it’s looking to leave a lasting effect as El Rey’s introduction to the world.
Filmed at Troublemaker Studios in East Austin, it may be easy to consider the series just another reboot of a cult classic, but Rodriguez and his cast say it's a unique chance to explore a larger world only hinted at in the film’s finale.
On the walls of the studio’s meeting room hang various forms of memorabilia from previous Rodriguez and Troublemaker flicks, the most prominent of which is a matte painting that was the film’s final shot (a hidden Aztec temple that was the foundation of the vampire-infested Titty Twister strip club). The painting was the first source of inspiration for Rodriguez and his team of writers when the series entered production.
"When Quentin first told me about the script that took place in Mexico I thought that we could bring in a lot of some kind of ancient vampire type culture in Aztec or Mayan mythology," says Rodriguez. "I always knew there was something really rich there, as that temple sort of suggested. So when we thought of doing our first series for El Rey, From Dusk Till Dawn has always been a fan favorite."
"But instead of just making it required viewing for people to watch the first one or anything, I want to retell it," Rodriguez continues. "If the film was the short story, I want to retell the novel."
In order to have the story carry over to later seasons, the characters require different motivations and different fates from the film. And Rodriguez and his team of writers have included ideas that are either brand-new or have been kicked around since the first film, adding to a larger world. The final shot of the film (that pulls back revealing the temple), adds "story value," Rodriguez says, so the audience can easily imagine other stories. "They kind of see it in their head. Well, now we’re making a version of it they can see," he explains.
To essentially rewrite a beloved horror film is a tall order. The cast also has some big shoes to fill from a film that starred George Clooney, Tarantino, Salma Hayek and plenty more. But any stress that the actors might feel is eclipsed by their excitement at being an integral part of El Rey Network’s first signature scripted series — and also making Rodriguez’s vision come to life.
Wilmer Valderrama, who plays an original character created for the series, says that Rodriguez "has created a platform for all of us to perform how we know we can and to express ourselves the best we could." Valderrama also understands how El Rey is making a firm statement of its personality from the beginning.
"This is straight-up who we are. You’re either going to love it, or if you don’t that’s totally cool. But if you love it, this is your home," says Valderrama. "And to be on board of this initial first line of fire as we launch this brand-new destination, a brand-new movement on television, I’m not surprised of the coalition of people that Robert has put together. Everyone in this cast and everyone in the network that’s coming on board has somehow touched pop culture in one way or another — and reinvented it together now. And that’s really fun."
Zane Holtz, who takes over the role of Richie Gecko that was performed by Tarantino in the film, expresses the same excitement for being one of the first faces to represent a new network. "It’s probably the best opportunity you can be given as an actor on television. It’s do or die, basically … To be at the forefront and to be part of something as it’s coming together is incredible."