When we first checked in with director Robert Rodriguez, it was 1993, and young fellow Austinite Eric Guthrie was putting together a synth score for the breakthrough, low-budget film El Mariachi. The score was recorded wild to DAT; Rodriguez, Guthrie said, did not know what timecode was. In 1996, we found Rodriguez at the SSL Axiom, mixing the music on his film From Dusk Till Dawn. Last month, we tracked him down at Sky-walker Sound’s Mix G, where he was mixing music alongside Michael Semanick, this time on a Neve DFC for Spy Kids.
Rodriguez writes, directs and serves as camera operator, edits, cuts sound effects, produces and supervises visual effects on his films. For Spy Kids, he also wrote a few music cues, did some orchestration and supervised the music. He’s hands-on, to say the least. When he needs a break from editing on the Avid in his garage, he either swivels to his SGI computer to look at visual effects coming in from Canada, or to his fully blown Pro Tools/Digital Performer/Kurzweil rig to play with music. He now, needless to say, knows about timecode.
Counting Rodriguez, there are no fewer than six composers on Spy Kids, with roughly 70 minutes of music in the 84-minute film. Originally, Harry Gregson Williams of Media Ventures was hired to score the film, but he took sick in the fall (he’s better now) and couldn’t finish. Then facing a tight Christmas release deadline, Rodriguez turned immediately to Los Lobos, who had written songs for Desperado.
“I had this idea of Latin orchestral cues that had action, instead of the European orchestra that we’re so used to hearing,” Rodriguez says. “I wanted sort of a Latin James Bond sound, Latin music that sounds spy-like, because it’s all in minor keys. A lot of my favorite music is A minor, B minor, D minor. I immediately thought of Los Lobos, which has that off-rhythm. What’s great about them is that they’re very parts-oriented. Steve Berlin will play a sax part, and you think, ‘I’ll just take that sax part and make it horns.’ It’s almost orchestral already, and that’s what inspired me. Their normal playing is so much more orchestrated and arranged than straight rock.”
Los Lobos ended up providing the driving rhythm for two climactic cues: the wedding scene, which Rodriguez wanted to be as dynamic as John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates,” and the final conflict. Rodriguez then wrote the orchestral parts in his home studio, which were later re-recorded by a 90-piece orchestra. “I wasn’t really sure what a Latin orchestra would sound like,” Rodriguez laughs. “Then I found this composer from the 1930s, Reivueltas, doing this amazing off-tempo stuff, like in 7-time, where you never knew when the 1 was coming in. I thought, ‘This is what a Latin orchestra sounds like,’ where the rhythm is a little different, a little off-kilter.” [Editor’s note: You can hear Rodriguez playing power chords on guitar during some of the changes. And there’s a playful take on Santana’s “Oye Como Va,” which Rodriguez calls “Oye Como Spy.”]
At the same time, Danny Elfman had written the main spy theme, but he was unavailable to write any more. When the film got pushed back to a late March release, he contributed more cues based on the same theme. “Danny showed me how one theme played differently throughout the movie can come out kind of neat,” Rodriguez says. Meanwhile, Heitor Pereira and Gavin Greenaway of Media Ventures filled in for Gregson Williams. The orchestra was recorded at the Skywalker Scoring Stage, then mixed down by Alan Meyerson at Media Ventures.
“I had this idea of Latin orchestral cues that had action, instead of the European orchestra that we’re so used to hearing,”
Rodriguez came up with the idea for Spy Kids in 1994, before he had the first of his three boys. He began writing it in 1997. For a director associated with the likes of Desperado and The Faculty, this was to be his homage to the innocence of Willy Wonka and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
“The concept that I wanted from the beginning was to feel like a child wrote, directed, edited and composed this,” Rodriguez says. “The themes would be almost childlike in their simplicity. Melodies you could hang on to after the movie was over. A simplicity to the notes. There are so many composers, and they all had their own flavor, and it’s seamless. I think they all got excited, because it’s a whimsical movie. It’s fun, it has spies and it’s about kids. There are some very cool cues that you’re just not used to hearing in a kids’ movie. It’s very musical, and I think kids are going to love the soundtrack.”
Tom Kenny is the editor of Mix.