Women In Cinema Tours Troublemaker Studio
|The lucky "field-trippers" and Kurt.|
Thursday. The sun was out and spring was in full swing. With smiles and unconcealed excitement, a group of Women In Cinema members began an exciting tour of Troublemaker Studios, the production company founded and owned by Robert Rodriguez and producer Elizabeth Avellán. We were led by the gracious and knowledgeable Kurt, resident graphic designer, who does all the studio's posters, typeface objects, and logos, like the fake branding on cigarettes in a film.
Building 1: Production, Editing, and Visual Effects
"This used to be an airplane hanger," Kurt said when we entered the expansive sound stage complete with large green screen. Indeed the studio is housed in the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport building. It's precisely this re-purposed Roger Corman-esque sensibility that seems to pervade Troublemaker, from the recycled set pieces and materials to the fact that the companies' small staff members wear many hats. Outside the stage, old props, movie posters, and mementos decorate the rooms, and we even saw a life size wax figure of Mikey Rourke as Marv in Sin City. We could only glimpse into Robert Rodriguez's office but from what I could see, it was a colorful medley with paint splattered walls and furniture that would look at home in a Doctor Seuss book. The perfect sanctuary for a child-at-heart director.
The Back Lot
From the sound stage we made our way toward the back lot, during which we got a special treat in the form of large acrylics painted by Rodriguez himself! We saw the self-made Helicopter used in Planet Terror made from the front part of a helicopter, Plexiglas, and wood. "This thing is really light," exclaimed Kurt. He proceeded to make admirable attempts to pull the light vehicle. It did not budge. Oh, and it is for sale by the way if anyone wants such a large conversation piece for their yard. As we left the building, we stepped onto the asphalt of the back parking lot a.k.a the studio's dumping spot. Immense set pieces from old films and various discarded materials littered this space. Kurt explained the creation of some of the pieces. Notables included massive Styrofoam trees from Predators and Terror trucks.
Building 2: Art Department, Wardrobe, and Plasma
Finally, Kurt led us into the second building, the home of the art department. We saw sketches, tools, photo references, and 3D miniature models of actual sets. We met the master of the space, Steve. As the lead Production Designer, he dispensed much information and many wise words. He explained the processes of prop creation, plasma laser guns and laser cutting, 3D printing, and tool fabrication. We learned how materials like wax, silicone, and wood are used and why the in-house people can help finance the film, generate preliminary excitement, and make the director's concept and vision into a concrete, explainable model. Steve also regaled us with anecdotes about how he came to work in film from a background in electrical engineering. For example, when he found out he had gotten a meeting with Rodriguez, Steve brought his resume as well as a hand-crafted jazzed up guitar case (a la Desperado), and effectively turned a 10-minute interview into an hour long discussion. He got the job and the rest is history. Finally we met a University of Texas College of Fine Arts alumnus, Toni. A Jill-of-all-trades, she explained the ins and outs of the plasma gun, welding, sculpting, and how much fun it was to combine her lifelong loves of art and biology.
We came. We saw. We basked in the sheer bad-ass-ery that was Troublemaker Studios. The place exudes a feeling of fun, of youthful energy, of Austin independence. And most notably, at least for this homesick girl, the entire place felt like the crazy cove of a close-nit creative family. Along the walls, "photo albums" of the cast and crew from each production, from El Mariachi and Desperado, to Sin City and Spy Kids, are framed and can attest to the pride and passion of the Troublemaker family.
We were so thankful that Women in Cinema was fortunate enough to be given an insider glimpse of the company! Thanks Kat and Troublemaker for making it possible!
Staff Advice for WIC:
1. To stand out in an interview BRING SOMETHING DIFFERENT!
2. Read two NECESSARY magazines: Cinefex and American Cinematographer
3. COMMUNICATION between directors, producers, art department, visual effects, props department is tantamount and can save time and money later on in the production if adequately addressed early on.
4. WORK HARD to cultivate a GOOD TEAM, be a great listener, and reconnect with like minded and like-skilled peers even after college.
5. Be nice to EVERY Production Assistant because today's PA is tomorrow's producer.