MovieWeb goes behind the scenes with the creators of the film and the new feature lush Sin City DVD!
Movie PictureSin City is one of those films that if nothing else, has moved the whole argument of digital film vs. traditional film a giant leap forward. Taking place in a world conceived by Frank Miller and brought to life by the prolific and cutting edge directorial style of Robert Rodriguez, this 1940s styled, noirish tale of cops, crooks, strippers and ladies of the night is surprisingly suited for the new digital frontier Rodriguez and Miller are traveling through.
Recently, at an event at the Arclight Theaters in Hollywood, CA, MovieWeb sat on a Q & A discussion after being allowed to screen some of the supplemental materials for the upcoming Sin City (Recut, Extended,Unrated) DVD. The bonus features that were screened were "How It Went Down" which was essentially a "making of" piece about how this film was made, the "15 Minute Film School" in which Rodriguez broke down (very fast) how the movie was put together in a more technical sense, the "Long Take" which is a one angle, 15 minute shot of Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro driving together and lastly, a sped up 9 minute version of Sin City which shows us the movie with no FX added in.
In attendance were Rodriguez, Miller, guest director on the film, Quentin Tarantino, and make-up/FX guru Greg Nicotero.
Robert Rodriguez: What'd you think, Frank? Did it make you want to go back to the set?
Frank Miller: I feel like I've been there.
Greg Nicotero It was an amazing experience. I think, for me, one of the most interesting moments was the email I got from Robert which was one sentence. It said, "We need to figure out how we're going to do Marv." I said, "Who's the actor playing Marv?" "Mickey Rourke." And I'm like, "Mickey Rourke!?! The actor who hates wearing makeup and punches makeup trailers?" But I'll tell you, he's unbelievable in the movie. I think his performance is absolutely genius.
The first time we did the makeup tests, Frank came up to KNB with Robert and we had done a real subtle nose and real subtle chin prosthetic. It was one of those things where we still wanted to keep Mickey's features. We didn't want to put too much makeup on him. As we did it Robert said, "I was thinking of Danny Trejo, because he's got so much character in his face, those craggily lines and we just need to go further with it." And I'm like, "Further's great!" And Frank sat down with his sketchpad and drew the profile for Marv, and a lightbulb went off, instantly I knew what he wanted. And the first time we went on set, it was interesting watching Frank's reaction because Marv walks on set and I saw Frank go, "Oh sh*t! I don't want to be around this guy!" He'd been drawing it for years, just thinking about what Marv would be like and now seeing it in person Frank was like, "How the hell am I gonna deal with this guy?"
Robert Rodriguez: Yeah, I was talking to Danny Trejo who's done a bunch of movie's of mine, and he's like, "I'm not in Sin City." And I'm like, "You are because we just drew your face crags into Marv, so you kind of get a cameo."
Greg Nicotero What's funny is, in the order that we shot the movies, we shot the Marv segment first, then we shot Yellow Bastard, then we shot Big Fat Kill. So after going through the design process with Marv, Yellow Bastard was much easier knowing how Frank's mind works and what Robert wanted to see. By the time we got to Benicio Del Toro's makeup, it was the first time I could remember, literally where an actor called me and said, "I want to wear prosthetics. I've seen footage of Marv. I've seen footage of Yellow Bastard. I want to look like Jackie Boy in the comic books!" I called Robert and I said, "Benicio actually wants to sit in the makeup chair!" And so we gave him that sort of real chiseled Roman nose and we gave him a chin.
Quentin Tarantino: Yeah, I said to Benicio, "I don't feel like I've worked with you. I feel like I worked with this guy. And so if we ever work together again, I want to work with this guy again!" And he's like, "I got it, man. So, I shouldn't be Benicio I should be like I'm another actor who's disguised without makeup!" And we figured out that he was half Spanish and half French. And I named him Enrique Lobeux. Now he's not playing Enrique Lobeux. He is Enrique Lobeux playing Jackie Boy. He‘s like, "That's it. If we ever do another movie again I'm going to be Enrique Lobeux. And the credits are going to say Enrique Lobeux!"
Greg Nicotero It's interesting too because I guess we really made friends with all the actors. Usually what happens is we're the first people to show up in the morning. Like he had to be there an hour and a half for Mickey's makeup then they go to set. Then at the end of the day they come into the makeup trailer and then they go home. So none of the crew ever sees what they look like outside of the makeup. So, at the end of the Marv segment, a bunch of us went out for some drinks and Mickey came and joined us and he didn't have his prosthetics on, and they way they looked at him was like they didn't recognize him, because they were so accustomed to seeing him in the makeup.
I'll tell you, the actors brought these characters to life. You can only do so much with makeup, the performances were absolutely amazing.
Frank Miller: You know watching that long take, I hadn't remembered what cut-ups Benicio and Clive (Owen) were. I was impressed with Clive from the start, he's a superb actor but to have to keep a straight face, take after take with that maniac sitting next to him... it was a brilliant performance.
Robert Rodriguez: The character of Yellow Bastard and Jr., who Nick Stahl plays, are so different looking I originally thought about casting different actors. I met with Nick and we ended up liking him so much we thought, "Maybe with makeup he'll be so transformed we won't recognize him." So Nick got to play both characters but then I was like, "Well Nick, leave me some phone messages. Work on the voice because the main thing Frank's book says the voice is very recognizable. So he worked on the voice. And he'd leave me phone messages in that voice. And I totally forgot I told him that. So sometimes I'd go home and I'd check messages and I'd hear, (imitating Nick's voice) "Hey Robert, it's me." He'd say some creepy things then hang up and I'd realize, "Oh maybe that's Nick? He must be working on the voice." He got the voice.
And we kind of didn't prep each movie because when I told Frank about making the movie, he was like, "Oh no, I don't want to do that. I'm gonna have to write a script now, it's gonna go to the studio and they're gonna hate it. It's gonna be too violent, they're gonna wanna change it. There's gonna be years of development." I'm like, "There's no development! We're not developing anything, we're moving right into production. You've already written the stuff we're just gonna shoot it as is." So we went right into shooting Marv, we shot one story at a time and we'd only prep one story at a time, so we didn't have a long prep. We'd prep, cast the actors for the Mickey Rourke episode, shoot that for two and a half weeks then we'd take a couple of weeks off to go cast the next story. It would kind of give us a nice break.
It didn't give Greg much time because until a few weeks beforehand we'd say, "Oh, I need Yellow Bastard makeup." And he did that makeup from beginning to end. From conception to final he told me never to tell anybody because then they'd hold him to it, "We heard you did the Yellow Bastard in eight days."
Greg Nicotero The interesting thing is that there's a lot of different actors that they were thinking about. And when you're in the middle of shooting the Marv segment, I can't walk up to Robert and say, "Lets talk about the next episode." Because it felt like a million years away. So in the ten days that we would have off between segments, I would fly back to LA, actually for Yellow Bastard we did three different design sculptures. And I remember Robert was in town cause they were playing a gig at the House of Blues and Robert's like, "I have to play at the House of Blues, can you just put the designs in the back of your car and drive over?" So literally, in the parking lot of the House of Blues we're having a meeting!!
And one other thing, some of the guys over at Troublemaker Studios, one of the things they did, I don't know if Frank knows this or not, they took a photo of Frank...
Frank Miller: I know about that.
Greg Nicotero And they transformed it into Yellow Bastard! And we used that piece of artwork as a guide.
Robert Rodriguez: It was so convincing. I showed it to Frank and he goes, "Wow, that looks fantastic." And I said, "That's you Frank!"
Frank Miller: Go to hell!
Greg Nicotero The trick too was, in the graphic novel, when he's torturing Nancy he's completely naked. Obviously he's wearing underwear in the film, but we had to do a whole chest and belly prosthetic. And we were so focused on the face and I said, "Robert, don't we need this horrible, distended belly?" And he said, "Oh yeah, we need one of those too!" This was like four days before shooting!
Frank Miller: I remember being on set and seeing that Blue Bastard up there, and asking Nick, I said, "Nick, can you push your belly out a little bit?" And all of the sudden this big, blob-like, pustule thing came out and I go, "Oh Greg, you did it."
Greg Nicotero You know all these actors, they brought the prosthetics to life. And watching the whole movie on green screen, in 9 minutes, it was really amazing realizing how many of us were just offscreen, spritzing water to make them look wet, or putting the blood on or holding the knives. To me, one of the most interesting days was like when I'd have all three directors. Because I'd worked with Quentin on all his films and we'd known each other for so long, and he can say stuff like, "Greg, we're waiting on makeup!" And I'll be like, "Mutherf**er, you talking to me?" Just seeing the different sensibilities of each director it really was an amazing day.
It really wasn't necessarily a big crew. I mean, we're shooting on greenscreen the whole time. And Robert uses the same people over and over again. On my crew I had, at the most, maybe 3 or 4 people. It was really such a small intimate environment. What's interesting is because we've all worked with Robert, I've known Robert for 10 years, he surrounds himself with the same people over and over again, and they start thinking like he thinks. He'll turn and ask for something and literally they'll turn and ask him what he's about to ask for. And it's a really amazing experience. Same with Quentin, you have to have your bag of tricks with you.
Robert Rodriguez: Danny Trejo just said that. He was down at the set and he said, "Your crew, they're like a bunch of little Radars. You remember the show Mash? Your whole crew is a bunch of little Radars!"
Quentin Tarantino: I had actually forgotten I was coming. I came straight from the Cannes Film Festival where I had been President that year. Within days of having been at the Cannes Film Festival. So I come in and I was just a little nervous. I hadn't directed in a little bit and you guys had already done two of the segments, and I don't really know a whole lot about the whole digital process. Robert was saying, "Oh, yours will be really good because it's kind of a standalone piece. It will be cool to add your creativity to it." Bottom line is Robert wanted me to try digital filmmaking. He knew I would never do it on my own. But, in Austin, on his soundstages, surrounded by his crew that would be the way to do it. Either I'd like it or I wouldn't like it.
So I show up. And not really being down with the whole digital thing, I was nervous. I wanted to come in prepared. I came to Austin and for a whole two days before I'm working on my shot list. What kind of car scene do I want? Any kind of special shots or anything. So I'm writing it all down and the first moment I'm on set I'm like, "Can I get you guys together?" So I pull Frank and I pull Robert aside and I'm like, "This is what I thought." And I start to act out my version of the scene, all the camera moves on it, so here's my shot list... and these guys are like, "You've got a shot list?" "He's got a shot list!" The first AD was like, "A SHOT LIST?!?! I forgot there was such a thing as a shot list."
And so the whole thing of being nervous, like I'm gonna be the dork on set, actually I was overprepared.
Robert Rodriguez: He made us look like bums. We were like, "Oh, he has every shot figured out. The color, the look... you brought in the Suspiria...
Quentin Tarantino: Yeah, what was one of the things I kept thinking about was my favorite rainy car scene of all time. It's the opening sequence to Suspiria. It's none of that spritz sh*t! It's like big raindrops dripping off their heads.
Greg Nicotero What spritz sh*t, man?
Quentin Tarantino: F**k that sprayed drops of water! I'm like, "None of this spray sh*t, man! Dump their f**king heads in a bucket of water every take!"
Robert Rodriguez: That was his first temper tantrum.
Quentin Tarantino: Because we were doing this in black and white, I remember talking to Robert early on like, "Can we do a yellow light flashing on to the thing? Or, a red light? Or a blue light or that kind of stuff?" And he's like, "I don't know if that's gonna work so lets do all that. Lets try to do it on the set so we have a guidetrack for it, but we'll see if that works or not."
Robert Rodriguez: Yeah, we'll use a cool light or a warm light, and if we have two colors actually we can kind of switch them to any colors we want later. So we just had a cool and a warm light. It worked. It looked great. It's one of the more colorful, great looking pieces.
Frank Miller: I remember after the Miho (Devon Aoki) shot, when the blood splatters on her face. I stopped asking, "Can we do this?" I simply said, "How are we gonna do it?" Robert would just look at a drawing and say, "Oh, we need that. We need that."
Greg Nicotero It was funny the AD's would come to us, Quentin was talking about a shot list, we referenced the graphic novel. So everyday, on a normal movie they'll give you the sides that has all the dialogue and scenes that you're gonna do. On Sin City, the sides were actually from the graphic novel. It was a blueprint. It was a storyboard of the movie and I think one of the reasons why the film was so successful, and why people liked it so much was because it was so faithful to the graphic novel. We would analyze every single panel. It wasn't a matter of going, "Oh, yeah, we're gonna do this shot today." They would say, "The next shot is Yellow Bastard bottom frame of page 81." And that was the frame. Everyone would look at the comic and say, "Okay, that's what we're shooting." Like Robert was saying, the monitors on set, you'd have a color monitor and a black and white monitor and sometimes they would even comp in the backgrounds. You're always looking at it not only how it matches up to the graphic novel, but the contrast of how everything looked.
Frank Miller: I was really terrified of the day when someone would come to me and say, "What is this?" And I'd have to say, "I dropped my brush!"
Greg Nicotero The scene we saw in the long take, right after that when Dwight slams on the break and Jackie Boy's head hit's against the dashboard, it drives the barrel of the .45 into his head further. One day we were looking at it and we went, "Wait a minute, it's a lot shorter. What happened?" And you look at the graphic novel and it's his head on the dashboard with a white star around it. And Frank said, "He hit's the dashboard and pushes the slide halfway into his head." And we're like, "Oh sh*t, really?" So we had to cut the slide in half. It's one of those abstract things where you look at the graphic novel and go, "Wow, what is that?"
Frank Miller: When it came to property I robbed them blind. You should see my studio now.
Robert Rodriguez: You're in such a moment when you're creating something, I didn't want to rethink it now. I always was a fan of it. I always thought they worked. I had a lot of discipline that way. Frank would come on the set when we first started, and he'd say, "I think for this scene I want to try a silhouette of them." You know where they're kissing. And I be like, "I don't know Frank. Look at the book, you did a white silhouette there. No one ever does that. I think we should do it like your book." And he'd look at it and say, "You're right, it is better. I like your discipline." From then on, I wouldn't let Frank change Frank's work.
What I loved about it was Frank went and made Sin City after having experiences in Hollywood, where things got changed a lot. He just said, "I'm gonna go do something for me. That could never be made into a movie. It's like the anti-movie." And that's why I was so interested in making the anti-movie. I didn't want to change it. It was something written completely in a vacuum. Anyone who writes a script they have visions of it becoming a movie, obviously. This was not. It was a complete visual work that was never supposed to be committed to film.
Frank Miller: Tell them about Gail's (Rosario Dawson) hat.
Robert Rodriguez: Sometimes he would come over and ask about something. I would say, "No, no, you already drew it we're shooting it." He'd say, "We don't need this shot." I'd day, "You drew it, we've got to shoot it now." At one point he came over, there's a scene in the rain with Gail and he said, "What if she had this really cool hat?" And I said, "No, it's not gonna match later. Don't go changing that stuff now." And I felt kind of bad because he looked so disappointed, and then he came screaming back, "Hey look!" There's one little panel in this drawing where she actually was putting on this hat. It never shows up anywhere else in the comic. And we were always finding new things in the comic we hadn't seen before. It was like Where's Waldo? We were always finding stuff like that, so I was like, "We gotta shoot it."
Greg Nicotero: We wrapped the movie in June then we came back in December 2004 to shoot the Rutger Hauer (Cardinal Roark) and Powers Boothe (Senator Roark) both, so Robert said, "You wanna see some of the movie?" And he showed me the shot of Bruce Willis running through the woods, leaning up against the tree and then kneels down in the snow. And if I hadn't been standing there on the greenscreen and knew that none of those elements were there, I never would have believed it in a million years.
Frank Miller: Another sequence that blew my mind was the physical acting on the set. All the three male actors acted a lot with their shoulders and it really added a lot of physicality. In that sequence, Bruce really showed his stuff. What I really learned there was how people can turn themselves into cartoons. When Bruce gets shot and he's flying backwards one of his feet cocks upwards so you can see the heel. It was exactly the way I drew it. It was uncanny.
Robert Rodriguez: What I like about shooting on greenscreen is that you can really concentrate on the performances like that. If we were really out there in the snow and the cold, we would be worrying about so many things. The lighting, the backlight, especially in black and white you have to separate out the colors... the performance just becomes, sometimes, part of everything else. Here you're going for these moments, okay, the actor and the performance is great just with green.
It's like one of the things Quentin mentioned there too... when you see that scene there with the long take it's just the actors, the car, the lighting... if we shot that for real, we'd be out there, we'd have to dub everything, we'd have to worry about dragging the car.
Quentin Tarantino: Yeah, you're f**king around for hours before you actually get the actors into the car and actually start the scene. You go for as long as the run has got and then you turn around. The weird part about it is that you do all this sh*t, and the actual acting is only a small part of the day. Here it was, these guys gave me all day to pretty much do that one scene. It was like Actor's Studio Theater. It was all about the acting. All the stuff that would take so much time was edited in later.
The thing on my scene that I was so impressed about was Clive had a lot of voice over narration going on. One of the things we did, he was supposed to have this big voice over narration, the camera does this that and the other, so we just told him, "Clive, why don't you just say that out loud, while we move the camera around and see if the timing is correct for it all." So Clive was working on his voice over as we're getting all the camera moves. In the meantime, I'm watching him through the camera and I'm like, "It can't be a voice over he's got to say it out loud, did you feel what I felt?"
Now, here's the thing. That is a really good idea and we all agreed that that was a good idea. But we have to shoot the scene now! We can have all the great ideas we want. If the actor isn't the type of actor, and not every actor is like this in fact most actors aren't, but for him to take the monologue, walk away for ten minutes...
Robert Rodriguez: Seven.
Quentin Tarantino: Have him walk away. Get it pretty much and then come back and do it the same. Like I said, we can have all the great ideas we want if he wasn't physically able to do that, the idea would go by the wayside.
Robert Rodriguez: That's why in that long take you see him talking to himself. He was just told that he had to do that speech on screen. He's stage trained so he got it pretty quick...
Quentin Tarantino: There's somebody else in that scene who would have never been able to do that.
Robert Rodriguez: It would have been very hard for Benicio to do it that day. He's a totally different kind of actor. He brings surprises to the set.
Quentin Tarantino: (Imitating Benicio Del Toro) "I don't want to learn the lines until I know what they mean, man."
Sin City (Recut, Extended, Unrated) takes over DVD shelves December 13th, 2005.
Sin City was released April 1st, 2005 and stars Jessica Alba, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel, Powers Boothe, Cara D. Briggs, Jude Ciccolella, Jeffrey J. Dashnaw, Rosario Dawson. The film is directed by Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino.