Robert Rodriguez on Creating a Kick-Ass Network

With films like El Mariachi, Desperado, Spy Kids and LAS VEGAS, Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has carved out a career on Hollywood’s fringe. He’s a key person in the digital filmmaking revolution and the initial indie film bootstrapper, having funded his debut movie with cash he earned from being truly a medical test dummy. Now, he’s turning his focus on the world of television along with his own network, El Rey, bringing his tastes to a mass audience and completing a few gaps for the Hispanic population along the way.

It’s among a small number of new networks launching this spring headlined by bold face names, a happy byproduct of Comcast/Universal merger and a requirement from the FCC that ten networks get to independent owners and operators, four with a minority focus. Others engaging in the network game include Magic Johnson and Sean Combs.

The El Rey network launches officially March 11, with a sneak peek at the network’s first scripted series in a SXSW screening March 8. We chatted with Rodriguez in what it’s prefer to create a fresh network, and just why it matters both to audiences also to him as a director and father.

Entrepreneur: For individuals who are not really acquainted with the El Rey network, what’s the elevator pitch? Rodriguez : El Rey is a Hispanic, English language general entertainment network with unique shows like From Dusk Till Dawn and more visceral, kick-ass type of items that we’re real fans of, like Grindhouse films and cult cinema that wouldn’t be on television otherwise. We view it as an opportunity to build a network that might be undoable by other people, which has a unique brand identity, which can be a genuine filmmaker destination. You do not get Quentin Tarantino characters on television each day. It could never happen.

Entrepreneur: Any new venture tries to resolve a problem. What problem does El Rey solve?

Robert Rodriguez

Image credit: El Rey

Rodriguez : I’ve five kids who are bilingual, however they mostly live and speak in English and there is quite little on television that represents who they are in this country. When I viewed the landscape, there have been about 100 English language networks in america, ten which were African American. However the biggest minority is Hispanic and networks aren’t really filling that require. That was a big gap that would have to be filled. Advertisers are desperately looking to get to that audience plus they don’t know how to locate them. Univision committed to us and brought us distribution that included Direct TV and Time Warner Cable. By the finish of the entire year, we’ll maintain 40 million homes which is sort of unusual for a start-up network.

Entrepreneur: From Dusk Till Dawn was a cult hit. How do you want to make that right into a draw for an over-all entertainment network? Rodriguez : After you have that distribution channel straight into people’s homes, you may make anything. Give it to the people and let them decide. Other television networks need to go the other route, in which a producer must make a show or a pilot and it rises the chain of executives plus they all decide whether it will likely be successful as well as given a chance and found. Just how we do it, we are able to allow audience decide if it works or not and we are able to support it just as much as we want. Just how we do it, I’ll supply the filmmaker a chance. If [the audiences] don’t think it is, we keep it on until they do think it is.

Entrepreneur: What worries you? Rodriguez : We will maintain 40 million homes but I guarantee you that 30 million homes won’t even remember that they have us. The largest challenge when you launch is to allow people know you exist. It’s about getting visitors to discover El Rey. By enough time you finish making noise about the network, the task is how you retain them engaged. How does one stay true to your brand and ensure that your brand is valuable?

Entrepreneur: How do you want to do that? Rodriguez : I’ve always had my studio beyond LA and when your home is beyond the box, you wind up thinking beyond the box. We were among the first to start out shooting digital 13 years back. We were among the first to start out shooting digital 3D when there was only 1 digital 3D theater in the united states. Green screen movies shot digitally, like LAS VEGAS, were something very new until directly after we did it. It isn’t that nobody had the theory, it’s that nobody really wants to be first. It’s an extremely imitative business, not really a very innovative business. We are able to bring a whole lot of quality for an extremely low priced and make [El Rey] contend with the HBOs of the world, that have far more money to invest.

Entrepreneur: How would you define success for El Rey ? Rodriguez : Only a cool network with cool shit on continuously. There’s lots of diversity on screen and behind the camera, bringing diverse voices to an extremely diverse country. We wish that reflected in the network since it wasn’t being reflected as I saw it. A whole lot of my movies — Desperado, Spy Kids, Machete — you do not really think of these to be Hispanic films however they are. Only the those people who are Hispanic really point that out. To everybody else, they’re just cool movies. I’d like that to be the network. It’s for everyone.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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