Robert Rodriguez Reveals The Crazy Hoops He And James Cameron Jumped Through To Greenlight Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel Alita surrounded by security bots

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Movies have always been, and always will be, something akin to a magic act. Just look at the process needed to pitch a film like Alita: Battle Angel into existence. It’s a process that, according to writer/director Robert Rodriguez, required a lot of crazy hoops to be jumped. That’s a lot, coming from the man that’s dreamt up movies like Desperado, Spy Kids, and Sin City, as each of those unique visions, while being triumphs in their own right, were much simpler to get off the ground.

During Collider's “Directors on Directors” panel, a part of the festivities for this weekend’s ComicCon @ Home event, Rodriguez explained that it was a lot easier to pitch his own ideas for two simple reasons. Those ideas didn’t come from a preexisting property, and they were on much lower scales of budget and scope. Explaining the Alita: Battle Angel pitch process, Robert Rodriguez laid out the following high stakes game he played, with producer James Cameron on his side:

I know for Alita, it was the first time I had to do something in that scale and scope. Usually, I had a handful of drawings I made myself, or something that I’d edited myself or animated; and would take that and tell them basically what it is and we’d be off and going. This was going to be a huge financial commitment. So I went in, Jim [Cameron] and I said, ‘We’re gonna synchronize our watches, and take the hill!’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ I had tons of art that he had done back in 2005 for Alita that I put up around the room. I had to actually write myself a whole script that I could go through, that was a synopsis of the movie, so they could hear the whole thing and feel the heart of the film and feel the reason why to do it. So it was a good 45 minute talk I had.

Alita: Battle Angel fans can recall the story of how, after 20 years of development and pitching by James Cameron himself, the manga adaptation found its way into the hands of Robert Rodriguez. Through rewrites and further development by his own hand, Rodriguez turned in a project that became an auspicious start to a potential franchise that’s still got its loyal base rooting for another installment.

That’s exactly the sort of activity that helps sell a franchise like Alita: Battle Angel into an initial round of existence; and Robert Rodriguez really did his homework on the project before pitching it to the higher ups at 20th Century Fox. With an estimated budget of $170 million, and a long history of development already in play, it’s not like deciding to make that film was an easy button to press. Ultimately, Rodriguez needed to sell that idea with the right sort of panache that made it look like a winner.

Stakes like these are even higher when you think about how 20th Century Fox had been holding on to the rights to Alita: Battle Angel for some time. Which not only focused Robert Rodriguez’s pitch into a very specific wheelhouse, but also meant that if his pitch failed to get the greenlight, it was an automatic game over. Explaining his pitch and just why it was so crucial to Alita’s production, Rodriguez nails the whole situation in this statement:

Walk ‘em through the movie, make them feel what the movie is, know what the story is, really know that this character is gonna be the thing people latch onto, before they commit the money. Because it’s a huge commitment now, between marketing, and releasing. It’s just incredible how much they have to spend, and they have to spend wisely. It’s not like the old days at all. ... I really love pitching. When you do the full presentation, with the art, that’s a whole thing. With Alita, they owned Alita, so you can’t just go across the street and sell it to somebody else.

If you’re going to do something like sell Alita: Battle Angel to a major studio, you’ve got to do it right. Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron eventually won their fight to make the film they’d always dreamed of seeing, but it was a multi-step process that saw the film come into the world. After that initial pitch described above, Rodriguez and Cameron were given permission to further develop the project, create some new art to further shape the project’s vision and eventually, repitch the film to the 20th Century Fox brass -- all with the end result of getting to go into production and bringing Alita: Battle Angel to the masses.

The best part is by time this entire process was finished, Alita: Battle Angel started shooting four months after the pitching process had been completed. Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron had the film in such fine shape after pitching and repitching that it wasn’t that much longer before they were off to the races. It’s that sort of process that fans should keep in mind when seeking out an update on any potential sequel to Alita: Battle Angel, as it took pretty long to get that first installment off the ground.

If there’s to be another movie in the potential franchise that’s Alita: Battle Angel, one could expect another pitching process that’s as strenuous, if not moreso, than the previous effort. But if the history laid out above is any indication, once that process is complete, and the potential greenlight has been given, the vision for Alita: Fallen Angel could be ready to get into production pretty quickly afterwards.

For now though, fans in the Alita Army will have to keep hope alive and let the powers that be know that they’re ready for Alita: Fallen Angel to become a reality. In the meantime, Robert Rodriguez fans will have a new movie from his directorial hand to look forward to soon enough, as his Netflix Original movie We Can Be Heroes will be available on the service at some point this year. Alita: Battle Angel, on the other hand, can be streamed on HBO Max, whether you’re a subscriber or if you decide to check out the 7-day free trial offer currently available to newcomers.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.