Many people in Hollywood would give anything to be a movie star. But Ethan Maniquis, who’s served in an array of editing roles on Robert Rodriguez’s films dating back to 1995’s “Desperado,” says he’d prefer to stay behind the camera instead of in front of it.
“Robert actually gave me a cameo as a thug in ‘Sin City,’ and I thought I was so bad I actually cut my part out,” says the 40-year-old L.A. native. “I think I may be the only actor to ever cut themself out of their movie.”
Acting may be off the table, but helming was the next logicial step. Maniquis makes his debut as a co-director with Rodriguez on “Machete,” which opens Friday.
Revolving around an ex-federale out for revenge against the men who set him up, the pic’s cast includes Danny Trejo, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba and Cheech Marin.
“Machete” originated as one of the faux trailers attached to Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s double feature “Grindhouse,” but Rodriguez saw enough material in the concept for a full-length feature. He also saw an opportunity for for Trejo to star in his own picture and Maniquis to step up to the director’s chair.
A history major who originally thought about getting into teaching like his father, Maniquis spent years moving from job to job until landing on the Columbia lot as a production assistant.
While driving trucks during the filming of the Jeff Goldblum pic “Hideaway,” Maniquis ran into Rodriguez, who was drawn to the young PA and asked him to come do the same work on his first studio feature-helming gig, “Desperado.”
Rodriguez was so impressed with Maniquis’ work ethic he invited him on as an apprentice editor for his next directing job, “From Dusk Till Dawn.”
Since then, Maniquis has had some part of nearly every Rodriguez production.
“I kind of came into the industry sideways by not really knowing anyone,” he says. “When it came to learning this skill, Robert was the perfect teacher because I learned about a film’s structure, how to put the story first and to always try to do original things when filming. I can’t imagine a film school being able to teach me more than what Robert has taught me over the years.”
Maniquis is one of a handful of below-the-line players to have recently made the jump into directing, including James Cameron’s second-unit director, Steven Quale, who will make his helming debut on “Final Destination 5.”
Maniquis says there were plenty of advantages of going from editing to directing but his greatest challenge was trying to figure out how to keep all the people in line on the set.
“I had this recurring nightmare of telling people to go somewhere and nobody moved and nothing happened,” he says. “With our low budget and small shooting schedule, I learned quickly to just keep shooting and always keep the momentum going.”
Maniquis credits the skills he gained as an editor with helping him focus amid the new challenges.
“It was a great advantage to know exactly where I would make my cut before I even shot the scene because of my time editing all these years,” he says. “I learned how each scene impacts the next.”
He looks forward to more directing gigs and more work with Rodriguez in the future, even if the two don’t always see eye to eye.
“He’s like an older brother to me,” Maniquis says. “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve quit or been fired from one of his movies, so we fight plenty.”