Robert Rodriguez is a special breed of filmmaker, a breed that we’ll continue to see more and more of as filmmaking technology becomes increasingly accessible and affordable. The do-it-yourselfers who are so technically savvy that they can oversee and drive every aspect of their production. Since his first DIY breakout film “El Mariachi”, Robert has been able to maintain total creative control of his films mostly due to one thing: the dude knows how to stretch a dollar.
In any client relationship, be it filmmaking or photography or dog grooming, if you can deliver a product that looks and feels like you spent double what your client paid you to make it, you WILL get hired again. Luckily for us, Robert has been sharing his process via speaking engagements, DVD bonus features, and books since he first burst onto the scene (hmmm…kinda sounds like someone I know….). A few of his “10 Minute Film School” videos have made their way onto YouTube and I think they’re worth sharing:
First up, his first feature film: “El Mariachi”
For two more videos, some tips, takeaways and a great quote, hit ‘continue reading’ below.
El Mariachi pt 2:
Here are the simple takeaways that I find interesting:
- Refuse to spend money, because working with limitations forces creativity.
- Shoot as an editor. One could argue that this is a bad thing, as you’re not necessarily giving yourself many options when it comes to finishing the film back in the editing bay… but the point stands if you’ve got the foresight to know what exactly you’ll need in the edit, you can save yourself a lot of film and/or time while you’re on set.
- Shooting with wide lenses can save the headache of focus pulling. With the massive depth of field you get shooting wide, it’s pretty safe to bet that your shots will be sharp and crisp when you’re, say, shooting with a steadicam or chasing a skier downhill.
Let’s move ahead to the third film in the trilogy, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”. At this point in his career, Robert has firmly established himself as a box office draw with a filmography that’s grossed over a half a billion dollars combined worldwide, yet as you’ll see in the making of his 9th film, he’s still maintaining his indie style and doing things on the cheap:
- Fake guns + digital muzzle blasts. Instead of halting production while they waited for their prop guns to clear customs in Mexico, they shot (no pun intended) with rubber guns and added muzzle blasts digitally in post. It’s a creative solution to a time consuming problem.
- Long lenses and “dirty” frames. I love the way he made the Día de los Muertos scenes look like they had a massive amount of extras on location by compressing space with long lenses. This is an old school technique that works every time.
- Know the basics, understand your possibilities and you can come up with creative solutions on the fly. Technical savviness is crucial in becoming independent, and isn’t that what we’re all after?
There’s a lot more knowledge to be gained from Mr. Rodriguez’s work than what I’ve included here. I strongly suggest taking a look at his DVD/Blu Ray releases as he’s one of the most open and inspiring filmmakers working today, and with that I’ll let Robert have the last word in this post:
“Too many creative people don’t wanna learn how to be technical, so what happens? They become dependent on technical people. Become technical. You can learn that. If you’re creative and technical, you’re unstoppable.”