10 Minute Film School with Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez[Erik here with a quick guest post about some videos I wanted to share.  I find them incredibly informative and inspiring, and I hope you do to.]

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:

My takeaways:

  • 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.”


47 Responses to 10 Minute Film School with Robert Rodriguez

  1. Brian Laurent March 4, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    Have you seen the bit where he shows how he composes his own soundtracks with a guitar fed through Midi in his home studio? I think it was a DVD extra on “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”. So simple, so cool, so DIY.

  2. Chase March 4, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    Must read: “Rebel without a Crew” !!

  3. Ted McAusher March 4, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    You’re slowly starting to convert me

  4. Sarita March 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    This is great stuff, Chase! Thanks for sharing! :)

  5. Andrew Mark March 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Fantastic Stuff Chase. Thanks so much!

    • Diesel March 5, 2011 at 4:52 am #

      Chase didn’t write this, Erik did! Read at the top of the post! : )

  6. Andrew Mark March 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm #


  7. David March 4, 2011 at 5:57 pm #

    That is great! I’m starting to move into cinematography and filmmaking, so I’m glad you’re posting stuff like this! :)

  8. gem March 4, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    ooh i love Robert Rodriguez. aside from the 10 minute film school videos, he even has cooking videos! on how to make burritos or something like that!

  9. Elis W. Alves March 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    Love this post! Inspiring! :c)

  10. Dan Kaufman March 4, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    I can see you eating this up Mr. Jarvis. Leave the RED home and make it work with a black and tan.

    Robert’s resourcefulness reminds me of a concept I coined about me (my work) that I called The Five Foot Rule: when you’re working on [something] and you need [something] to make it work, just look around and you’ll find [something]j within Five Feet. Homeowners sometimes call this the “make do with what you’ve got” principle. I just extended the idea in a more creative sense.

    • mike October 6, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

      I need to get laid…
      I look around and within five feet I see my right hand…
      Thanks Dan!

  11. fas March 5, 2011 at 5:31 am #

    This is really awesome, alot of effort has gone into what he has made up today.

  12. Jeffrey Friedl March 5, 2011 at 7:26 am #

    The director’s commentary on the original El Mariachi is solid start-to-finish gems like the video you highlight…. just amazing stuff. Less amazing (because it’s so easy now) are the digital effects like the gun muzzle flares, since anyone with After Effects or the like can do high quality stuff in very short order, e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsViAvVYoMQ
    (That guy’s whole YouTube channel is full of stuff that’s not big-screen polished, but very full of win for the effort they put in.)

  13. Marian March 5, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    Amazing creativity – thanks for sharing, maybe one day I’ll follow you to ‘movie space’

  14. Brandon D. March 5, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Wow, I’ve actually been meaning to revisit these videos! David Hobby actually posted these on his blog several years back, and it was a big eye opener at the time. Thanks for reposting!

  15. Jay March 5, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    ‘Rebel Without A Crew’ is a MUST read for any photographer or filmmaker. I read it at least once a year because it’s so inspiring. It also gives amazing insight into just how crazy Hollywood is.

  16. Jonathan Redman March 6, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    Thank you for your voice!
    I dug your input on the Photo/Video Workflow & it is great to be reminded of the Gung-ho attitude of Robert Rodriguez.

    Thank You!

  17. Michael C. Cordell March 6, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    I loved these videos. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Oleg March 6, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    It is easy ;) Just don’t get lazy!

  19. KIM ROGERS March 18, 2011 at 7:35 am #


    Very Very good !! I like your work very much.Inspiring is the word. Keep up the good work.

    If you have time please take a look at http://www.select-magazine.com

    You may like what you see !!

    Kind regards


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