I’ve been reading the Robert Rodriguez book “Rebel Without a Crew” and I am feeling both excited and depressed.
The guy grew up with many siblings (10 if I remember correctly). His father, a salesman, bought a video camera to enhance his business. Robert started shooting his family and everything else within a 12” radius, which was the length of the camera’s cord when attached to a VCR, which is how Robert EDITED his projects.
His dad later purchased a second VCR and Robert greatly “enhanced” his editing suite by using them both simultaneously, with the very interesting twist that he had to capture the next shot in less than five minutes, as that was the amount of time one of the VCRs would stay in the pause mode without shutting off.
Most people know that he shot “El Mariachi” for $7,000. About $5,000 was spent on film even though he only shot ONE take of every shot and he received most of that money by donating his body for medical research. (He got $3,000 for a month-long research project, time he wisely used to write El Mariachi’s scripts and watch more movies.) So far, so good.
Robert didn’t have a camera, so he borrowed a broken one from a friend, bought a couple of lamps at a flea market and kept buying film directly from Kodak only when he really needed it. To save (more) money he wrote his script around things he already had access to like a pit bull, a motorcycle, and a turtle. He shot his movie silent to work faster by shooting a scene, putting the camera down, grabbing the sound equipment (a tape recorder and a Radio Shack mic) and taped dialogues and sound effects, syncing everything later in post. There was no PluralEyes in 1993.
What really gets me is that he wrote, directed and shot a feature film-length story himself with his buddy Carlos (El Mariachi’s main character). They used all the available locations in Carlos’s small town in Mexico. They actually got a written permit from the Mayor authorizing them to use the very real guns (with fake bullets) of the local policemen. They used the local bar and the local jail (with prisoners inside). Carlos’s truck was the “production” truck. All the talent worked for free and they shot it in a way that they didn’t have to provide a single meal to anyone. Impressed? Wait, it gets better.
He had to edit the whole thing at the public library using older systems, as the newer ones were busy all the time. He was locked in the library twice for 12 straight hours or so because security forgot he was there. Even after Columbia had purchased the movie and he had an agent and an attorney and was flying all over eating and drinking like a celebrity he still had to sell his video camera to buy food for himself and his wife.
The whole book and his experience is a master class on being resourceful, working very hard and very smart, focusing on business strategies, utilizing on the power of word of mouth and branding, and pushing the “fake it til you make it” maxim. His goals were always clear: shoot El Mariachi to LEARN how to shoot, keep it under $7,000, sell it to the Spanish market for at least twice that amount of money and use that money to shoot a second movie. Rinse and repeat. Things turned out better than the original plan but he had a concrete plan and did absolutely everything he could to execute it.
To market his movie, Robert took the trailer for Drugstore Cowboy, replaced only the images with his movie, leaving the music and the critics’ blurbs and names on it. This probably wouldn’t fly in today’s YouTube world, but it was a brilliant marketing move for a 23-year-old kid.
Most of us reading this have more than one camera, several lenses, at least one current computer running some sort of mind-blowing editing software. We have lights, and sliders, three tripods, and a closet full of bags and accessories. We say we have ideas for “a short film or a music video with the pretty girl next door.” We have the internet, No Film School, YouTube, DVDs with the director’s commentary, credit cards, and a bunch of friends who have even more gear than us. And where’s our big movie? What about that project we have worked on for the past two months, every day and every weekend?
“If you are making movies because you love it you can succeed because you’ll work harder than anyone else around you, take on challenges no one else would dare take, and come up with method no one else would discover, especially when their prime drive is fame and fortune. All that will follow later if you really love what you do”
I am very glad I read this book. On every page Robert told me that I am lazy, full of excuses and not producing enough projects to show. Now is the time to get our act together, stop looking for “the next great gadget that will solve all our problems” and start shooting, editing, and sharing our stories with the world.
Eduardo Angel is an independent Technology Consultant, Educator, and Visual Storyteller based in Brooklyn, NY. He currently teaches at The School of Visual Arts and the International Center of Photography, and mentors the photography program at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
He is a co-founder of the idea production company The Digital Distillery, author of popular filmmaking courses on Lynda.com, and regularly shares his thoughts on technology, photography, and cinema on his website eduardoangel.com.