Filmmaking Advice from Indie Rebel Robert Rodriguez
Even if you’re not a huge fan of their work, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the independent filmmakers that made making films outside of the studio system popular in the 90s. One of those filmmakers is Robert Rodriguez. At just 23-years-old, Rodriguez made his debut film El Mariachi for only $7,000, proving that you don’t need boatloads of cash, a film degree, or a studio’s permission to make the movie you want to make. This self-described rebel shared 5 golden rules of filmmaking with MovieMaker Magazine, and we’ve chosen a couple to pass along to you.
Rodriguez made El Mariachi over 20 years ago (seriously — that movie is that old,) but the things that we can glean from his experience is as fresh and relevant as ever. First of all, that film is the quintessential “indie film” — micro-budget, no known actors, low-quality or absent gear/tech, and for all intents and purposes a one-man show. The man raised funds for the film by being a test subject — taking cholesterol reducing drugs for $100/day for 30 days. In fact, he wrote most of the script while in the lab — being subjected to who knows what kinds of side effects.
Live outside of Hollywood/New York
That’s one of the more frequent questions asked after you break the news to your family and friends that, yes, you want to be a filmmaker, “So, are you moving to Hollywood or New York?” It has long been the fashion to move to where the film industry thrives, but not only is living outside those cities not a deal breaker anymore, Rodriguez says that you gain a lot of perspective when you don’t. In fact, he says that George Lucas once told him that for the sheer fact that Rodriguez lived outside of Hollywood, the ideas he was bound to come up with would likely be different from those coming out of it.
Learn by doing
El Mariachi has made over $2 million at the box office — not bad considering that Rodriguez’s intention for making the film was to practice and hone his skills. However, it wasn’t his first time making a film — he’d been making shorts and “practice films” for years. And one of the things that keeps a lot of filmmakers from practicing is this idea that if it’s not any good, you as a filmmaker aren’t any good.
Before you think of the competition, your shitty camera, or how little you know about technology/story structure/directing, etc., think about the first step you need to take in order to become a better filmmaker. For some, that means learning how to turn the camera on. For others, it means learning how to interweave complicated subplots seamlessly into the main plot of your screenplay. Take that first step. When you do, you’re already a better filmmaker.
I tell people making DV movies at home, use it for practice. Don’t even try to get it distributed unless it’s fucking fantastic. If not, just keep cranking them out. Get better; get better at storytelling. It allows you to do what I did when I started out, which is make a ton of movies for nothing. And you get so much better at it after a while — you can write them and direct them and you know the structure. You just need to learn how to do it and you learn by doing.
There’s freedom in art
There’s no one way to make a film. Seriously — there’s no one way to make a film. You don’t need the fanciest camera. You don’t need a bunch of gear. You don’t need a screenplay. You don’t need great actors, beautiful locations, editing, or even money. The only thing you actually need is something to record a bunch of successive images on and a way to exhibit it (the exhibiting part is arguable, though we’re getting into some heavy film theory here.) Rodriguez says:
I’m from Texas, so when someone tells you which way to ride your horse, you think ‘I’ll just go to a different ranch. You guys are riding it backwards anyway.’
That’s definitely another stumbling block for filmmakers — the whole, “Wait, mine doesn’t look like his/hers.” Good! Learn to stand by your work, even if it’s terrible – especially if it’s terrible, because that’s probably when you need at least one person to believe in it. Being different or doing things differently reminds us that we’re all individuals. In fact, if there was really only one way to make a film, I’m sure there wouldn’t be people taking out second mortgages on their houses to make them.
What do you think about Robert Rodriguez’s advice? If you have any of your own to share, let us know in the comments.
- 'There Are No Rules': Filmmaking Advice from Maverick Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch
- Check out 7 Filmmaking Tips from Indie Film Icon Kevin Smith