Filmmaking Advice from Indie Rebel Robert Rodriguez

Robert RodriguezEven 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.

Here are a few pointers Rodriguez shared with MovieMaker Magazine:

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.

Link: Robert Rodriguez’s Five Golden Rules of Filmmaking -- MovieMaker Magazine

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Your Comment


doing things low budgetely brings out the soul!

October 10, 2013 at 7:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM



October 10, 2013 at 8:52PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

hazem abdulrab

Great wisdom from a talented filmmaker.
Reminds me of all those intro film school videos he made.

I know its elementary but he has some great bits of advice that will inspire.


October 10, 2013 at 8:06PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Thanks for reminding me to just go out and shoot.

October 10, 2013 at 8:11PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Great video, love the points Rodriguez makes. I'm disappointed with his response here though: Tarantino knows what's up.

October 11, 2013 at 12:28PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


um, lets get real. El mariachi was NOT made for $7k. maybe in film stock.... I come from the daze of 16mm shooting ! been there done that and $100K was the magic indie budget for a film then.

from what I hear it was more like $300K in post to get it to theater

October 10, 2013 at 9:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


He delivered a finished film cut on VCR for 7k, about 100k were spent by Columbia to cut the original 16mm and blow them up to 35. IMO this still means he made the film for less then 7k and then sold it for more then 100k, whatever Columbia spent on it after that to make it fit into their world should not be part of the equation...

October 10, 2013 at 10:06PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Technically, RR did make it for $7k but it would of cost him a great deal more if he didn't have the resources in place. Everything from the Arriflex S, the locations, the guns, to even the rubber head were loaned out to RR for free him for the duration of the shoot. Even getting a pass from the local populace in the town they filmed in made it possible in what normally would be impossible if they made the film in a bigger city.

Although, I think his book gives a false sense that makes it seem like filmmaking is a breeze( just like he does in his videos) it's none the less a good read and gives you some insight on not just how he made the film, but how he was able to get the film picked up and kickstart his career. Talent and resources got him to make El Mariachi, but it was luck that got him notices in Hollywood: a LOT of luck.

El Mariachi isn't the only film to cost $7k either, both Chris Nolan and Joe Carnahan made their very first features at that price as well.

October 11, 2013 at 1:16PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Another quote I love by Rodriguez is: "I think that everyone has at least a dozen or so bad movies in them; the sooner you get them out the better" turns out he still had a few in him after making 'El Mariachi', nevertheless he is way up there on my list of raw models in film-making and 'Rebel without a crew' is definitely the single most inspiring book on film making I have ever read!

October 10, 2013 at 9:58PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


His best movies are behind him and now he's stuck on self imitation autopilot.

October 10, 2013 at 10:57PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I'm not trolling, I honestly thought El Mariachi was his best film.

October 11, 2013 at 5:08AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


That just proofs that sometimes people can make better movies with less budget...

October 11, 2013 at 6:34AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


$7,000 is not a true budget if someone gets film stock for free, or equipment free, or processing, or whatever for free. But it makes for a good story.

October 11, 2013 at 8:39AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Actually I feel it is acurate. Most indie films have a budget, but have many freebies, discounts, and donations.
I shot a 20 minute film over four days with a budget of $6,000. I paid very little for food because family, friends, and businesses donated most of the food for free. My DP came on board for $1,000 but did not charge me for his his equipment (which was extensive). So does getting extra things for cheap/free make my budget less real?

October 11, 2013 at 12:43PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Yes it does. The question is what is the real cost of making the film. If somebody gave you everything to make the film, yes of course you made the film for nothing. Ride that to publicity heaven, but somebody paid for the stuff they gave you. It's misleading to someone actually trying to figure what a film costs to produce.

October 11, 2013 at 1:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Who said he got the films stock free? But you are right, it is very misleading, especially if someone has 0 imagination and creativity or solution oriented thinking he'd have to hire someone who does, and imagine how much that is going to cost...

October 11, 2013 at 1:44PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Exactly and I cannot stand when people attempt public hype like this. Nothing is for free.

October 13, 2013 at 7:43AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


This is all relative. Let's say you live in NY city and go out to make a no budget film. Well, you'll say you shot it for 100$. From my point of view, living in europe, if I would shoot a story in NY city would be very quicly 10.000$ because I would have to pay everything from plane to team...
My point is: if people get team, gear, locations, costumes for free and need very few money to shoot, the budget is still very few money ( + knowledge how to reduce budget). Well, that's a part of the filmmaking knowledge.
If I need a skeleton team because I do everything alone and make a film for 100$ would you say in reality my budget is all fees I spare by working alone?

July 5, 2015 at 12:42AM

Thomas Aymard
Director of photography


and not run round all day night long and in idiotic-net
soory n s a-inter-net the net of al netzes
and look how you will never make any film


2014 we have insane low but muchos monetas cams like bmc c p.

JUST MAKE IT AN please 2.0

do not tell me the same old story
please not

thank you i do not care if you make it in mongolish
if it has a HEARD

October 11, 2013 at 9:42AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Hey! Is that you, Tony?

October 11, 2013 at 10:27AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


i never usually comment, but what the hell are you saying?

October 11, 2013 at 10:41AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Nico Sandoval

stoned at noon

October 11, 2013 at 11:36AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Reefer Madness


October 11, 2013 at 3:16PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Inspiration in its purest form.

October 11, 2013 at 9:36PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I loved that series with Desperado and Once upon a time in mexico. Saw El Mariachi later. The best learning from this is to go out and shoot. The more you shoot the more refined will be your craft.

October 12, 2013 at 11:41AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I quiete agree with Robert the fact that filmmakers must no think of money but instead they shloud learn to love their work with wit and exquisincy

October 17, 2013 at 2:07PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


El Mariachi a great film and i think it's the best he made.

He film with an arri s with no sync sound,a smal zoom and a wide angle lens, the camera move like we shot in digital today with smaller camera.

We get in the story because he used ordinary people no actor this help us to get in because they are like us no perfect.

He turn to digital to fast... he wrote a book on this very good. What he should do it's a film on himself doing El Mariachi.

October 17, 2013 at 2:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Pierre Samuel Rioux

Thanks ,as a filmmaker what are the first step to know and to take?

October 18, 2013 at 11:21AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Glad Edokpayi

Thanks,as a film maker what are the things i ought to know and first step to take? Glad.

October 18, 2013 at 11:23AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Glad Edokpayi

Yes, shooting is the way to do it. My friend Ted Atherton put together this 10 minute short that we shot over a wknd last fall.
Here is the trailer.

October 19, 2013 at 7:11PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Rod Wilson

i realy want to make a movie
this is a very helpful tips

December 8, 2013 at 4:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


My own advice:
Go vintage in equipment, you don't have to use the latest stuff and expensive modern cine lenses when you can easily use M42 primes on almost any DSLR....
And build your rigs, be it shoulder rig, stabilizer, almost everything that you need, you can build from hardware store materials....

May 10, 2015 at 3:26PM

Fernando Henrique de Sousa
CEO, Evil Genius, Steadycam, editor & jack of all trades