Lessons from “Robert Rodriguez’s 10 Minute Film School”

Late night (anything past midnight) is when I do most of my Youtube perusing. Most of the time I find a Ted talk and fall asleep to it. But, while researching film schools, I came across this little ditty….

 

In this great video, Robert Rodriguez (Director of “From Dusk till Dawn”, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and “Sin City”) goes through several techniques on the set of his first film “El Mariachi” – made for US$7,000 – to help budding filmmakers make a great movie on the cheap. It was the film that got him behind closed doors in Hollywood and set up his second film: “Desperado” starring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.

The best part about this is that, somehow, Rodriguez is even cheaper than I am. And that’s no easy feat.

He refuses to spend money, so he borrowed many items for the film – including two guns from the local police department! One of his cast members had a truck, so he used that in one of his scenes and used clever techniques to make it seem as though it had crashed into one of his actors (he never even had to change his camera lens).

One of my favorite parts of this is when he talks about dialogue. Several times he would simply cut in close and then back out, all while his actor was speaking. In the editing room, he would splice the camera’s movements with other bits to hide how he was zooming in and out. This gave the illusion that there were multiple camera lenses and created a much more dynamic, interesting look. It’s clever, cheap, easy – add in your adjective but it works.

This guide to guerilla filmmaking gets even cooler: Rodriguez recorded the movie’s score, a melancholy acoustic song in Spanish, inside of a bathroom stall with a Radioshack microphone. In fact, the entire film was recorded separately from the moving images and then synced up in post production. With the exception of a few instances, the whole thing synced up perfectly.

This makes me wonder, what is the point of film school if not to practice with some of amazing equipment and network? Filmmakers with little money have a lot more at their disposal than Rodriguez had in the late 80’s, early 90’s. All you need is a story to tell and motivation. Perhaps it’s the latter that puts people off – anyone can get inspired and motivated, but not everyone can maintain it. Rodriguez, with all of the difficulties that were in front of him, turned them into positives and created a product that is heralded in indie film circles to this day.

Guerilla filmmaking is basically documentary-style filmmaking, except with a bit more planning and flair. As long as you have a great story and can tell it well within your means, you will learn. Don’t worry about selling it to the BBC or sending it around to Hollywood producers unless you’re confident that you’ve put everything you have into the piece. When creative storytelling meets technical cleverness, the possibilities are endless.

Work with what you have. Tell the stories you can. Stay passionate.

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