My personal favorite director/cinematographer is Robert Rodriguez who is known as the “one-man film crew” for having active roles in the entire production process from writing, casting, directing, producing, graphic design, music composition, acting, editing, and distribution.
Since Rodriguez edits his own films, he develops his scenes with post production editing in mind. He sets up each scene knowing exactly how and what kind of visual effects he wants to include and how to execute them in post. This makes production incredibly cost efficient; not only because he saves money not hiring an editor, but less time is wasted on redux’s, and getting changes green lit after several versions have been created. This also affords him the ability to utilize his creative talents without dealing with several conflicting visions of creativity from various crew members. Rodriguez is known for creating international blockbusters with an incredibly small budget. This ability is rare in Hollywood and gives him an edge while competing for funding on future films. His films are incredibly unique, stylistic and imaginative. Sin City, for example, utilized many experimental production and editing techniques that have never been done before. During production of Sin City, nearly all of the acting was done in front of green screen which gave ultimate freedom to edit the film in layers, creating the illusion of “deep Space.” The color was completely desaturated with high contrasts between the blacks and whites as opposed to traditional “black and white films” where the contrast is more along a gray scale.
Rodriguez prefers to shoot with digital camera technology because digital cameras are much cheaper to purchase, use and distribute the final cut. They are lighter, can film longer, are more versatile, requires almost no storage space with the final product, there is no waiting to view dailies and can be monitored and adjusted at any point in the production process rather than waiting overnight to view. There is virtually no limit to what can be done in the post-production editing process. There are purists who still hold true to film and will continue to use it until the equipment is obsolete. As digital technology is continuing to advance, cameras are becoming competitive with the quality of film and is even beginning to surpass film in many ways.
Rodriguez attended the College of Communication UT, Austin where he studied cartooning and created a campus comic strip called Los Hooligans but was rejected by the university’s film program because of a low GPA. However, he was accepted after he entered a project into a local film contest. At film school he created an award-winning short film Bedhead (1991) which pushed him to begin a serious career in film. He then moved on to his first serious feature film, El Mariachi (1992) on a budget of only $7,000, which he personally funded by undergoing medical experiments. He won the Audience Award at Sundance for the film in 1993. Columbia Pictures took interest in the film and redistributed it after spending a few hundred thousand dollars in post-production clean up, but was still advertised as a $7,000 budget film.
In his book, Rebel Without a Crew, Rodriguez was quoted, “Creativity, not money is used to solve problems.” The book is a guide to his cinematography techniques and secrets for little-to-no budget, modern, independent filmmaking. The book popularized Rodriguez as an icon for low budget, filmmaking.
His films include: El Mariachi (1992), Roadracers (1994), Desperado (1995), Four Rooms (1995), From Dusk till Dawn (1996), The Faculty (1998), Spy Kids (2001), Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002), Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003), Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (2005), Sin City (2005), Planet Terror (2007), Shorts (2009), Machete (2010), Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (2011), Machete Kills (2013) and Alita: Battle Angel (2018) that is still in production.
I like the subtle detailed elements he adds to his films. One of my favorite cinematic scenes of all time is in the opening sequence of From Dusk Till Dawn where George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino are involved in a shoot-out with a store clerk. The clerk was shot and is hiding behind the counter. Tarantino shoots the liquor bottles above the clerk’s head while Clooney soaks a roll of toilet paper in lighter fluid, lights it, throws it behind the counter and sets the clerk on fire. Engulfed in flames, the clerk stands up and opens fire on Tarantino and Clooney. They unload several rounds into the clerk until he falls on a pile of microwave popcorn. Tarantino and Clooney argue while you hear the corn popping in the background. I really like this scene because the details are completely unnecessary, however, it adds a very unique and stylistic detail with a subtle comedic undertone after an intense shoot-out scene.
In conclusion, Robert Rodriguez is my inspiration and motivation behind my potential film career. I aspire to be a “one-man film crew,” or a “jack of all trades” in the industry to play active roles in the entire filmmaking process from writing to distribution. Studying and learning his low budget film techniques is incredibly helpful to any independent film maker. I will continue to mimic his shooting style while I develop my own style and learn my strengths in the industry.
Robert Rodriguez’s quotes on low budget filmmaking:
“Being creative isn’t enough to make it in this business. Technical people cant learn to be creative but creative people can learn to be technical… If you can be both you are unstopable” If a creative person doesn’t want to learn to be technical then they will have to rely on technical people.
Mistakes and failures:
Rodriguez’s favorite quote: “Success is moving from one failure to another with great enthusiasm.” ~Winston Churchill
“Pick up a camera and make mistakes. Mistakes don’t have to be mistakes; its subjective. A mistake to one person suddenly becomes creative expression to someone else; hide behind that, tell them it’s art.”
“In the ashes of your failures, you will find the keys to your success.”
“Does everyone know how to write? No? Good. Everyone else writes the same way. Start writing your way; that makes you unique… don’t bother going to film school; you will be making films like everyone else.”
“So you want to make a movie? You don’t want to spend a lot. You are going to be faced with problems everyday on set. You can deal with those problems one of two ways: you can be creative or you can wash the problems away with the money hose. Got no money, got no hose.”
“Write a screenplay that you can actually make. Take a look around you; take stock in what you already have. If you have a dog, make a movie about your dog. If your dad owns a liquer store, make a movie about a liquor store.”
“Don’t break the bank. This is your first movie. You aren’t Spielberg and don’t need the best equipment.”
“Sticks? If you have good sticks, you will use them. Wrong. Get the camera off the sticks and get energy in your film. The camera wants to move.”
“Don’t over light. Your shortcomings become artistic expression.”
Visualizing your movie:
“You can storyboard; but, what you should do is stare at a blank screen and imagine your movie shot-by-shot, cut-by cut. Watch it, write down the shots you see then go get those shots.