Robert Rodriguez and How to Build a Filmmaking Empire
You can’t say indie film without saying Robert Rodriguez. I’ve been a HUGE fan of how Robert Rodriguez makes his films for a long time. His legendary film “El Mariachi” was released when I was in high school and changed my life.
Since then he has gone on to make some amazing films like Desperado (one of my favorites) From Dusk Till Dawn, the Spy Kids franchise, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Frank Miller’s Sin City.
He also wrote an amazing book documenting the making of El Mariachi and his rollercoaster ride in Hollywood called “Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player,” a must read for any independent filmmaker. Whether you love Robert Rodriguez films or hate them, you have to respect how he makes them.
Famously nicknamed as the “the one-man film crew” Robert Rodriguez is not only a talented producer, director and film writer but also happens to serve as an editor, director of photography, steadicam operator, camera operator, composer, production designer, sound editor and a visual effects supervisor making him jack of all trades of the film making.
From the famous Spy Kids to Sin City renowned filmmaker Robert Rodriguez is acclaimed for his all-around method of production and appealing flamboyant style, these are the traits which only few seasoned directors hope to achieve someday after spending decades of work but Robert Rodriguez proved with his first Bedhead a short film that he happens to possess the flair since day one.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Rodriguez was born to Mexican-American parents Rebecca and Cecilio G. Rodriguez who were a nurse and a salesman respectively. Robert grew up in a big family of 10 siblings. Robert was interested in film from a young age of 11 when his father bought one of the first VCRs which came with a camera along with it.
While studying in St. Anthony High School Seminary in San Antonio, Robert was commissioned to videotape the football games of his school. His sister recalls that he was fired from the work because he had shot the game in a cinematic style and instead of shooting the whole game, he shot the ball sailing through the air and capturing the reactions of the parents. Robert met Carlos Gallardo in high school and together they shot both films and videos throughout their time at the high school and college too.
Robert Rodriguez attended the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin where his love for cartooning blossomed. Not having high grades he could not get into the school’s film program. Robert created a daily comic strip which was titled Los Hooligans and most of the characters were based on his siblings especially one of his sisters, Maricarmen.
It ran for three years in the student newspaper The Daily Texan. As he was initially rejected from the film school, he taught himself the basic directing and editing skills before taking a film program. He continued to make short films. Later on, he won numerous awards for his efforts and gradually was accepted into the film program at the university.
Robert Rodriguez shot action and horror short films on video and edited them on two VCRs. The fall of 1990 earned him a spot in a local film contest of the university’s film program.
There Robert Rodriguez made the award winning 16 mm short Bedhead (1991). Bedhead starred his younger siblings. The film accounts the amusing misadventures of a young girl named Rebecca and her quarrels with her rowdy older brother who sports an incredibly tangled hair which she simply hates.
After getting telekinetic powers as aftereffects of a slight head injury, Rebecca vows to end David’s unruly bedhead. Another bump to the head makes her a straight headed kid again she promises to never abuse her powers again though David remains dazed.
The traces of Robert Rodriguez’s signature style are eminent at this early stage with quick cuts, intense zooms, cartoonish sound effects and fast camera movements sprinkled with sense of humour gave the short an air of cinematic skill and expertise. Bedhead was addressed for excellence in the Black Maria Film Festival. It was selected by Sally Berger who is a Film/Video Curator for the 20th anniversary reviewing MoMA in 2006. With its success at numerous film festivals, Robert was able to fund his debut feature El Mariachi which was his first feature and portrayed his expertise as a filmmaker assisting him in landing a deal with Columbia Pictures.
El Mariachi (1993) was made on a very tight budget of only $ 7,000. Some of the money was raised by his friend Carlos Gallardo and some from his own participation in medical testing studies. Playing both on Spanish and American western themes, the movie is focused on a lone wandering musician who gets caught up in a mess with the bad guys after switching guitar cases with hitman who happened to have similar case to carry around his tools.
Rodriquez won Audience Award for El Mariachi at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. He has described his experiences of making this film in his book Rebel Without a Crew.
Robert’s second feature film was Desparado which was a sequel to El Mariachi. It starred Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek was introduced to the American audiences. Rodriquez teamed up with Quentin Tarantino of the vampire thriller From Dusk till Dawn (and also both co-producing the two sequels of it) and currently writes, directs and produce the TV series for his very own cable network El Rey. Rodriquez has also worked with Kevin Williamson on the horror film, The Faculty.
The year 2001 brought Robert Rodriquez his first Hollywood hit Spy Kids, which went on to flourish into a movie franchise. A third mariachi film also surfaced in the late 2003 named Once Upon a Time in Mexico which completed the Mexican Trilogy which is also called the Mariachi Trilogy. Formerly known as Los Hooligans, Robert also operates a production company which is named as Troublemaker Studios.
In the year 2005, Rodriquez co-directed Sin City which was an adaptation of the Frank Miller comic books of the same name. A scene was guest directed by Quentin Tarantino. In 2004 while production, Rodriquez insisted upon Miller to be credited as the co-director because for him the visual style and technique of Miller’s comic art was as important to him as his own.
However, the Directors Guild of America did not permitted it stating that only the legitimate teams could share the credit. This was a big deal to Robert Rodriguez and he chose to resign from the Directors Guild stating I did not want to be forced into making a compromise which he was not willing to make or set such an example which might hurt the guild later.
Rodriquez was forced to let go of his director’s seat in the John Carter of Mars for Paramount Pictures by resigning from the guild. He had already signed and had been announced as the director and planned to start on it soon after being done with Sin City.
Sin City was not only a box office success but also a critical hit especially for the hyperviolent adaptation of the comic book which did not have much name recognition like the Spiderman or X-men. Robert has shown interest in adaptation of all the Miller’s Sin City comic books.
In 2005, Robert Rodriquez released The Adventure of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D which was superhero movie for the kids pretty much the same young audience for Spy Kid series. Based on a story which was conceived by Robert’s 7 year old son Racer, this film was liked but did not gain that much success grossing only $ 39 million at box office.
Planet Terror was written and directed by Rodriquez as being part of double bill release Grindhouse. Quentin Tarantino directed the other film of Grindhouse.
Apart from films, Robert Rodriquez also has a series of Ten Minute Film School segments on numerous of his DVD release which show aspiring filmmakers how to make good and profitable movies using affordable and feasible tactics.
Along with these, Robert Rodriguez created a series called The Ten Minute Cooking School where he revealed he told his recipe for Puerco Pibil, the same food which was eaten by Johnny Depp in the film.
The popularity of this got him started on another Cooking School on two disc version of Sin City DVD where Robert Rodriguez taught the viewers to make Sin City Breakfast Tacos which was a dish he made for his crew and cast during the late night shoots and editing sessions with the help of his grandmother’s tortilla recipe and various egg mixes for the fillings.
A strong supporter of digital filmmaking, he was introduced to this by George Lucas who personally invited him to use the digital cameras at the Lucas’ headquarters.
At the 2010 Austin Film Festival, Robert Rodriquez was awarded for his Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award.
A new sequel to Predator was announced which was to be produced by Rodriquez on April 23, 2009 which was based on his early drafts he had penned down after watching the original.
Robert had ideas for a planet-sized game preserve and different creatures that were used by the Predators to hunt down a group of abducted humans who are incredibly skilled. Acquiring quite positive reviews, the film did really well at the box office.
Robert also planned to produce a the famous Fire and Ice, a 1983 film collaboration between Frank Frazetta a painter and Ralph Bakshi, an animator. But the deal closed shortly after the death of Frazetta.
It was reported in the October of 2015 that Rodriquez is going to direct Battle Angel Alita with James Cameron. It was also announced in November that he is directing the film 100 Years which will be releasing in 2017.
Hollywood in Austin
Robert Rodriguez has built himself a remarkable filmmaking paradise in Austin, TX. Don’t believe me watch the two videos in this post where he gives you a tour of Troublemaker Studios. He has since purchased an old airport and built sound stages, more post production, office space, and everything you would need to make a film.
He has also done something that no other filmmakers has ever done before, he launched his own television network called “El Rey.”
In the over two hour interview that Tim Ferriss had with Robert Rodriguez he discusses not only his journey as a filmmaker but how he lives a creative life. This is why I wanted to share the interview with you.
Living a Creative Life
So many of us independent filmmakers forget why we got into the business and it’s to live a creative life. Make money yes, but do so by living a creative life. I found the interview fascinating and wanted to share it with the Indie Film Hustle Tribe. Take a listen at the top of the post.
Hope you enjoy it!
BONUS: Here’s a bonus podcast interview of Robert Rodriguez on the Nerdist. He describes his philosophy of indie filmmaking:
Also check out my interview with Robert Rodriguez’s long time producer Aaron Kaufman.
Here are some links to his films and books:
A Must Read Book for all Filmmakers:
Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player
If you like this post watch: How to Make Rodriguez’s Guacamole Gun
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