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Pulp Diction from SONNYBOO

The Truth About Robert Rodriegez

by Peter John Ross

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It's been 10 years since El mariachi hit video and it's still as prevelant in the filmmaking community as ever. How many Indie Filmmakers have been effected by reading "Rebel Without a Crew" or by watching the DVD extra "Ten Minute Film School"? Hundreds? Thousands? I know I was. I remember renting the Laserdisc back in 1994 and seeing the movie made "for $7,000" and even listening to the rare pre-DVD COMMENTARY TRACK, which Robert himself dubbed "How to make a feature film for under $10,000". I can say that without a doubt, I felt empowered by the commentary, and everything you read about Robert & his epic adventure on how he became a major Hollywood player with his movie that was meant to be a Spanish Video release.

After having been down the path of making my own movies now for a little over four years, I recently re-read the book "Rebel Without a Crew" and I rewatched "Ten minute Film School" with a new set of experienced eyes. Let's just say that a few clarifications are in order...

#1. $7,000 is only kinda-sorta the budget. Robert never hided it, but Columbia Pictures & ICM Talent did. The $7,000 got RR a 3/4" master tape of his movie, and that's it. Columbia spent a hell of a lot more money to get a 35mm print made of it that could screen at festivals. The $7,000 bought 16mm film stock & transfer to video and a few dollars of props. This is important to note because there is a misconception about what the movie costs and what that means. It means saying that the movie costs $7,000 is a great marketing ploy that paid off well.

#2. One of the only reasons you, me, or anyone has ever heard of Robert Rodriguez is because the state film commissioner of Texas gave RR a referral to Internationl Creative Management. The dicotomy of Hollywood is that you cannot get in unless you know someone. It's an insiders club, and RR got a free pass. This is underplayed by the book, REBEL WITHOUT A CREW, but it's crucial to understand that the 2nd largest talent agency in the world can manipulate the studios. I do not mean to denegrate Robert's obvious talents, but based on seeing movies like "GLITTER" and "FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY", there is evidence that talent is not a prerequisite for getting a movie made. Robert is lucky that he had the talent & skills to back up the promise the EL MARIACHI displayed.

#3. No one seems to remember that Robert had made well over 200 movies on video from the time he was 9 years old. How many other filmmakers, even in our cheap DV 1394, Non Linear World, can claim to have made over 200 movies? I've been making movies for 4 years, and I'm barely over 30 movies. Let's just say that Robert has a distinct advantage when it comes to making movies at the stage he was at when he made El Mariachi. EXPERIENCE. It's greatly undervalued if you went solely by the descriptions made in the book and in the Ten Minute Film School.

#4. "All you need to know about filmmaking, you can learn in about 10 minutes". I have never heard anything more dishonest in my entire life. This coming from a guy who had been making movies, and honing his skills, and mastering his craft for over ten YEARS, not ten minutes. I think if Robert had never made a movie before, and this was his first or second effort, then maybe I could take this at face value - instead we get a lot of alleged "Rebels" that have no clue how to tell a story with a camera or the slightest concept of editing and story. Too many people feel like they can do as good their first time out - try ten years later or 200 movies after and then MAYBE you can pull off El Mariachi.

#5. Robert suggests NOT using a film crew. A film crew, specifically a Cinematographer is NOT a bad thing. Yes, Hollywood big budget movies spend too much money, but honestly having a sound guy or a camera man who has a clue can enhance your movie. A good PRODUCTION ASSISTANT can save serious $$$ when you need something fast. Robert preaches not to use a crew at all if you can help it (which caused him serious union problems on FROM DUSK TO DAWN) and I think it's a choice, and not usually the right one. A good crew can bring a lot of support to a director's vision, not a detraction. Shooting your own movies also can shut off the input of someone who can offer options you never considered. Again,a bit misleading is that Robert shot all of his own movies and knew more about framing a shot than most NYU film grads. A wise friend of mine constantly reminds us all that Filmmaking is a COLLABORATIVE ART, and it takes several people to make a movie. Even Robert had actors. They are collaborators and bring soemthing different to the table than a one man show. Also fo note, Robert has never made a movie minus a crew since El Mariachi.

When I watched the "Ten Minute Film School" all I could think was how this guy really, really knew what the hell he was doing. When he made his choices of shots & describes how he would edit it all together, I was in awe. There is no way in hell a person who has never shot before would have a clue what he was REALLY doing. It's taken me 9 years to start to get a grasp on the genius of what Robert pulled off. RR had barely a 1.5 to 1 shooting ratio (if you don't know what shooting ratio is, then you need to take more than Ten Minutes to learn). The kind of risk and gamble shooting on 16mm presented was only viable because he had a great deal of preplanning and experience. Not everyone, I daresay hardly ANYONE could have done what Robert did and had results that good.

I am not saying that everything in these resources by Robert Rodriguez are bad. The advice of writing a script for the locations and props that are already availalble to you is very true. There are tons of wisdom in what he writes and says, but be aware that this came from someone who already learned what NOT to do from 200 prior movies he wrote and directed. Don't expect the same quality results if you've never made a movie before.

I don't dislike or disrespect Robert Rodriguez. As a matter of fact, I have met him twice and found him to be the most unpretentious and modest filmmaker on Planet Earth. But, I cannot count how many "filmmakers' quote this book or that clip on the DVD as the inspiration for kickstarting a DV endeavor. It's just that he has started a trend of "anyone can direct" and it's misleading. Everyone CAN direct, but not many people can direct WELL. The inspirational words from "TEN MINUTE FILM SCHOOL" and "REBEL WITHOUT A CREW" are great, but you have to read between the lines. There was a lot more too it than the way it is presented. I still believe everyone should go out & make their movie, but I think a more realistic approach is required.


- Peter John Ross

 

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About award winning filmmaker Peter John Ross & Sonnyboo Productions – Founded in 1999, Sonnyboo short films have played on 3 continents and at over 50 film festivals world wide. Projects directed by Peter John Ross appear on Tech TV, National Lampoon Networks, Movieola the short film channel, The “U” Network, and Vegas Indies TV. Sonnyboo films have been noted in such publications as RES Magazine, Ain’t It Cool News, Camcorder & Computer Video magazine, Film & Video Magazine, LA Weekly, Film Threat, the Village Voice, & Internet Video Magazine.

 



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