Book Review: Rebel without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez on filmmaking, Rebel without a crew

Just when I was feeling worn out, I ran into a guy I had met at school way back. I showed him the trailer and he was blown away. That got me charged up and I was able to finish the scenes I wanted in seven hours. Thank God I have these trailers to remind me of what the movie can be if I ever finish it. If it weren’t for the trailers I’d probably just give up.

This is one of the paragraphs in Robert Rodriguez’ (Sin City, Planet Terror, Machete) book about how he made his first movie – at the age of 23! If that does not qualify for an inspiring book, what else?

A Rebel without a Crew is a collection of journal entry excerpts he wrote between March 8, 1991 and February 26, 1993, the time when he created his first movie, El Mariacchi.

Robert Rodriguez became something like the poster boy for a whole generation of guerilla filmmakers, filmmakers who do not wait until somebody greenlights their project, until someone gives them permission to do it. They just look at what they have, write a script, shoot it, done.

Robert Rodriguez on filmmaking, Book Review: Rebel without a crew

Rodriguez writes about how he got the budget for his film, which was 7,000 USD: By selling his body to a medical research facility. And as he was not allowed to leave the building for the time the experiment was running, he used the time to write the script for El Mariacchi. Now that’s using time wisely. 🙂

We also learn some of his filmmaking tricks, like how he used a wheelchair as some kind of poor man’s dolly to get interesting camera movements. And how he was so broke he could not afford paying the meals for the cast and crew, so that the shootings took place before or after lunch time. He even did not have the money to buy proper costumes, so one of the actors wore Rodriguez’ shirt in one scene.

Robert Rodriguez on filmmaking, Book Review: Rebel without a crewRobert Rodriguez on filmmaking, Book Review: Rebel without a crew

Robert Rodriguez also writes about his initial business plans for the film. It was never meant to be released, he shot it with his friend as some kind of exercise – something to show Hollywood producers and tell them that this was what the movie could be like, if they gave him some money to reshoot the thing in a proper way. What happened instead was, that the distributors liked and bought the movie the way it was and even optioned him to write further screenplays for them. He writes about how much money the studio spend to get the film cinema-ready, which is something that surely won’t happen today. Do not forget, these where the nineties, when a no budget guerilla film was the exception, not the rule. To be honest, today there are tons of blogs and social media presences of filmmakers out there who did their thing on their own, just to learn, that going to a filmfestival with a movie is just not enough. Only 10% of the movies that attend the big film festivals like Sundance get distribution.

Robert Rodriguez on filmmaking, Rebel without a crewRobert Rodriguez on filmmaking, Book Review: Rebel without a crew

Nonetheless, reading through Robert’s experience is extremely entertaining and it teaches a ton about the guerilla filmmakers’ mindset. Sure, the market, the players and the distribution channels are different today, but it is still worth reading, because it shows how being creative and looking for solutions that are less than obvious pays off.

Have you read the book, too? Feel free to leave a comment below! 🙂

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