Robert Rodriguez On The Art Of Low Budget Filmmaking

By Srikanth Kanchinadham. Posted on April 27, 2015

Robert Rodriguez shot to fame with his low budget sleeper hit El Mariachi, the first of what eventually became his Mexico trilogy.  The story goes (and this is from Wikipedia) that "the film was originally intended only for the Mexican home video market, but executives at Columbia Pictures liked the film so much that they bought the American distribution rights. Columbia eventually spent several times more than the 16 mm film's original budget on 35 mm transfers, promotion, marketing and distribution."

Rodriguez made the film on a micro budget of $7000 employing many of the techniques that low budget filmmakers have since come to adopt. In a 10 min video Rodriguez explained how he shot the film on that paper-thin budget. Though the times might have changed and we have the luxury of shooting digital, the advice is still pure gold for indie filmmakers. Here's a brief summary of his advice;

1. Remember, The Shoot Is the Best Place To Learn

Nothing can teach you better than shooting a film yourself. So, ensure every aspect is employed in your shoot. Experiment different lighting techniques, different lenses and anything else you can.

2. Make The Utmost Use Of Your Actors

Make sure you work with passionate people. They’ll ensure giving everything they can to make the shoot successful. They can also be working as your film crew.

3. Use Natural Resources To Your Advantage

What do you distinctively remember about Akira Kurosawa’s movies? It's his use of natural elements like fire, wind and sun to highlight emotions on screen. Remember, natural lighting could be a great asset, if used properly. Use it and save money on lights.

4. Be As Creative As Possible

This perhaps is the most valuable advice any indie filmmaker can get. But what does one mean by being 'creative'? Essentially it means that the filmmaker should be able to come up with creative responses to problems on set or off it. No matter what the problem, you can always circumvent it. And given the budgets you'd be working on, you can't afford not to be creative.

5. Use The Camera Wisely

Using the camera wisely can make your scenes look more intense. Robert Rodriguez used this technique extensively by shooting with one camera but using it as if there were two cameras. This was possible only because he knew how he was going to edit it. Effectively he was editing on set and that saved him a lot of film roll as well as time and resources.

It will be fun to compare this 10 minute video with Anurag Kashyap's advice for zer0-budget filmmaking as well as what Steven Soderbergh has to say on the matter.

You can also check out our earlier posts on low budget filmmaking.


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