Robert Rodriquez and the $7,000 El mariachi project

Donna enjoyed meeting Robert and he was kind enough to include her in his book ‘Rebel Without a Crew’

By Robert Rodriguez

SUNDANCE, Utah — I went to the Z Place for an interview with Donna Parker from The Hollywood Reporter.

She came in saying that she’s heard several filmmakers around the (Sundance Film Festival) saying that I’m lying and that there’s no way you can make a movie for $7,000 in 35mm and have it shown in the festival.

I told her the whole story, cleared up the fact that it was shot in 16mm, not on 35mm and that my finished tape that got me … a writing/directing deal at Columbia Pictures was made for $7,000.

You transfer your negative straight to videotape, and you can take the tape to distributors instead of making a 16mm film print. I told her that a 16mm film print would have cost me over $20,000. My movie has over 2,000 cuts in it, and that’s not cheap to conform.

In fact, if you compare my budget dollar for dollar with two other recent low budget indies, “Laws of Gravity,” and “The Living End,” you can see that where those guys spent more money was on rented film and lighting equipment, and they made a 16mm film print, which is an expensive process.

They made the print to show to distributors. But when a distributor chooses to buy your film, they pay for a whole new 35mm blowup anyway, so if you don’t have the money, the lower cost option is transferring to video.

It’s more convenient to watch a tape; and if they want your movie, the distributor will pay for all the prints and blowup costs. That’s their job, anyway.

She then asked, “But how did you feed the crew?”

I told her that people don’t realize that I had no crew.

If you want to do a movie for nothing, you have to get rid of the crew, because even if they work for free, you have to feed them and it adds up.

I told her that the main reason those people don’t believe it can be done is because they haven’t heard the whole story and gotten the facts straight, because it actually makes sense when you know how it was done.

Donna finished the interview, excited and enlightened she said, “This’ll make a great feature story!”

Editor’s note — This did make a great feature story for The Hollywood Reporter.  I thought Robert was brilliant — he shot “El Mariachi” on only one street in Mexico, he said, getting the shots from different directions.  During our interview he told me that on “El Mariachi,” he only used one, very high-powered lightbulb.  


An interesting link re: Sundance