Written back in 1996, Rebel Without A Crew is probably one of the finest books about filmmaking that I’ve read. Written by Robert Rodriguez, it charts his process of making his first feature film, El Mariachi. It reads very honestly, giving a great portrayal of true guerilla filmmaking. Written as a series of journal entries, Rodriguez discusses virtually everything – from selling himself to medical research to raise funds, to getting deals with Kodak for film.
There is something to be learned here. Rodriguez basically details the whole process of how he made things up as he went along. Filmed efficiently, cut costs on actors and locations, in other words did everything on the cheap. It’s inspiring and funny. I can’t imagine that anyone who comes away reading this book isn’t filled with enthusiasm to run out and make their own $7,000 film.
Of course, I hadn’t actually seen El Mariachi when I read this book. And if you haven’t seen the film, then I’d highly recommend you read the book first. When you read the book, and learn how he tried to sell his film to Mexican producers, but later landed a distribution deal with Columbia Pictures, you’re filled with an image of a film that is actually good. This is not the case, at least in my opinion.
El Mariachi is actually a really bad film. Badly shot, badly acted, badly written. It looks like a $7,000 film, and that ain’t a compliment.
What’s good about the film is the concept, and that’s how it was sold. It wasn’t so much a film, as a $7,000 pitch to produce a film – that film being Desperado. While considered a pseudo sequel, it was basically a remake. With Desperado, we’re treated to a highly stylized action film I think was pretty good. It’s El Mariachi with a real budget.
Getting back to the book, one of the best elements of it is how it charts Rodriguez’ climb from a “nobody” to a “somebody”. This was what I liked most. Not the nuts-and-bolts of how he got the film made, but what happened after he finished it and suddenly he started to get a lot of attention. The best moment is when he was a panelist at – I believe – either Sundance or the Toronto Film Festival. When asked if he were given a big budget to direct a Hollywood film, would he do it, Rodriguez answered honestly: “Of course!” This was in contrast to the other panelists, all of which apparently said they’d refuse.
Give me a break.
I liked Rodriguez’ candor and honesty. He tells his story in a fun and real way, where you feel like you’re taking the wild and crazy trip with him. If you’re looking to make your film on the cheap, this is a must read, if only to serve as inspiration for what is possible.