Considering that I’ve been working as an image-maker in the content creation industry for the last decade, how did I miss Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez?! It’s currently election week in the States and I’m pleasantly burying my head into books to avoid any anxiety triggering news. Go away! And let me remember what it’s like to hustle for my passions again.

Rodriquez is an American film director who has made several Hollywood movies that I remember growing up with. Once Upon a Time in MexicoSin Citythe Spy Kids trilogy, and more recently Alita: Battle Angel. Before he was a successful director, he was one of us. A broke artist with dreams of telling exciting stories.

Rebel Without a Crew is a self-authored nonfiction book, presented as a journal, that details Rodriquez’s start as a filmmaker. Specifically, the book follows his journey with making El Mariachi on a $7,000, navigating the convoluted process of selling the film in Hollywood, and promoting it through film festivals. His DIY film eventually grossed over $2 million. I love a good underdog story. It has also been a while since I’ve been inspired to venture outside of my comfort zone.

The official trailer for El Mariachi, the feature film that Rodriguez goes on an an epic mission to create.

Key Takeaways

So, Glad, We’re in the Digital Age

Much of his $7,000 home movie budget was spent on buying, processing, and making copies of film. I’m so glad that I’ll never have to experience the madness of handling, processing, and editing film in an orderly fashion.

Ideation and Preproduction is Crucial

Rodriquez seamlessly made his film by doing all the heavy lifting beforehand during ideation. He talks about visualizing his entire feature in head before he had even acquired a camera. By processing and making all the decisions in preproduction, he became laser focused by the time filming started. He knew exactly what shots were needed and what he wanted from the actors. This perpetuated breviloquent filming days that reduced any room for potential decision fatigue. The less tired you are, the more mental bandwidth you’ll have for important things like being creative.

Limitations Build Creativity

Not having deep pockets or access to the best resources at the money is fabulous in the long run! … It just painfully sucks in the present, however that is also how you’re going to sculpt your style and language for storytelling. Since he was a broke student, Rodriquez became resourceful in all aspects of filmmaking. He casted his friends and peers as actors, borrowed locations and props from other productions, did overnight editing sessions at a public access studio, ADR’d the entire film! When you’re backed into a corner with a specific vision, you’re going to find a way to make it happen.

Money Won’t Solve Your Problems

Tell a story they’d never risk, or make a movie that goes for the throat the way they’d never do, because they are too mainstream. Fill your film with great ideas, which they can’t come up with no matter how much money they have. They can’t make their movies more creative with money. Only more expensive. The creative person with limitless imagination and no money can make a better film than the talentless mogul with the limitless checkbook. Take advantage of your disadvantages, feature the few assets you may have, and work harder than anyone else around you. When given an opportunity, deliver excellence and never quit.

Just Do It

I’m borrowing the Nike slogan here, but Rodriguez wholeheartedly embodies the notion walking the walk, and not just talking. He decided that he’d create a feature film to not only prove that he could, but also to learn at an accelerated pace. He discovers ways around problematic situations and unearths resources when it appears that he has nothing. His story is a bit David and Goliath, but nonetheless inspiring.

The first step to anything is to show up. The next step is the follow through. Rinse and repeat.

Favorite Quotes from Rebel Without a Crew

…anyone can become technical, but not everyone can be creative. And there are a lot of creative people who never get anywhere because they don’t have technical skills… if you are someone who is already creative, and then you become technical, then you are unstoppable.

I want to give it everything I’ve got because I know that I will learn so much more about filmmaking by making the experience as challenging as possible. If I’m going to do it, I really do have to go all the way or I’m wasting my time.

As a rule, no matter what you are pitching”, he told me, “you should be as positive as possible about your ideas. You should tell TriStar that you have a few ides that are not completely fleshed out, but that you would welcome a collaboration with TriStar in helping you develop them. That is the language you should use.”

If you’re doing it because you love it you can succeed because you’ll work harder than anyone else around you, take on challenge no one else would dare take, and come up with methods no one else would discover, especially when their prime drive is fame and fortune. All that will follow later if you love what you do. Because your work will speak for itself.

Good luck to you in following whatever passion you have. You will most probably succeed in attaining it. And if you don’t, you’ll find that if it’s really your passion you are following then you will find enormous fulfillment and incredible satisfaction from at least trying.

Bonus Tidbits on Robert Rodriquez


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