When it comes to getting an education in film, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all option. But apparently the same can’t be said for a film school’s “model moviemaker.”
In 1991, armed with little more than $7,000 and a fierce can-do attitude, Mexican-American moviemaker Robert Rodriguez shot a little movie called El Mariachi on his summer break from the University of Texas—and a legend was born.
Although it has been more than 15 years since the classic independent film first seeped into the world’s consciousness, its director remains at the forefront of all that is fresh and exciting in the world of moviemaking. So it’s no surprise that so many of the schools profiled in MM’s “Guide to Film Education” cite Rodriguez as the standard by which they hope to measure their own students.
“The number one hurdle for most people to overcome is belief,” says Curtis Kessinger, founder of Film School Now. “Once someone accomplishes something, then it becomes believable. Robert Rodriguez made El Mariachi for such a low sum of money that it seemed to make filmmaking possible for everyone.”
Florida’s Palm Beach Film School finds Rodriguez’s early one-man-band model the most inspiring part of his story. Rodriguez has an ability to create “such interesting movies on shoestring budgets,” says the school’s director, Jim York. Add to that his personal guidance “through the entire filmmaking process, from concept to completion,” and you have a true moviemaking hero for any generation.
But shooting El Mariachi was only part of the battle. Once the film was purchased by Columbia Pictures, Rodriguez had new mountains to climb—among them, the studio system with its limitless technical possibilities waiting to rework his small pet project.
“For Rodriguez, it has never been about having the next great tech tool, but about using the tools on hand to their fullest potential through creative thinking,” points out Paul DeNigris, associate professor at the University of Advancing Technology. “Though his tools have upgraded considerably since his El Mariachi days, Rodriguez continues to think outside the box to overcome the perceived limitations of technology in order to fully realize his creative vision.”
“Robert Rodriguez embodies the spirit of non-traditional education and techniques,” concurs Dave Franko, film program director at Full Sail Real World Education. “He respects the past but is willing to use new technologies to help tell his story.”
Rodriguez is regarded as “scrappy, driven, diverse and original,” by Charles Myers, professor and department chair of Communication Arts at Saddleback College. The Texas moviemaker “was able to make the leap from shorts to ultra-low-budget features to full-blown studio pictures while still staying true to his own personal mission and vision as a filmmaker.”
“Robert Rodriguez has realized and approached the filmmaking production process thinking outside the box—unencumbered by the methodologies of the past—and has embraced new technologies as the way to make movies. This is exactly what we’ve been teaching for many years,” concludes Jon Gress, director of Florida’s FX Institute. “While film is a visually beautiful medium and will always have its place as an art form, the new digital technologies allow filmmakers to make extraordinary, stunning motion pictures.”
As he continues to push boundaries and test limits with original projects from Spy Kids to Grindhouse, when it comes to inspiring tomorrow’s moviemakers, Robert Rodriguez is in a class by himself.