17 February 2007

Film School in a Box for $25

If you want to learn about making movies, but you don't want to, you know, go to school for it or anything, probably the best resource you can get for the money is the box set of the "Mexico" trilogy by famed indie Robert Rodriguez. It contains his first film, El Mariachi, which he made only for practice, but was so impressive that it opened Hollywood's doors to him. Next is his follow-up film Desperado, showing what he could do with a real budget. Finally comes Once Upon a Time in Mexico, in which the filmmaker declares "film is dead" and converts his entire operation to digital.

Anyone with aspirations to indie movie making should memorize the commentary track on El Mariachi. Rodriguez there details how he begged and borrowed his way into sets, props, and actors for his zero-budget film. In addition to the excellent commentary, El Mariachi also contains Rodriguez's first "Ten Minute Film School" segment, in which he shows several examples of how his film-making style allowed him to shoot the movie for practically no money while delivering astonishing production value.

In the Desperado commentary, Rodriguez describes how he applied his unique creative style to a "Hollywood" movie. A tiny budget by Hollywood standards, but literally a thousand times what he had to spend on Mariachi! Rodriguez also gives us the second installment of his ten minute film school, "Ten More Minutes: Anatomy of a Shootout". Here he describes his use of "video storyboards" as a fast method of combining rehearsals and storyboards to communicate the intent of the scene, and also as a sort of test run for planning shots. Brilliant.

In his commentary on Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Rodriguez at once expresses his frustration with the "Hollywood way" of making a movie, and his epiphanic liberation on discovering that digital acquisition and a digital workflow allowed him to return to his rebel roots. One of the extras on the DVD is "Film is Dead, an evening with Robert Rodriguez", in which the artist gives a talk (to film students?) about shooting on digital and how it reawakens the creative process of movie-making that gets lost in the technical complexity of managing a film shoot.

Rodriguez adds another film school installment, "Ten Minute Flick School: Fast, Cheap, and in Control", in which he expresses the importance of being well versed in special effects and technology. Also included is "Inside Troublemaker Studios", a tour of the artist's private lair. If you are at all into the technical side of of the trade, you may simply expire from envy of what this man has in his garage. "That's just an Avid," he says at one point, waving at a huge bank of computer and HD monitors backed by a hundred thousand dollars of computing power and storage. "We have a couple more upstairs."

The disc also includes "The Anti-hero's Journey", a more traditional "making of" documentary, in which the creator talks about all three movies, and "The Good, The Bad, and The Bloody: Inside KNB FX". Not to mention the first installment of the Rodriguez "Ten Minute Cooking School". (Notice that the entire cooking school segment was shot by Rodriguez by himself with a small video camera.)

I love this guy, his work, his attitude, and most of all his free encouragement to all the rebel movie makers out there. And at this price, you'd have to be pretty broke not to snap up a copy of the Mexico trilogy for reference and inspiration.

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