Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi Took Low-Budget Filmmaking To New Heights

The plan was to sell “El Mariachi” to buyers in the Spanish home video market. Not exactly a lofty goal, but still ambitious enough for a movie made on the extreme end of cheap. Once filming was completed, Rodriguez sent a trailer, along with a copy of “Bedhead,” to the Hollywood agency International Creative Management (ICM). Beyond his wildest expectations, ICM was impressed with his work and took him on as a client. As a result, VHS copies of his film were making the rounds at the major studios. In the end, Columbia Pictures signed on to distribute the film and, what’s more, signed the budding filmmaker to a two-picture deal.

This is where the myth of the $7,000 movie begins to unravel a touch. In his book “Rebel Without a Crew,” Rodriguez detailed making his low-budget debut. At one point, he discussed doing an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, with journalist Donna Parker mentioning that filmmakers at Sundance took issue with the price tag, saying you could never make a 35mm movie for that price. Rodriguez then cleared the air.

“I told her the whole story, cleared up the fact that it was shot on 16mm, not on 35mm, and that my finished tape that got me representation at ICM, one of the biggest talent agencies in the world, and 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.”

Indeed, Columbia purchased a $7,000 movie, but they had to blow it up to 35mm for a cost of around $100,000. The studio is also said to have spent $1 million marketing the film. So sure, the original budget was mere thousands, but in the end, it became a $1.1 million (and change) endeavor.

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