RED 11: Rodriguez Microbudget Project and Docuseries Available on VOD

The story of Robert Rodriguez’s rise from obscurity to running Troublemaker Studios would, ironically, make a great film. The story of his first film, El Mariachi, and the sacrifices he endured to get it made is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Now, 25 years later, he has challenged himself to make a film under the same conditions – a budget of $7000 USD, with only his son as crew, Red 11 is a return to the filmmaker’s roots. And a fascinating look into a man who famously wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Credit: Variety

Austin, 1991. After gaining some attention with the short Bedhead, Robert Rodriguez wants to move on to feature production. The plan: to make a trilogy of films riffing on the idea of a man with a guitar case full of guns, a drifter inspired by Eastwood’s Man with No Name among others. The planned trilogy of films was intended as a proving ground, a way for Rodriguez to improve his skills as a filmmaker. El Mariachi was never intended to see the light of day, as “no-one is going to do a $7,000 action movie to get work.”

Rodriguez’s goal was simply to sell the film for enough to finance a sequel and give him more practice. In order to raise the film’s profile, he intended to tell the company he sold it to he made it for ten times the initial budget, “So we tried to make it big with lots of action and cuts, and as much production value as possible.” After completing the filming, he went to Los Angeles to sell it to a Spanish-language video company. But he also dropped a trailer for the film into talent agency ICM, and everything changed. Robert Newman agreed to represent him and sent cassettes of the film to all the major studios. Columbia signed Rodriguez to a two-year writing/directing deal.

Red 11

Austin, 2018. Robert Rodriguez’s career is now firmly established – from the El Mariachi trilogy, through the visually impressive rendition of Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel Sin City, to the grimy, gory 70s exploitation tribute of Machete and its sequel, right up to glossy, big-budget studio film making in Alita: Battle Angel, there’s little Rodriguez has not done at this stage. Along the way he has applied his own unique DIY approach to the studio system, creating Troublemaker Studios, a company working outside of the Hollywood system in his hometown of Austin, consistently attracting A-list talent to its projects.

After his son Racer expresses a desire to “join the family business”, they co-write a medical thriller based in part on Robert’s experiences all the way back in the pre-production phase of El Mariachi, where he put his body on the line for his art – quite literally – participating in experimental drug treatments in order to finance the film. The plot follows Rob, who is trying to buy his way out of a huge debt of $7,000. Given the designation “Red 11”, things get surreal when he’s not sure if the hospital is trying to kill him, or if it’s side effects from experimental drugs.

Taking Us to School

Credit: No Film School

Having already established the “one-man film crew” idea, this film served as a teaching tool for his son. However, as he so often does, Rodriguez saw the potential beyond that and elected to document the production process. What followed was the 6-part docuseries Rebel Without a Crew: The Robert Rodriguez Film School. In it, Rodriguez details the processes of writing, lighting, filming, directing and editing on a budget that wouldn’t cover the coffee on most major Hollywood productions. The aim is to encourage artists everywhere to see that they don’t need a bunch of resources to start creating – just a good idea and an abundance of will.

This overall approach is, in many ways, emblematic of what makes Rodriguez such an interesting and unique case. It’s difficult to imagine his contemporaries, like Tarantino, Nolan or the Coens, “slumming it” and challenging themselves in such a manner. So if you’re interested in seeing what can be done with a microbudget – or if indeed you are a creative that feels the limitations inherent with not being able to raise funds – then keep an eye out for both Red 11 and Rebel Without a Crew: The Robert Rodriguez Film School.

Both projects are available on VOD.

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