Robert Rodriguez

I was listening to another Tim Ferris podcast the other day. This time he was interviewing the filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn, Sin City etc.), who had some very interesting things to say about creativity:

He keeps a journal of everything he that happens to him, then uploads it so that he can search for certain subjects/words/etc. This allows him, for example, to be a better dad by reliving all his kids’ moments with them in great detail. But it also makes him a better filmmaker, as it gives him the ability to look back at decisions he made in the creation of a project and see if they turned out well or should have been done differently.

He says that in any creative endeavour, the job is 90% the same. So if, like him, you want to write, edit, direct, score and produce your work, you shouldn’t let a lack of experience hold you back (for more on this, check out his interview with Quentin Tarantino, where Quentin explains how he shot his first film, Reservoir Dogs, mainly though his knowledge of acting). When he told one of his teachers that he was planning to be the DOP on his first film, the teacher tried to persuade him against the idea because he thought all his actors would get pissed off watching him set up shots. Rodriguez didn’t listen to him, and it turned out fine. In fact, his many skills meant that he could make his first film for much less money because he could edit as well as direct. This meant he only needed to shoot exactly what he required to make up the final film, rather than cover tonnes of extra footage so that some other editor would have more stuff to work with.

When you stumble you stumble upon things… There’s a big thread of failure=good running through the whole podcast. He also quotes Francis Ford Coppola, who says that failure doesn’t endure, meaning that what seems like a failure inevitably turns into something positive. RR made one quarter of the poorly-rceived anthology film Four Rooms. It flopped, but while making it he watched a sequence with Antonio Banderas and his wife and kids and got the idea for his very successful Spy Kids series.

He made El Mariachi for $7000, which he raised by volunteering for medical experiments (one of them merely required him to be fed and housed for a month while he wrote more screenplays). He then cold-called a Hollywood agent (a new guy with no directors on his books) and asked him to watch the El Mariachi trailer. The agent did so and was very impressed, especially when was told that it only cost $7000. ‘Wow,’ he replied. ‘Most trailers cost $20,000-$30,000.’ When Rodriguez explained that the whole film cost $7000 the guy was of course even more impressed. Within a few days he’d set up a deal at Columbia. Rodriguez didn’t have any other films ready to develop, so he proposed remaking El Mariachi as Desperado. Columbia agreed and the rest is history (guess who cut the trailer and designed the poster):

In his TV series, The Director’s Chair, Rodriguez chats to various great auteurs about their craft. In the episode featuring Robert Zemeckis we discover that he seriously considered cutting the Johnny B. Goode scene from Back To The Future and thought that Forrest Gump was going to be a flop. Rodriguez’s point is that even the biggest experts have very little idea what really works. Remember that when anyone in the room seems utterly certain of an artistic decision, especially one you don’t agree with. Much is fluke:

Rodriguez became the chairman and founder of the El Rey TV network, an english language cable network that creates original programming alongside Robert’s favourite movies. That happened because he realised 20,000 people were vying for every opportunity at Sundance, but very few people wanted to put a TV network together. He said maybe 100 people tried to get the rights to the new network, and maybe five of them had a decent plan of how to do it. Now El Rey is carried on all the major cable providers in the US.

Overall he just wanted to make sure people always think of themselves as creative. I couldn’t agree more. Many times I’ve suggested that a person outside the creative department do something ‘creative’ only to hear the reply ‘But I’m not a creative person’. They’re wrong. We are all creative people. Every thought we have is an act of creation, so we are inherently creative entities.

Some people, like Robert Rodriguez, take that possibility to the nth degree.