Robert Rodriguez Recalls His Entree to Hollywood With Student Film ‘El Mariachi’

Roberto Rodriguez El Mariachi Big Break
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

Robert Rodriguez stirred up attention with his student film “El Mariachi,” which he made for a whopping $7,000. It landed him a two-year deal with Columbia Pictures, and a write-up on Variety’s front page on April 23, 1992. The next year, the film won the audience prize at Sundance, and blazed a trail for independent, low-budget filmmaking, which has since become a staple of the industry. Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” series starts its second season Aug. 25 on the filmmaker’s El Rey channel.

What do you remember about signing that deal?

I was being courted by a number of studios at the time. I ended up choosing Columbia because they were the first to sort of reach out to me, and fly me out and meet with them. I was actually in L.A. when that article hit. Still being in college, and being on the front page of Variety — even I knew what that meant. I went to ICM, and lots of people came in through the door to give their congratulations. Joe Funicello, who was Jodie Foster’s agent said, “Front page? When Jodie got her deal, all I could get was third page.” It was a big deal. And that was the beginning of my whole life changing.

Did you have any idea how unique your story was?

I had never heard of a story like this before. This story breaking really is what made me think, “Wow, it’s a new independent wave starting, and I’m really one of the ones at the beginning of it.”

Have you watched the film since? How does it hold up?

There was a 25th anniversary here in Austin at the Paramount. I was curious to see it again on the bigscreen now that so much time has passed. I remember the first two shots come up, and I’m thinking, “Yeah, it looks like a movie someone made for $7,000.” But then about three or four minutes in, I started sweating, going like, “Oh my God. How the hell did I make this movie?” It’s impossible. I don’t think I could even do that today.

What was Hollywood like in 1992?

I got to see it right at that point when it changed forever. People were still cutting on film, and I was really starting to do digital editing. In fact, when I was doing “Desperado,” no one was editing digitally on the Sony lot. It was very new.

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