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‘El Mariachi’ Is The Greatest Indie Movie Of All Time

Filmmaking is expensive. Any film with a budget under 500K is considered extremely low budget. You have to rent equipment, hire a crew, pay the actors, get permits, purchase food, buy props, find costumes, get film stock, processing, etc. Or you can do all the work yourself and make a film for 7,000 dollars. Impossible? That’s exactly what Robert Rodriguez did in 1993 when he made El Mariachi.

In 1991, Robert Rodriguez was a broke ass graduate of The University of Texas’ film program. His student short Bedhead, had gotten a little bit of buzz at some festivals. Emboldened by the success of Bedhead – and having no other useful skills – he decided to make a feature length film. In order to raise the money to make El Mariachi, Rodriguez participated in drug tests at a lab in Austin and maxed out a bunch of credit cards. He didn’t pay anyone, borrowed the equipment, and cut costs wherever possible. Instead of hiring a crew, he had the actors who weren’t being used in a shot help out. Rodriguez shot it himself, lit it with some desk lamps, and used a wheelchair instead of a camera dolly. Ghetto, but effective.

El Mariachi, is the story of an unnamed guitar player (Carlos Gallardo) who comes to a small border town looking for work. That same day, a thug named Azul (Reinol Martinez) gets out of prison bent on revenge against a drug dealer named Moco (Peter Marquardt). Azul carries around a guitar case full of guns. Moco sends out his killers to look for a man dressed in black and carrying a guitar case. The mariachi mistakenly takes Azul’s guitar case and soon finds himself being shot at by Moco’s henchmen. He discovers that he is carrying an arsenal in his guitar case and kills a bunch of Moco’s men. He meets and falls in love with a girl named Domino (Consuelo Gomez), who helps him hide from the cartel. He confronts Moco and is shot in the hand, ending his mariachi career. Moco kills Domino, so the mariachi wastes Moco and his men in revenge. The film ends with the mariachi heading down the highway on Domino’s motorcycle, transformed into a vigilante.

El Mariachi won the Audience Choice Award at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. Manic loudmouth Quentin Tarantino, took Rodriguez under his wing and helped him get financing for his next films. QT produced the two sequels Desperado (1995) and Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003). El Mariachi was played in the subsequent films by muy caliente Antonio Banderas. In the later films, the El Mariachi character becomes much more of a superhero, a sexy Spanish Punisher. Desperado also introduced the world to Salma Hayek and her boobies. Thanks Robert!

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