Movie Article

Numbers Game

The story behind ''El Mariachi'' -- How the movie with a $7 thousand cost $1 million

Next to The Crying Game, the publicity phenomenon of the season is 24-year-old filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who has been praised in print for spending a mere $7,000 to make El Mariachi. Fact is, the version of his just-released film that's showing in theaters cost a great deal more than that.

Shooting in 16 mm, the Austin, Tex., native filmed his Spanish-language actioner in Mexico a year ago. He sent a videotape of the movie to an ICM agent, who passed it on to Columbia Pictures. The studio signed Rodriguez to a two-year development, writing, and directing deal and also decided to release El Mariachi theatrically. The only hitch? The movie had to be blown up from 16 mm to 35 mm.

Rodriguez recut El Mariachi at Sony's L.A. studios, remixing the sound into Dolby stereo and redoing the subtitles. ''I was working on a million-dollar automated sound system, with food laid out that must have cost about $5,000 a day,'' Rodriguez recalls. ''These Oscar winners were asking me, 'How does this sound?' I said, 'It sounds good!'''

All told, the new print cost $100,000. Columbia's El Mariachi tab, including marketing and distribution costs, was another $1 million. Mark Gill, Columbia Pictures' senior vice president of publicity, says the movie is already returning a tidy profit for both the studio and the hardworking filmmaker. Neither feels the shoestring-budget hype is inaccurate: ''Seven thousand dollars is what got him discovered,'' Gill says. ''That's the message we wanted people to get.''

Originally posted Apr 02, 1993 Published in issue #164 Apr 02, 1993 Order article reprints
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