Robert Rodriguez worked hard with what he had, former professor notes

Nina Hernandez

[Corrected Sept. 13: Changed who is required to attend the University Lecture Series]

When director Robert Rodriguez was a student at UT, he didn’t have the grades to get into the University’s Film 1 class. But he did create a short film called “Bedhead” that completely surprised and impressed radio-television-film professor Charles Ramirez-Berg.

Ramirez-Berg talked about his experiences working with the director of “Sin City” and “Grindhouse” in a lecture Monday evening at Bass Concert Hall.

“For the most part, I don’t teach production classes,” Ramirez-Berg said. “So I didn’t have a sense of his production talent until I saw that first film. Then it became crystal clear how talented he was.”

Ramirez-Berg recounted the conversation he had with Rodriguez before the filming of “El Mariachi,” the 1992 film that kick-started Rodriguez’s career. The budget for the film was only $7,000.

Ramirez-Berg said he was skeptical of the movie, having seen movies with twice the budget that were not very good. Rodriguez proved him wrong.

“[El Mariachi] was so compelling, so vibrant, I had to keep watching,” Ramirez-Berg said. “He didn’t have seven or 70 million. He had $7,000.”

The combination of “Bedhead” and “El Mariachi” landed Rodriguez a contract with Colombia Pictures. Rodriguez would go on to direct films like “Desparado” and “Spy Kids.” Ramirez-Berg said that students should remember to make the most out of what they have. He said that Rodriguez made a list while filming “El Mariachi” of all the things he either had or could get for free to use in the film. Those things included a bus, swimming pool, a jail and a dog. All of those things appear in the movie.

“[Rodriguez] is very bright, but he also works very hard,” Ramirez-Berg said. “He outworks everybody. He has a sense of how to use images to tell stories.”

The talk was part of the University Lecture Series. All first-year students enrolled in a signature course are required to attend one of the lectures in the series. Dean of Undergraduate Studies Paul Woodruff said the Alumni Association thought the college should do more to create a common academic experience for students.

Another way to create this experience is to feature lectures where students can learn about a topic and network, he said.

“It’s designed to create a community for the students,” Woodruff said. “We’re trying to give them the idea that they can get involved with something, even now [as freshmen].”

Biology freshman Bridget Kajs chose the lecture because of her interest in radio-television-film.

“I hadn’t heard of [Rodriguez] before, but I’ve definitely seen his movies,” Kajs said. “I don’t think directors get enough credit for their vision. They make the script come to life.”

Printed on September 13, 2011 as: Professor recounts director's early work