Book of the week: The DV Rebel’s Guide + Rebel Without a Crew

I’m endlessly fascinated by the film and television industries in part because the risk and uncertainty they deal with on every project makes my own industry seem sane, rational, and well-ordered.

So from time to time I’ll be recommending books on film and television with the idea that if you are interested in technology and startups, you can gain a lot from thinking about how an even more extreme “wild west” business environment works.

To start, let me recommend two books and two films.

First, a brand-new book, The DV Rebel’s Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap. Written by an Industrial Light & Magic veteran and software developer named Stu Maschwitz, The DV Rebel’s Guide is an extraordinary and extremely practical guide to literally making your own action movie with a handheld camera and a PC.

Featuring section titles such as “On Asking Permission”, “Detail, Schmetail!”, “Found Cranes”, “God Is Your Gaffer”, “Cleveland for Paris”, “Digital Ordnance”, “Light Fuse and Get Away”, “Squib That Which Is Squibbable”, “Avoid Killing Your Friends”, and “What Professionals?”, The DV Rebel’s Guidesimultaneously makes it crystal clear why a few thousand dollars and a lot of chutzpah is enough to actually shoot an interesting film, and how — to paraphrase Marx — the means of production are being put into the hands of everyone at an astonishing pace.

That book is blurbed by Robert Rodriguez, the now legendary director of the “Spy Kids” series, “Sin City”, and half of “Grindhouse”. Before he became a big-time director and hooked up with Rose McGowan, Rodriguez became famous in the film industry for shooting his own, very real action movie, El Mariachi, in 1992 for $7,000 that he raised by donating blood (true story). He wrote my second recommended book, Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player, about that experience, and it’s an exhilirating story of creation and entrepreneurship — and really funny.

The link I’ve provided for El Mariachi is actually to a new edition of not only that film but also its Hollywood remake/sequel, also by Rodriguez, called Desperado. Watching the two films back to back is not only a lot of fun but shows the difference between film budgets of $7,000 and $7 million.

Films that get made for tiny amounts of money and yet get picked up by studios for distribution are rare, but they do happen. Another more recent example that is also an applied study of creativity over money is Primer, also made for $7,000 but a decade after El Mariachi, so after correcting for inflation you realize thatPrimer was made for even less.