Buy Less and Create More – Lessons in Creativity and Resourcefulness

Robert Rodriguez filming El Mariachi

Robert Rodriguez filming “El Mariachi”


“…when you don’t have money and are working self-sufficiently, your problem-solving skills are challenged, your creativity has to work, and you fix the problem creatively.”


The quote above is from the book Rebel Without a Crew by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who has been behind films like Sin City, the Spy Kids series and the Machete series. In this inspiring book, Rodriguez chronicles the process of making his first full-feature film, El Mariachi. The alternative title of the book is How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player. As the titles imply, Rodriguez accomplished the seemingly impossible task of shooting and editing a film practically by himself and with very limited resources. As I read this funny, insightful, and inspirational book, I began to ask myself how I could be more resourceful in my own work and daily life.

From an early age, my parents taught my brothers and I to not be wasteful. My parents grew up with limited resources and they taught us to take care of our possessions and not spend our money on things of little purpose or value. This runs contrary to popular American consumer culture that encouraged (and still encourages) us to buy at every necessity as well as to constantly upgrade to new items. I remember having a non-brand named backpack from late elementary school to middle school that I did not like. I wanted a stylish, cool-looking blue Jansport backpack but since the old one was completely functional I knew I couldn’t convince my parents to replace it. I did not ask my parents for a new one because they taught us that saving money was very important. During one of my first years of high school, one of the arm straps became undone and my mom tried to fix it. When that didn’t work, my parents bought me that brand name backpack I wanted. Furthermore, when I got my first job shortly afterwards, I began to understand that my parents were being smart and financially resourceful.


Faucet dripping money


Money is a resource that is often in limited supply and it is smarter, albeit more difficult, to solve your problems creatively. The idea of refusing to spend money unless its absolutely necessary is a philosophy I often follow today and one that filmmaker Robert Rodriguez followed intensely when making El Mariachi. He refused to spend additional time and money on wardrobe, reshooting, and expensive props or equipment. This mentality forced him to rely on his creativity to solve his problems. Here are some examples. Rodriguez used a still camera tripod for his video camera. Being forced to use this alternative, Rodriguez was free to carry around the camera during shooting, which made the film look more expensive because the camera was always moving. Furthermore, since he refused to do retakes, the raw film footage had many errors and inconsistencies. Rodriguez fixed them in the editing room and saved money on expensive film stock. This amplified the action sequences in El Mariachi. Rodriguez’s film was visually unique, which might not have occurred if he had thrown money at his problems. When you rely on your creativity to solve your problems “that can make all the difference between making something fresh and different and something processed and stale” (198).

Towards the end of the Rebel Without a Crew, Rodriguez has a chapter entitled “The Ten-Minute Film School.” One of his lessons is to use what you can get your hands on. This assertion reminds me of a mantra that I thought of years ago: Buy Less and Create More. Rodriguez suggests that creating more is going improve your skills in a creative endeavor; buying the best or latest products is not the solution. For instance, to make El Mariachi, Rodriguez used a borrowed video camera, reflector clip-on lamps for lighting and a borrowed wheelchair from a nearby hospital as a dolly.


Personal neon logo


I recently followed this idea of being resourceful when working on my personal logo. I wanted to make my handwritten-style logo look like a neon sign. For some reason, I couldn’t simply use a glow filter in Illustrator. After growing frustrated from not finding exactly what I wanted in online tutorials, I played with some other effects and tried to create my own solution. After several trial-and-errors, I figured out how to create that neon sign effect. I felt very accomplished because I was able to solve the problem using my research and creative skills.

Being resourceful in all aspects of our lives is very important. While this can make our lives less comfortable or more difficult, finding solutions on your own teaches us many valuable lessons. During and after the problem-solving process, we learn about our perseverance, self-reliance, and self-restraint. Part of being resourceful is discovering our own capacities. The end result can be very gratifying because we did it with our mind and with our hands. Being resourceful is about believing in oneself.




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