Yes, please make a low budget sci-fi short film or web series. No, please do not take yourself seriously. Seriously… don’t.
SCI-FI big budget films in the hundred million range look amazing, truly it is an astonishing thing to behold. SCI-FI Films with five million and less never look so great. However with your micro budget, if the story is humorous or celebrating the genre with homemade sets and props, we are not bothered by the lackluster special effects. In some cases they are charming.
You don’t have to be hilarious, just have a light touch. Joss Whedon’s, 2002 TV series Firefly is an exceptional example of this. It contains decent TV sci-fi special effects that sometimes are budget restricted but the plots and characters all have a sense of humor. The special effects are just framing not focus. I am not talking Spaceballs yuk yuk funny which is something else entirely. That is to say, I am not suggesting parody. What I am suggesting is that with a sly wink to the audience and irreverent characters you can get away with a lot more in a low / no budget production with simple and clearly inexpensive set dressings, effects and costumes.
For example, if you only have $100 dollars and you built your set with Home Depot materials based on a How To Video you found online for making your set out of PVC tubing, floor foam, and toilet bowl parts. When you film a scene on that set and your space captain speaks into a spray painted box with holiday lights and says, “ Ensign, reroute all power to the main Synetic core, the Malodor fleet is gaining on us ” no amount of great acting is going to make that scene believable and suspend our disbelief. However, if your actors are in a heightened reality and the direction is more theatrical than cinematic it works.
Let’s talk about that more. You do not need to write a comedy. That’s a very serious and difficult thing, you just need to have a sense of humor. When we say heightened, it’s a style in sci-fi that is often compared to Shakespeare. Now before you get all riled up, I do not mean the quality of the content, I mean the performance style. In Shakespeare, an actor in earnest must say and believe, ““Round about the cauldron go. In the poisoned entrails throw.” -Macbeth. In sci-fi, it might be something like, “Around the survivors, a perimeter create.” -Yoda
More James Tiberius Kirk less William Adama. Imagine Kirk & Adama on your $100 set in a $7 thrift store costume, who do you imagine will play better in the final cut. I’m not saying be ridiculous, which could work but again that’s more Spaceballs, we are talking Firefly here. You do not want to send up or mock the genre, you want to celebrate it. When creating your script keep in mind your crew will, in fact, be flying a cardboard ship but still take the work very seriously and simply present the content with a wink and a large portion of the sci-fi community will appreciate it. Some will hate but we cannot concern ourselves with that.
Having said that if you do want to create something more serious in future posts I will talk about daylight exterior shooting in the desert, industrial ruins or a junkyard with minimal pew pew and space ships for a more dramatic type of sci-fi storytelling.
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