How To Make Movie Posters And Video Thumbnails Design & Photoshop Key Art Basics

In this “How To” segment I show you how to select, design, prep and output Key Art for your media project.

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Creativity & Collaboration

Creativity is a powerful life force mojo accelerator. Collaboration is a powerful and satisfying brain enhancer.

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The cast & crew of “Aeranger” on location in Topanga Canyon, CA. Left to right, Kristen Pickrell-Makeup Artist, Bobbie Breckenridge-lead Actress, Nick Kretz-BTS Photographer, Jon Schweigart-Cinematographer and Sage Bova-Sound Recording/taking this picture.

Filming Locations For Low & No Budget, DIY Location Scouting: Step 9 How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I go over how to find filming locations inexpensively and also touch on guerrilla filmmaking options. I take you along on my process of location scouting through Griffith Park in Los Angeles, CA.

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How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film: Step 2 Concept Art, With & Without Drawing & Photoshop

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I share my techniques for creating concept art and simple style guides to help share your vision with potential collaborators. This is the second video of the How to make a Sci-Fi short film series. Make sure to subscribe to follow along.

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Concept Art: The Galactic Galaxy Production Diaries

From the very first moment I had the idea for my Sci-Fi web series Galactic Galaxy, I was more passionate and driven to make it a reality than any other project I’d conceived. I’d talk to anyone who would listen to keep the momentum going. The thing you learn quickly with sci-fi is it’s hard to explain it to someone. They really need to see it. To convince people to work with me on my idea and to generate any real interest, I realized I needed some concept art.

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Initially, I would say to potential collaborators, “There are These Snail Warriors and a Wizard” every time they would smile uncomfortably and nod.  But, once I had the concept art, they would get visibly excited. For me, armed with the concept art, one: the ball was rolling two: in a very basic way, I was beginning the process of creating the show. I teamed up with a great local artist in LA named Farron Kerzner and he started bringing my imagination to life.

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We started with the Space Wizard and the Dar Kuzar who was simply called the Dark Lord then. Some of the early designs changed and some stayed the same.

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The IF3 or Interplanetary Federation Female Force,  went through several stages of development before the final look was achieved.

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The Queen originally in my mind was Cher from the 1986 Oscars and Faron drew these beautiful Costumes. In the end, she went another direction but the art was key to set things in motion.  

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My beloved Snail Warriors (sigh) My original Idea was for snail warriors as the Dar Kuzars army. But that was another practical use of the concept art. Once I shopped around the drawing of the costume I soon learned I would never ever on a low budget be able to afford the costume build. Which lead me to rethink the characters and I came up with the skull warriors. However, creating those Skull Warriors was vital in getting me to the next step. It was my first of many creative solutions.

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The concept art was key in starting my journey to realizing my show. When you have an idea for a show no one can stop you from writing it, that costs your time. Before you have the budget to make your project if you are passionate enough about the idea you can spend a few hundred dollars out of your own pocket to tease it into the world. In my experience when you’re emailing or having lunch with potential collaborators or investors they begin to take you seriously when you start showing them concept art.

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My Three Year Journey Into Creating Sci-Fi Has Only Just Begun

I have been working on my sci-fi series Galactic Galaxy for almost three years now. It’s funny to say that because I clearly remember the circumstances in which I got started. It was only supposed to be a one-month time investment.

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I have been a storyteller for almost thirty years now. I started in theatre and later transitioned into film. I have always gravitated to Art House type offerings and as I became more serious about my craft it became harder and harder to make a living with my chosen genre. I was initially trying to emulate Jim Jarmusch. I think a few of my films came close and I’m proud of them all but none of them broke out. It was not my authentic voice.

A few years ago it occurred to me the while I was trying to make films like Jim Jarmusch and follow in the footsteps of Dogme 95 that fact was in my downtime all I ever watched was SciFi and Fantasy. If it involved swords or Laser Blasters I was riveted. I decided to go back to square one and just start making what I enjoyed. It was thrilling. I was bursting with ideas and had the benefit of 20 years of experience to have some pretty clear ideas of how to bring these ideas to life on a budget. I always work on a tight budget.

Which brings me back to that moment when I started Galactic Galaxy. I remember sitting down in a coffee shop to write. My intention was to write a sci-fi web series, something funny and short. Six episodes a few minutes each. I was surprised by the number of ideas and the deep understanding of this genre that was inside me right under the surface. The dam broke and I just kept writing and writing. It was thrilling because it was effortless. Well, almost, it is a grind to write for sure but, I was being swept up in it.

That spark generated a 120-page script, not quite the short I had in mind. Later I worked with a team of writers I organized to reduce it to its essence. I ended up with six short webisodes. Prior to filming, I wrote a short film from the 120-page script to shoot as a proof of concept. That was supposed to take a few months, it ended up taking one year to finish. During that year I set to work raising the funds for the series. I spent the following year producing and filming the series. Then another full year in post-production.

At the writing of this I am finished and yet the journey of educating myself about distribution has just begun. I am reaching out to traditional networks, streaming networks, online networks and constantly emailing teasers to film festivals that can potentially help me move forward. I  suspect this will take another year.

What I have come to discover is that while I am immersed in the creation of my show I am immersed in a mild satisfaction. I say mild because I’m always striving to be better but it’s satisfying to be on a journey of your own invention. I certainly have stressful moments but stressing out about if you can really afford to shoot for 4 days instead of 3 is much different then stressing out about what are you doing with your life.

If you ever meet me I am that guy who makes sci-fi. I am that guy because three years ago I sat down in a coffee shop and decided to make something and be that guy. People do that every day, the difference is when you wake up the next day and start. For me, it was Sci-Fi for you maybe Fantasy or Horror the trick is to just work toward it every day and realize it could take 3 years and for your sake I hope it does. Because during that time you will become your imagined self.

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“Stop Overthinking Your Sci-Fi Ideas” How I Gave Myself Permission To Explore My Bizzaro Ideas

“Stop Overthinking Your Sci-Fi” was a tough lesson that I learned the hard way after a very long road of trying to be the next mashup of Jim Jarmusch & David Lynch. I made many a black and white thirty something angst dramas, both long and short form. They are competent and mostly feature a struggling artist character. They are watchable but in the end not my authentic voice. I should have been looking to kevin Smith & Robert Rodriguez but as they say hindsight is 20/20.

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My filmmaking tastes were film school high brow but yet my watching habits were anything in space or with a sword slaying Dragons or the occasional western. My top three go to movies to this day are Excalibur (1981) Director John Boorman, The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) Director Clint Eastwood and The Three Musketeers (1973) Director Richard Lester. So why was I making art house films? Because I loved fantasy and sci-fi in a child like fashion therefore I overlooked them as a basis for my artistic expression. I ignored my passion, please do not do that. I’ll say it again, I ignored my passion. Thankfully I’m evolving.

When I first considered creating a fantasy  or sci-fi I immediately fell into the same traps of over thinking from my previous endeavors. I went way down the rabbit hole of the Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s journey. I won’t go into detail here but at the time to better grasp it I actually made a video with examples from Star Wars and The Matrix. You can watch that video here.  Admittedly I still follow that formula but not academically and that for me is key. It is more of a basic map when I am developing a story. Simply I list the steps of the monomyth as bullet points or road markers and when outlining a story I loosely follow it. If my characters at point A – he/she must get t to point B, great I need to fill that in luckily its sci-fi so I make something up. Here goes – our hero a humanoid with Blue Skin and Ruby red eyes named Sellanon (A) must leave home, he/she heads to the pink shores of Delnore (B) – At C  a stranger is encountered – boom I invent the stranger Sellanon comes upon and old Warrior tending to his equally old Buk-Buk mount. A smelly but beautiful beast (C). then we need to get to D,  a woman appears, a spark, a sexual tension or if it is a girl a man appears or they are perhaps LGBT, basically a love interest. Sellanon hesitates before the old warrior in the road Sellanon is startled as a woman from behind barks, “ are you going to help him or just stand there looking stupid?”  She is from the Green Skins but she is beautiful, Sellanon says … etc etc. and they have a road block, they deal with it –  It just gives me places to go without thinking too much. Further Dan Harmon made it very accessible and humorous in his post: Story Structure 101: Super Basic Shit

To be honest i’m not sure how I did push through at first but I recall sitting in a coffee shop one day to write and I Just started Free Writing a sci-fi story. I gave myself over to the idea I would just have fun, not worry about being amazing out of the gate and to just allow myself to go on a simple journey of creation. And in doing so the world opened up. Rather than talking or thinking about sci fi I was in it, I was the sci-fi guy making sci-fi. That suited me much better then the Art House guy. And people reacted more strongly to my sci fi work because although my stories to date are coded in the shorthand of the past 50 years of sci fi entertainment they are original and unique because they come from my imagination. I am simply asking you to stop overthinking your story and just get it out in the world. Once its out there, once you give birth to it, exercise it from your brain, pull it out onto the paper on the desk or into a computer program you still will have to work it and re work it and tighten it. But once it is out of your head and in the world everything will change for you.  

Just admit to yourself you are just trying something that maybe you don’t quite understand yet. Think of the first day of a job, it’s hard and uncomfortable at first but in a week you’re making coffee chatting at the water cooler. Figuring out ways to get your job done easier, faster. Don’t have unrealistic expectations on your first day of your sci-fi writing job. Lose yourself in creating the world of your story and then take on the production bit by bit. Just keep checking in with me, I’ll get you there one step at a time. it’s a long road but one worth traveling when you are creating the road from your own imagination step by step, stone by stone. Give yourself  permission to be Bizzaro and not feel foolish,  just be uniquely you.

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Your Impossible To Make SciFi Series Idea Will Be A Rewarding Experience. So Start Free Writing it.

First off your idea is not terrible or crazy, weird maybe, complicated probably, bizarre at best and a rehashing at worst. The most exciting thing about creating science fiction is the fiction part. The science part, fortunately, is made up too. So what’s stopping you from getting started?

Should you take a writing course? No. Should you map out the world and characters? No. Should you download screenwriting software? No. The best and easiest thing to do is to just start writing. Well that’s not easy you are thinking, maybe even said that out loud. Yes, it is if you just write.

I recommend you start bringing your world to life by Free Writing. For those who do not know, what is Free Writing? Free writing is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism. Some writers use the technique to collect initial thoughts and ideas on a topic, often as a preliminary to formal writing. -Wikipedia

I find this particularly useful in sci-fi. For example in my show Galactic Galaxy my main character Fen is a Space Werewolf. I wrote the first draft of my series in a Free Writing session a few years ago. Honestly, I have no idea why I wrote “Space Werewolf”  but, for some reason, Space Werewolf appeared as I was quickly describing the character. Now three years later I can tell you Fen’s estranged father was not a Space Werewolf but was, in fact, the son of a prominent  Space Werewolf family on a Wolf Planet where his father was ostracized because he was not born a wolf. He was teased and bullied and as a result when he was a young man he left home in a rage to conquer the galaxy. When his son Fen was born he abandoned him because he was Space Werewolf, a Luna Lucan. And on and on. If I had spent weeks toiling over the character I would not have come up with something that interesting. I have several more examples but you get the point.

I suggest you start thinking about your world, your story, the characters and just start talking about it. Talking to your friends or people online in sci-fi groups. Start saying I have this idea for a story and describe the characters, talk about what you think happens, tell anyone who will listen. If you do not have friends or are not comfortable with that, start thinking about it.  Do that until you are ready to burst or are just sick of talking and thinking about it. Then pick a time, day or evening what ever works for you. Give yourself at least a 4-hour undisturbed window. Pick your spot, your bedroom, the computer desk, your kitchen, the library. I did mine in a coffee shop because even though its public no one disturbed me there. You should write on a computer in Word, Pages, Google Docs or any free text editor program. The reason is once you are done writing you will mine your gold from the document with some basic copy and pasting.

I simply ask you to get started and let your sci-fi freak flag fly. Sit down and just write your idea – don’t stop. Spelling and grammar be damned, just look at the keys and type as fast as ideas occur to you with no regard to structure or plot just let the ideas rip.

Later you will go back and add structure and context and start to build your script. But first just take a pass and clean it up into a readable short or long story. Still, hold off on the screen format. Just tell your story. In other posts, I will go over with you how to start crafting your series into a workable document.

I’ll leave you with this to think about. J. R. R. Tolkien claims that he started The Hobbit suddenly, without premeditation, in the midst of grading a set of student essay exams, writing on a blank piece of paper: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”.

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Your No Budget SCI-FI video project will look like Grozit so it should at least be funny.

Yes, please make a low budget sci-fi short film or web series. No, please do not take yourself seriously. Seriously… don’t.

Grozit

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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