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 Organize A Hard Drive Of Raw Footage To Entice An Editor To Work On Your Low Or No Budget Video Project

You spend months thinking about and prepping your project during pre-production period. You wrote the project or created it. You have a handle on it or are steering the ship. Momentum is building. You survive the shoot and now you enter the post-production phase. You have a years worth of blood, sweat, and tears on a hard drive. You need to find an editor

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You look at some editing reels and the editor you think is perfect is $650 a day your total budget for the edit is $500. You talk to several editors to try and get them excited about your project in the hopes they will join the team. I am going to stop right here. Put yourself in the editor’s shoes, you want them to edit for little or no money and to start off that relationship you’re going to hand them a hard drive with three terabytes of raw footage that contains a bunch of folders that say, Card 01, Card 02 and contains numerically labeled shots. That is hardly enticing, in fact, its a deterrent.

Here is a simple way to get an Editor excited about working on your project. You want them to be able to dive right in. You are going to prep the drive. First, create a series of folders. The main folder will be the project name, the title of the work. Within that folder create subfolders. Number them as follows: 01_project, 02_Media, 03_Music, 04_Audio, 05_GFX, 06_Docs, 07_Stills, 08_Assets, 09_Exports.

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Now move all your media into the 02_Media folder. If you record audio separately move that into the 04_Audio folder. Add a copy of the script into the 06_Docs folder. If you have storyboards put a copy there. If you have ideas for music put those in the 03 Music Folder.

This next step is what will really help you entice an editor to start on the project. Set up the project in the editing software and make selects. Most likely you will be using Final Cut, AVID or Adobe Premiere. As of now, the most predominant DIY platform is Adobe Premiere Pro CC. If you don’t own it you can get started for under $20 a month. Whichever platform you choose the steps are the same and very similar to the project folder structure. In your chosen editing platform create a new project. In the project create a series of folders. 01_ Sequence, 02_Media, 03_Music, 04_Audio, 05_GFX, 06_SFX, 07_Titles, 08_Misc. Next, import your footage into the project. Media into the media folder, Audio into the audio folder, etc.

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This next step will really go a long way. Create a New Sequence in your project and call it selects. Start to watch all your raw footage and “select” your preferred takes and pull them into the timeline. Perhaps you like two, just pull them both. Creating a sequence and making selects is very simple. If your not comfortable or familiar with the editing platform at all a few google searches will guide you through this basic process.

Alternatively, if that seems too involved or beyond your time or abilities. At the very least Set up the drive with the folders and create a paper edit. Create a document and assign a brief description of each Footage Card and Contents. Then Do a paper edit. Watch the footage in a viewer such as Quick-Time. Make your selects that way. Create a new document, split the page into two columns. On the left will be the script, On the right will be your notes and your ‘Selects” If the script says, ‘Mary Enters, speaks to Bill. Mary: Hi Bill!” That will be in the left column in the right will be the shot into something like Mary Enters Card02, IMG-0190.mp4 at 03:04. And just map the whole script out with your selects.

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The point of all this is to present the editor with a project they can jump right into. If you present an editor with a low rate and terabytes of raw footage they will politely pass. If you talk to an editor excited about the possibilities of the project with specific examples from media you’ve already organized and prepped you have a reasonable chance to get them just as excited about being a part of something. If you don’t have the money to invest you simply need to invest your time. Sharing the time investment with the editor rather than laying it all on them will encourage talented people to join you. Last I should mention be sure to make a backup of the drive and its contents and store that away safely.

For more tips and shared experience visit our youtube channel Create Sci-Fi with plenty of informative videos on creating content.

 

Why I Am Filming More And More Video Content With My Smartphone, An Honest Non-Technical Answer

I wanted to talk a bit about the idea of shooting video content on a smartphone. I am old enough to have been creating content before there were video cameras and desktop editing options. I am also young enough to have been an early adopter of that technology. A funny thing happened to me recently that made me think about that.

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When I first started shooting video in the early days, fueled by Dogme 95, I was making Mumblecore films before that name existed. Shooting video was liberating. My experience with filmmaking had been shooting music videos on Super 16 as a job. The group I was involved with would make sure to do what was known as a weekend rental. We’d shoot the band on Friday with the equipment rented on the budget provided by the record company.  Because the rental houses were closed on the weekend we would have the equipment over the weekend so we could make our personal films as long as we bought our own filmstock and had the rental back by Monday. We’d piggyback all the laborious tasks and expenses on the back of the music video budget. I remember lighting a set for hours and never really knowing if the shots were any good until almost a week later. Editing was an event. We’d rent a suite with an operator, they would provide lunch and we’d sit on a huge couch in the back of a room while an editor operated a console that looked like it belonged on the Starship Enterprise.

Then very shortly in my foray into filmmaking, these digital cameras started showing up, the Sony VX2000 and the Cannon XL1. I worked at a production house that had one coveted AVID editing system. I was low man on the pole but they were kind enough to let me edit my own projects. The catch was, I had to come in after midnight. One day they said, we just got this new thing is called, Final Cut. It was Apple’s Final Cut, version one in fact. You can use that if you want, they said. Cue Hallelujah music and sound effects. Between the new cameras and desktop editing, I was off on an adventure, one I continue to this day.

It was a rough time back then. People were very divided on the subject of film versus video. Mostly the established working people would tell you video would never look like film and how it’s not the same, and less than. And all the unestablished hard working people trying to get ahead would say, content is king and I am a storyteller and every six months the technology would get better and better. It was an exciting time. I imagine it was what it was like for kids hearing punk rock music for the first time and thinking, I can do this and starting bands with their friends.  

My long journey and commitment paid off when the DSLR cameras appeared. It all worked out fine, I could proceed to tell my stories and not have anyone undermine them because of the filmic quality. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about the DSLR. Remember the tsunami of over-cranked footage, it was so beautiful we could not get enough. Then the slider, ah perfection. And now the drone shots … a dream come true.

What is my point you might be asking yourself? Recently I have been hearing about festival films shot on a smartphone. Reading about 4K resolution recording with a phone. Giant Billboards touting, shot with the phone. My knee-jerk reaction was, why on earth would you want to make a film on your phone? It’s a phone! I remember the yellow plastic phone on the kitchen wall with a 10-foot cord. The Motorola bricks, the Razor! Shoot a film on your phone ?!?! Ah ha! There’s the rub, I realized I was reacting just like the film veterans were reacting to me and my video punk friends back in the day. Actually, I realized that after I shot a bunch of footage on my phone that looked great.

I was somewhere with an unexpected opportunity to shoot some footage and I had no camera. I used my phone out of necessity. Once I got home and saw the results I immediately adopted it into my workflow. I did some research and downloaded a camera app that was a bit beefier than the stock one on my phone. Did some more research an purchased an audio recording app for another five bucks. And I have to say, it works quite well. I am now planning to shoot my next short film with my camera.

The last thing I’ll say is I intentionally wanted to not make this a technical comparison. However, I edit video for a living and without going into boring detail, in laymen’s terms, the video looked and sounded just fine. And for a ten dollar investment? I’d upgrade that comment to, it looked and sounded amazing.

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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.

Be sure to watch my video channel for more Sci Fi filmmaking giddy-up.

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”.

Be sure to watch my video channel for more Sci Fi filmmaking giddy-up.

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.

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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.

Be sure to watch my video channel for more Sci Fi filmmaking giddy-up.