“1000 YOUTUBE SUBSCRIBERS” Thank You!

I just wanted to say a sincere THANK YOU to the first 1000 subscribers who have joined me on this journey of making, It would not be possible without you. I look forward to creating more content and keeping this creative train rolling – next stop, 10,000 subscribers.

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Best Practices For Low & No Budget Film & Web Series Production

This week at create sci-fi, I ask indie film & video producer Eric Michael Kochmer to share his practical knowledge of low & no budget film & web series production. Eric is the Head of Production at We Make Movies.Org and has a wealth of experience producing and shepherding first time filmmakers.

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“Aeranger” Principle Photography, BTS Production Diary

In this segment on Create Sci-Fi, I take your behind the scenes as we shoot ‘Aeranger” the sci-fi short that is at the center of the How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film tutorials. Be sure to subscribe to follow along.

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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.

The Re-Write: The Galactic Galaxy Production Diaries

In my first version of Galactic Galaxy, I closely followed the Hero’s Journey structure as laid out by the late great Joseph Campbell. I was 100%  committed to following that narrative structure. It was an exercise for me, my own hero’s journey in a way. I was so motivated that I wrote a twelve episode arc. That original script was 12 episodes and they were 20 to 30 minutes long. I can’t even Imagine what that budget would have been, but it would have been unrealistic. The value of that process was I was world-building, creating my characters and the foundation of the show.

Hero

It was important for me with this project to collaborate with as many people as possible. In all my projects prior, I was a one-man show and although I got good at that, I wanted to break the habit. The first draft of Galactic Galaxy was too spread out. I enlisted the help of another writer, John Plunkett to take my first draft and wrench it into a tighter script format. It was imperative to get perspective and focus.

Early on when I was floating the script out to friends and colleagues to read and give first impressions I could tell right away people were not reading past the first episode. It was too exhausting for them. This was a problem, a major problem. I knew the story was interesting and there was lots of humor but clearly, something was not working. It was just too dense.

The decision to scrap that script and start over was a big move for me as a creator and as a human. I scrapped that whole script, almost a year’s worth of work and went back to the drawing board. The positives have I had my characters, locations, and a basic storyline. I just needed to rework it. Also, it’s much easier to take away content then to add it.

I’ve always been curious about the mythical “writers room” that just sounded to me like an amazing thing to be part of. It occurred to me I could… create one? So I did that. I rented a big production office for a week and put an ad on craigslist, I should mention I’m in Los Angeles so the talent is around. I simply said upfront, I have a limited budget for five full days and we will write six 5min scripts. I got a lot of great responses to the add,  some from crazy town but that’s part of the process. I was able to narrow the people interested down to ones that seemed like a good fit and after a few very brief phone interviews I had a writers room.

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Through that straightforward process, I was able to get three very talented writers. Among them was Charles Horn who was a writer on the Robot Chicken Star Wars Show. That was one great aspect of being in Los Angeles. He simply was not working that week on anything else and agreed to work within my limited budget. Myself and the other two writers dove right in. Day one I introduced the world and characters and my basic plot outline to them and we roughed out the outline for the season. We then proceed as a group to write 2 episodes a day and on the final day did a few rounds or rewrites. The writer’s room did not disappoint, not only was it very effective but it was an experience I hope to one-day repeat.

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We came away with a very strong script that I was proud of and excited to make. The reactions from friends and colleagues to this version were a stark contrast to their original response. The reactions were all positive and I know they were sincere because it was as a weight was lifted and they could tell me how much they were confused and uninterested in the first draft, its a process. One that not only works but is essential.

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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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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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This Plot And Structure Cheat Sheet Will Make You A Better Storyteller & Screenwriter

You can have an amazing idea for a character and have a firm grasp on the world that character lives in, but without plot and structure, you will not have an audience. A few might find it intriguing but the majority will be lost and bored. With a basic framework that focuses your characters and situations, your story will appeal to a much wider audience. This is a cheat sheet based on some solid fundamentals.

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In 1927 English novelist E. M. Forster was invited to give a series of lectures which were later published as “Aspects of the Novel”. He is speaking about writing a novel but the principles of creating plot and structure are universal. The following are a few quotes for our cheat sheet.

Plot: A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality according to Forster, “The king died and then the queen died,’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief,’ is a plot. The time sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say ‘and then?’ If it is in a plot we ask ‘why?’”

Structure: Pattern and Rhythm says Forster, “A novel has a pattern when it has a geometric shape, such as the hour-glass shape of one character’s social fall crossing over with another’s social climb, or the circular shape of a character moving from one new acquaintance to the next until they finally return to their starting point. The pattern is an aesthetic aspect of the novel, and though it may be nourished by anything in the novel — any character, scene, word — it draws most of its nourishment from the plot. Whereas the story appeals to our curiosity and the plot to our intelligence, the pattern appeals to our aesthetic sense, it causes us to see the book as a whole.”

Three Act Structure: In visual storytelling, the most useful structure for the plot is the Three Act Structure. This structure is a model used in screenwriting that divides a fictional narrative into three parts (acts), often called the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution. Aristotle said that every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

In 1863, Gustav Freytag, a German writer, advocated a model based on Aristotle’s theory of tragedy. This is now called “Freytag’s pyramid,” which divides a drama into five parts, and provides function to each part. These parts are exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.  From our frinds at Wikipedia,

Exposition: The first phase in Freytag’s pyramid is the exposition, which introduces the characters, especially the main character, also known as the protagonist. It shows how the characters relate to one another, their goals and motivations, as well as their moral character. During the exposition, the protagonist learns their main goal and what is at stake.

Conflict: Freytag’s definition of conflict refers to the second act in a five-act play, a point of time in which all of the major characters have been introduced, their motives and allegiances have been made clear, and they have begun to struggle against one another.

Rising Action: Rising action is the second phase in Freytag’s five-phase structure. It starts with a conflict, for example, the death of a character. The inciting incident is the point of the plot that begins the conflict. It is the event that catalyzes the protagonist to go into motion and to take action. Rising action involves the buildup of events until the climax.

In this phase, the protagonist understands his or her goal and begins to work toward it. Smaller problems thwart their initial success and their progress is directed primarily against these secondary obstacles. This phase demonstrates how the protagonist overcomes these obstacles.

Climax: The climax is the turning point or highest point of the story. The protagonist makes the single big decision that defines not only the outcome of the story, but also who they are as a person. Freytag defines the climax as the third of the five dramatic phases which occupies the middle of the story.

At the beginning of this phase, the protagonist finally clears away the preliminary barriers and engages with the adversary. Usually, both the protagonist and the antagonist have a plan to win against the other as they enter this phase. For the first time, the audience sees the pair going against one another in direct or nearly direct conflict.

This struggle usually results in neither character completely winning or losing. In most cases, each character’s plan is both partially successful and partially foiled by their adversary. The central struggle between the two characters is unique in that the protagonist makes a decision which shows their moral quality, and ultimately decides their fate. In a tragedy, the protagonist here makes a poor decision or a miscalculation that demonstrates their tragic flaw.

Falling action: According to Freytag, the falling action phase consists of events that lead to the ending. Character’s actions resolve the problem. In the beginning of this phase, the antagonist often has the upper hand. The protagonist has never been further from accomplishing their goal. The outcome depends on which side the protagonist has put themselves on.

Resolution: In this phase the protagonist and antagonist have solved their problems and either the protagonist or antagonist wins the conflict. The conflict officially ends. Some stories show what happens to the characters after the conflict ends and/or they show what happens to the characters in the future.

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Wikipedia contributors. “Plot (narrative).” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Aug. 2017. Web. 26 Sep. 2017

The reason I use these examples as a reference is my tendency early on was to get lost in creating characters and imagining their worlds. The characters and places I created became so real to me that as I filmed my stories they were just a series of scenarios with no framework. In my mind these scenarios were very entertaining and poignant but because an audience did not have the benefit of being in my mind the potential of the stories was lost. Because the audience was lost. Do yourself and your audience a favor and create a basic structure for your story and your audience to follow. Do not lose your audience.

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SEVEN COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN MAKING YOUR FIRST DIY LOW BUDGET FILM OR WEB SERIES

You are ready to dive in good for you. Let us take a moment and make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Or at least these seven ducks. Remember it is a creative process and making mistakes and learning from them is how you evolve as a filmmaker, or as a person more importantly. But there are some very common mistakes that many of us have made when starting out and there is no reason at all that you should repeat them. The following seven you could treat as a checklist.

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• WEAK STORY

When starting out one of the most daunting tasks is actually writing the script. It’s like climbing a mountain and when you get to the top and look down and catch your breath, the feeling is Euphoric. You cannot stop there. You need to go through several more revisions before you start shooting. Organize readings of the script, record them and listen back. Do not be a part of the readings just observe, it will become painfully obvious what is working and what is not. Do not be afraid to go back in and rearrange and delete. Trim the Fat. Once you have your beginning, middle, and end maybe you delete the beginning and start from the middle. Or go backward. Start late and end early is some good advice I was given.

• NO MOVEMENT

Walking and talking. More often than not in a script, two characters are talking and moving the story along or developing character by sitting down and talking. They are at a restaurant, coffee shop or sitting on a couch or in an apartment. Get those shots moving. Instead or two characters talking in the coffee shop film them walking and talking on their way to the coffee shop. If two women are sitting on a couch talking and one is trying to cheer up the other. Move them off the couch and into the bedroom where one is trying on clothes and the other is adjusting collars and buttoning buttons as they speak. Do you get the idea?

• BAD CASTING

You can use your friends and family but that rarely works out well. There are plenty of actors out there and you should always do a proper casting. If you live in a major city it’s not a problem, put out a notice, arrange a room and have someone help you run the auditions. Record everyone, on your phone, is fine. With low or no pay you will most likely need to see a lot of people one out of twenty that you would even consider is normal. That number might even be higher. It is part of the process. If you live in a more remote area, find a local community theatre or a school drama program and approach those actors. The process of casting also helps with mistake number one “weak story” you will hear your words over and over in ways you didn’t even imagine. Most will make you cringe but some light a fire.

• POOR SOUND QUALITY

You imagine your story in your mind’s eye but what do you hear? Most likely you did not.  When shooting if the director of photography does not shoot what you imagined you can correct that simply by communicating what you had imagined seeing. While your face is glued to the monitor make sure you have headphones on and are hearing the sound that is being recorded. Or better yet have a designated sound person. Bad sound can sink an entire production. It is essential the actors can be heard clearly with no interfering sounds. Record dialogue with an external microphone, not the built-in camera mic. If you do not have the budget or manpower make sure you have a quality shotgun mic attached to your camera. The best option is a dedicated sound recordist who is booming the actors and using lavs. Try and avoid noisy outdoor locations and no matter how perfect a take is if a plane flies over or firetruck races by you must reshoot. When inside all air conditioners and buzzing appliances must be turned off. And last if it’s a party scene in the background record it with no music and the background people pretending to talk. Sound effects and music can be added later.

• LOW LIGHTING

Much like sound, a dedicated person is ideal but most likely you’ll be relying on your cinematographer in a low budget scenario. So try and get that person help. Just a volunteer to help them move lights around so they can monitor the camera. And speaking of lights moving around, you are going to need lights. Unless your entire project takes place outdoors in the daytime, which is not a bad idea, by the way. Many cameras now can handle low light but the cost is a grainy, muddy image. Which is fine if that’s your aesthetic but it will not play well if the rest of your project is a solid well-lit resolution. If you are on your own take the time to learn what the light meters in the camera are telling you. To keep it simple, shoot some test shots of your location and play them back on a monitor. If it is too dark… increase your light.  These days it is better to shoot well lit with a neutral even lighting and add shadows and hues in post.

• UNLICENSED MUSIC

This one might be obvious to you but it is surprising how many people just use popular music in their projects. if you are making a film to never post online or show in a festival that you plan to just show in the basement to your parents you can go ahead and score your film with your favorite Jay Z tracks. But if that is not the case you need to have the rights to the music you use. There are many options and some are free. You can have someone create original music for you. If that is not an option there are many basic loop programs now where you can create your own music. There are affordable options, if you search Royalty Free Music you can find plenty of sites that offer tracks for around twenty dollars. It is tempting to use a powerful beloved track of music to add weight to a moment but, don’t do it.

• WHITE WALLS

So many low budget or first-time productions take place in someone involved in the productions apartment. And there are white walls everywhere. It is just uninteresting and looks bad. It communicates nothing. Every frame of your production should be moving the story forward. Big white walls tell the viewer nothing. The only thing worse than white walls are those giant eastern tapestries or large colored scarves that are hung on the wall to hide said white walls. Do some production design. Paint the walls a color, hang some art that is suggestive. Find a location with a hoarder quality. Lots of shelves and nooks and crannies filled with stuff is always good. But don’t try and recreate that, on a budget, it never works. Find a location that’s already cluttered. Minimal works too. A solid colored wall says a lot more than a white apartment wall.

I did not mention cinematography because while it is paramount when shooting, all your attention will be on the monitor. If a shot is not working visually it will be hard for you to move past that, and hopefully, you will correct it. But if the sound is not being monitored or your actors are blowing it in front of the ugly poorly lit white walls, you could have avoided that.  As I mentioned at the start you learn by doing but, these are seven things that a lot of us learned the hard way and there is certainly no reason at all for you to repeat them.

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6 key Ingredients You Can Use To Increase Your Storytelling Creativity In Sci-Fi DIY Filmmaking

If you are a DIY content creator, like me and love sci-fi and fantasy, like me, the most rewarding and daunting part is the world building and creation. Here I will share with you six key components to consider in order to bring your vision to life, and how to approach them. I am always working on a tight budget so these ideas are as thrifty as possible. If you go down the fandom rabbit holes for sci-fi on social media and video sharing sites you will quickly realize there are plenty of people waiting to view any new content. All the more reason to get started on putting your vision out there for them.

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  • Multicultural Cast And A Droid

One of the greatest attributes of the sci-fi story is the multicultural cast. Make sure as many races as possible are represented and mixed. One simple and very effective adjustment that works well is switching up gender cliche. In my series Galactic Galaxy, the swashbuckling rogue character is played by a woman. A female captain or warrior always adds nicely to sci-fi. Also, a droid or alien sidekick always rounds things out well. Depending on budget you can go as simple as a basic brow or ear prosthetic. Even inhuman looking contact lenses can do the trick. If you have the budget a Droid can be as easy as a puppet, a person in a costume or a 3D element added later.

  • Going To Need A Bigger Ship

If your story takes place entirely or partially on a starship you need to think of it as another part of the cast. First, determine the character of the ship, is it old, new, fast, slow, loved or hated? Then you need to name and design her. In Galactic Galaxy, our main ship is “The Granny” and the ID numbers on the exterior are GR4NN3. The ship’s computer voice is characterized as an older nagging mother. The point is to have fun and go deep. For the exterior, you can go as simple as a repurposed space ship toy or model filmed against a black background or green screen. Or some basic motion effects with a 3D ship. You can find free 3D space ships online pretty easily. Whether your ship is built practicality or in the computer I recommend kitbashing. That is the process of taking multiple models and mixing them together to make a new one. This works with actual physical models and toys as well as 3D models

  • On Deck Or In The Cockpit

Once your ship has a personality you are going to have to create the deck, or if it’s a smaller cast perhaps a cock pit. Is it pristine or junk? Maybe you plan to shoot on green screen and add the Deck later. A few words on that. If you shoot on green screen planning to add sets later and are on a tight budget keep in mind it never looks very good. It will undermine your intentions. If your sci-fi is humorous then it could actually work in your favor. Simple screen elements are great and add production value. Green panels that will later be windows to space or computer screens can work nicely. For practical sets basic white or brushed metallic wall panels in an octagon configuration interestingly lit with a few green panels to add elements into later will work nicely. Also, the cluttered set made of old computer parts, holiday lights, hardware store bits and bobs is a tried and true option. Just be sure to have a light touch. Less is more.

  • Communication Devices

The hologram communication never gets old. It is a great visual that’s very straightforward to accomplish and it adds scope. You can talk to other planets, alien races, and exotic locations simply and easily. Including a character on a distant planet is a lot simpler when it’s only a head on a video screen. In addition adding another character to flesh out your world will be very easy to costume and shoot. Just lock of the camera and do as many takes as you need. Much like your ship deck considerations, your video communications can be pristine or interference plagued scan lines. Your hologram can be a thing of beauty or a glitchy scratchy element. Don’t overlook their value in moving the story along in an economic fashion.

  • On The Ground

On a Budget, there are a really only a few options in my mind. My personal favorite is the desert. A forest or rock quarry can work. Basically, you should pick a landscape you can frame as pristine and expansive. Alternatively, there is the post apocalypse approach. If you’re in a city find abandoned sites you can get access to. Dilapidated factories seem to be in abundance these days. Use what is around you.  If you’re out in the country a forest or rock quarry can do the trick. And if you’re by a desert, go desert. Beach could work. Whatever you choose, try and do some wide establishing shots on a tripod. With locked off shots from a tripod, it is much easier to add a second moon or fly some ships by over head. Also, know that if you have a big blue sky in your location it is fairly easy to change the blue to another unearthly color.

  • What Was That?

In some cases, you are going to want a  creature. A gigantic 3D creature is always nice. Similar to the robot, a costume could work or a forced perspective puppet. A shadowy implied creature lurking in the shadows will work best on a budget. After a build up you can finally reveal the creature in a burst with some quick cutting. As with the ship if your show is humorous then you can get away with a lot more. Rubber masks and body paint will be fine. If you are going for realism try and keep to the shadows and build tension with your cuts in post.

These are just a few things to think about to get the creative juices flowing. Creating sci-fi has been the most rewarding creative experience in my whole career. For me, I started out making contemporary dramas. I didn’t imagine I could pull off sci-fi on my restricted budgets. But now I know better. Because I wished I’d started sooner I am very passionate about sharing all I’ve learned with you. Keep in mind it’s all hard to pull off so it might as well be what you really want to do, not what you think is practical. Create your worlds and share them, otherwise, they will be lost forever. That would be a shame.

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