How To Rehearse & Work With Actors, The Rehearsal: Step 8 How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi,  I go over how to run a rehearsal before shooting your project. I take you through the process of working with the actors and how to encourage camaraderie quickly.

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

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.

WriterRoom3

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.

titlepage

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.

Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more Sci-Fi filmmaking How To.

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.

GGGroup

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.

Farton.Still003
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.

Kuzarvolve

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

IF3Evolve
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.  

QueenEvo

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.

snail skull

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.

Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more Sci-Fi filmmaking How To.

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.

Forster

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.

Freytags_pyramid.svg

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.

Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more Sci Fi filmmaking How To.

 

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.

GGShortFilm

 

  • 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.

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

HOW TO BUILD A SCI-FI BLASTER FOR UNDER $10

In this tutorial, I take you through the build process step by step. From shopping to finishing, I show you how to make a screen ready sci-fi prop gun/blaster for under $10.

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

Low Budget Filmmaking Costs An Astronomical Amount Of Your Time, It’s No Secret How To Be Successful

The secret of low budget filmmaking is communicating effectively and taking the steps to be completely prepared. When you do not have money to invest the only option left to you is to invest your time. When embarking on low budget project you must lead by example. If you cannot communicate clearly and quickly what you want from your team you’ll have a very difficult time recruiting people at a low or no rate and you will quickly lose the people who are already on board. You have to do the work, all of it, all the time.

20160522_092527.jpg

If you are serious about embarking on a long journey of DIY, Low Budget filmmaking you need to learn a filmmaking skill. Sounds obvious right? But do not be that person who has an idea for a project and expects everyone else to do all the heavy lifting. When I first started out and to this day when I show one of my films someone will come up to me excited by what they see I created independently on a low budget and want me to help them make their half baked idea a reality. Low budget filmmaking is such an insane amount of work and time along with the utilizing of hard earned contacts, why in the world would I spend all that time and potentially burn my contacts for someone else’s project? But what I am more than willing to do is share what I’ve learned and help you get started making films for yourself.

As a Low Budget filmmaker most likely you are focusing on writing and or directing. Sorry to tell you, those don’t count. As the writer or director at the end of a project, it has your name on it and you will represent it. When you go to festivals you will speak for it and ten years from now it is a solid director or writer credit on your IMDB. That is your compensation for the time and effort you spent.  Everyone else just wants to get paid and if they are not getting paid they need to be excited about the opportunity your project provides them. They need to clearly see the value in offering you their time and effort.

Since writing and directing do not apply here I recommend learning editing. To begin to learn how to edit, you can subscribe to Adobe Premiere pretty inexpensively. Certainly, alternatively, you can learn photography, sound recording or sound designing which is great. But if you are starting from zero as a camera person there is a lot of gear to buy and understand. To practice that skill you need projects or need to schedule the time to shoot. With editing, you can just sit at your computer at home and practice. You can even hang out in the park or coffee shop with a laptop. Sound design is more akin to editing in that context but if your aim is filmmaking picture editing makes more sense.

But I need a project or source material you are saying. I hear you and this is what I suggest. A good exercise is to make a music video from the royalty free archival footage, I like the Prelinger Archives. Also, kill two birds with one stone, ask a local or independent band if you can use one of their songs. If you have a friend who is a DJ edit video to one of their tracks. That way they get a music video or projection video and will most likely share it. Your first credit as an editor. I made this music video for a band I really admire Vanish Valley for free, but it wasn’t free was it? It cost my time. But I loved the song and was excited to make something with the footage I found. Passion and drive are key because there is not money motivating you, in fact, it’s costing you money.

The most important reason for learning to edit is for practical reasons. You should learn to edit because you will spend the most money and time on editing. And as they say, a movie is made three times. First when you write it, second when you shoot it and third when you edit it. As a low budget filmmaker, I am guessing you are writing and directing so you might as well round it out. If you are just starting to write have a look at my writing article.

keep in mind you are just learning you do not need to master any of the skills but you should have a working knowledge of them. I stress editing because I will repeat,  it will save you the most money and in my opinion, give you the most fulfilling creative experience. When you do one day get an actual workable budget and you sit with your editor you will understand the job and know how to communicate your ideas. And now we get to the point.

When you are paying people little or no money you need to be able to communicate effectively to them what you need. Simply understanding what they do even if is beyond your abilities goes a very long way. Let’s say you are learning to edit but you are not up to speed when it comes time to make your project. I can guarantee you will have an easier time getting an editor if you just do the prep work yourself. With digital filmmaking, there is a lot of raw footage generated. If you hand over a hard drive with 1TB of raw footage to an editor you are not paying. Trust me he or she is not running home to dig into that. If you have a basic knowledge you can load your footage into an editing project file. Organize the footage and make simple selects of the takes you like. After that process, you have a very clear handle on what needs to be done or a very clear idea of what you are lost at sea with and need input on.  If you give an editor a project that is organized and all your best takes are selected they will go straight home and dig in. By taking the time to organize the project you communicated to the editor one, you do not expect them to do all the work you want them to contribute and two, you communicated what you are looking for in your edit by making the selects. Also, it is always good form to mention these are your suggestions nothing’s in stone and encourage them to try their own ideas. Now you placed value on their time.

Perhaps you have nothing but burning desire to tell your story as a movie. You still need to get people excited and interested in helping you. You have the most basic elements at your disposal right now, a paper and pen, well most likely a laptop and word processor. Paper and pen just sounds more dramatic. You write your story out long hand. Your characters are here they go there, he said, she said. Then you take your story and turn it into a script, exterior day, stage direction, character dialogue. Next, you make storyboards, draw in rectangles how you see the scene, stick figures and arrows are fine. This is your directing rehearsal, your practice for communicating with the camera person and actors.  Finally, do a paper edit, make two columns and in the right column put the dialogue and action in the left column put the description of what we see on screen. This is your editing rehearsal, your practice for communicating with the editor. By the time you do all this work you will be bursting with clear ideas and direction.  You can now get potential collaborators excited about your idea and clearly communicate with anyone who agrees to be involved in your project.

In closing, I will say always be gracious and never loose you cool. It is a process, one project at a time. With each project learn a new skill and build friendships with the people you’ve gathered around you. If they had a good experience they will always be up to working with you again. Which means on the next project that’s less of your valuable time you need to spend.

Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more Sci Fi filmmaking How To.

 

“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.

AntWrite

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.

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.

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