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.

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

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

DirLiza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

seven

• 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.

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.