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.

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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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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.

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

7 Actionable Tips To Get Your Film or Web Series Crowdfunding Campaign Launched & Avoid Your Soul Being Crushed

You are chomping at the bit to make your film or web series. You have no money, no track record and no shortage of drive. Very quickly you come to the conclusion, I’ll crowdfund. And very quickly after that, you come to the conclusion, crowdfunding is overwhelming. Coming to grips with just how much work crowdfunding will be, you consider hiring someone to do it for you. You will quickly learn no one does that.

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The next logical step is to frantically Google How To’s and that is probably why you landed here. I’m glad you’re here because I’m going to help you. Breathe, only one thing we need to get straight right out of the gate. If you are an unknown filmmaker with no track record, your project is going to be funded by your friends and family. You are not going to raise one hundred thousand dollars. Ten is more realistic. If you are a successful content creator with a following you will certainly already know all this information. It’s a lot of work to be sure but it’s all very doable so let’s get you started.

  • Determine the amount of money you can realistically raise. You and everyone on your team actors, DP, etc who are invested in the project need to comb your personal email lists. Go through your contacts and create a list of people you are very sure will donate to you. Go through that list again and be conservative. Now take that number of people who will most likely donate and multiply that number by $70. That is a very good estimate of what you will raise. If you come up with 100 people that is $7,000. Even if everyone gave you $200 which is unlikely that’s $20,000. My point is crowdfunding is not going to get you a $200,000 budget. It will get you $10,000 to make your short film or web series.

 

  • Choose a Platform the two majors are Indiegogo and Kickstarter. For a first timer, I recommend Indiegogo because you get whatever you raise regardless of your goal. With Kickstarter, you need to raise 100% of your stated goal to get the funds. People will say by not committing to something scary like an all or nothing proposition is setting yourself up for failure. Which to me makes no sense because of course, you don’t want to fail. You will be working on this for over a month you do not want to walk away with nothing. But in the end, it’s up to you I would just recommend you use one of those two. There are many others but it just confuses people. Keep it simple.

 

  • Start seeding social media. As soon as you start planning and before you launch create social media accounts around the project. Twitter & Facebook are best because you can have actionable links. Instagram is useful but not as good with links. Make dedicated accounts for the project or if you already have a personal account with a large following start making your crowdfunding a part of your daily feed. Replace your Banners and Avatars with something relating to your project. Post daily about the process. How you are starting to gear up for our crowdfunding. Post about production meetings and, always include photos. Post a concept drawing or storyboards in progress. Shoot behind the scenes pics of a reading or rehearsal. Document the process to make people aware that you are up to something extraordinary. Social media does not guarantee engagement with your content but people are always watching the stream. And Remember your friends and family are guaranteed engagement.

 

  • The Pitch Video. The pitch video is very important. Video and audio quality are paramount. You are asking people to give you money to make a film. Subconsciously if your pitch video looks bad you look bad as a filmmaker.  Don’t try to wing it, write a script. Humor is always good but don’t force it. Keep it under 2 minutes.  Don’t forget ‘the ask.’ A sincere, authentic message is the most effective. A concise clear video is crucial so I’ll share a road map  –  Intro with emotional hook / briefly explain your project / What’s special about it / How much backing do you need / what will the budget pay for/ Timeline to completion / What rewards are you offering / Call to action.

 

 

  • Tell them three times. Tell people you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them you told them. A week before you launch you will send one of three emails to your master list of likely donors. In your first email you will keep it short, talk about what you are about to do and what day you launch. Ask them straight up if you can count on their support. On average, campaigns that reach their goal raised one-third of their funds within the first quarter of their campaign lifetime. In your email say something like “ If we can raise 30% of our goal in the first 72 hrs we are well on our way”.  Ask them to commit to donating on that 1st day. Make a list of those who say yes. The second email you send on the launch day you remind them they said they’d help get things started. And restate the importance of the 1st 72hrs to your entire list. The third email is on the third day as the reminder to people who have not donated yet.

 

 

  • Rewards Don’t make T-Shirts or printed things. They just cost you money in production and shipping and most people don’t want chachkies. Make your rewards something you can tie into the actual project. Offer a shout out on social media for a few dollars. I’ll explain why that is important later. Provide a digital download of the completed project. For larger amounts of money give associate producer credits. If you have fun or interesting props offer those as screen used items. Let them choose a character’s name for a generous donation, they can be an extra, etc. You get the idea.  

 

 

  • Social Media Thank You Nobody will be too happy if you hijack their social media feed with your crowdfunding promotions. However when someone donates you immediately thank them on social media tagging them in a post. You say something like a big thank you to Tom, Mary and JoJo for supporting our project XYZ with a link to the campaign, the link is key. Since you tagged them everyone in their feed will see your info and links. They will see a friend of theirs deemed this a cool project so maybe they should check it out.

 

Launching a crowdfunding campaign is a big undertaking. I just scratched the surface here but this information certainly will get you started. It’s good form to run a campaign for at least 30 days. The first and last 72 hours will be the most fruitful. The other 24 days you will be grinding it out, one person at a time. You have to imagine yourself a politician running for office, shaking hands and kissing babies. You will succeed one person at a time. In the big picture, the larger benefit is building your audience. Everyone who donates is saying they are interested in what you do. Be sure to collect all the emails and start building an email list around your work. You will have a support base for when you launch your production and a head start with an established base for your second production. The further you go down this road of DIY filmmaking you will realize just how valuable that email list is. Which is why I’d ask you to please join mine. Just take the first step and before you know it, the crowdfunding mechanism will be in motion.

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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.

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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.