Script Breakdown, Shot List & Shooting Schedule DIY Style: Step 6 How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I share my DIY process of breaking down a script, creating a shot list and generating the shooting schedule. This is the sixth video of the How to make a Sci-Fi short film series. Make sure to subscribe to follow along.

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Props & Costumes, Make Sci-Fi Props & Costumes Inexpensively: Step 5 How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I share my process of inexpensively putting together props & costumes. This is the fifth video of the How to make a Sci-Fi short film series. Make sure to subscribe to follow along.

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The Storyboard, Basic Storyboard Creation & Script Breakdown: Step 4 How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I share my process of creating storyboards with an artist. This is the fourth video of the How to make a Sci-Fi short film series. Make sure to subscribe to follow along.

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How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film: Step 3 Casting, Creating A Casting Notice & Holding An Audition

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I share the basic steps of creating a casting notice and holding an audition. This is the third video of the How to make a Sci-Fi short film series. Make sure to subscribe to follow along.

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How To Make A Sci-Fi Short Film: Step 2 Concept Art, With & Without Drawing & Photoshop

In this tutorial on Create Sci-Fi, I share my techniques for creating concept art and simple style guides to help share your vision with potential collaborators. This is the second video of the How to make a Sci-Fi short film series. Make sure to subscribe to follow along.

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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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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.

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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.

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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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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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They Say, Dollar Store. We Say, Sci-Fi Prop Store !!

In this video, I look at inexpensive solutions to creating props for sci-fi through my process of discovery at the dollar store.

 

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