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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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.

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.  

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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Why I Am Filming More And More Video Content With My Smartphone, An Honest Non-Technical Answer

I wanted to talk a bit about the idea of shooting video content on a smartphone. I am old enough to have been creating content before there were video cameras and desktop editing options. I am also young enough to have been an early adopter of that technology. A funny thing happened to me recently that made me think about that.

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When I first started shooting video in the early days, fueled by Dogme 95, I was making Mumblecore films before that name existed. Shooting video was liberating. My experience with filmmaking had been shooting music videos on Super 16 as a job. The group I was involved with would make sure to do what was known as a weekend rental. We’d shoot the band on Friday with the equipment rented on the budget provided by the record company.  Because the rental houses were closed on the weekend we would have the equipment over the weekend so we could make our personal films as long as we bought our own filmstock and had the rental back by Monday. We’d piggyback all the laborious tasks and expenses on the back of the music video budget. I remember lighting a set for hours and never really knowing if the shots were any good until almost a week later. Editing was an event. We’d rent a suite with an operator, they would provide lunch and we’d sit on a huge couch in the back of a room while an editor operated a console that looked like it belonged on the Starship Enterprise.

Then very shortly in my foray into filmmaking, these digital cameras started showing up, the Sony VX2000 and the Cannon XL1. I worked at a production house that had one coveted AVID editing system. I was low man on the pole but they were kind enough to let me edit my own projects. The catch was, I had to come in after midnight. One day they said, we just got this new thing is called, Final Cut. It was Apple’s Final Cut, version one in fact. You can use that if you want, they said. Cue Hallelujah music and sound effects. Between the new cameras and desktop editing, I was off on an adventure, one I continue to this day.

It was a rough time back then. People were very divided on the subject of film versus video. Mostly the established working people would tell you video would never look like film and how it’s not the same, and less than. And all the unestablished hard working people trying to get ahead would say, content is king and I am a storyteller and every six months the technology would get better and better. It was an exciting time. I imagine it was what it was like for kids hearing punk rock music for the first time and thinking, I can do this and starting bands with their friends.  

My long journey and commitment paid off when the DSLR cameras appeared. It all worked out fine, I could proceed to tell my stories and not have anyone undermine them because of the filmic quality. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling just thinking about the DSLR. Remember the tsunami of over-cranked footage, it was so beautiful we could not get enough. Then the slider, ah perfection. And now the drone shots … a dream come true.

What is my point you might be asking yourself? Recently I have been hearing about festival films shot on a smartphone. Reading about 4K resolution recording with a phone. Giant Billboards touting, shot with the phone. My knee-jerk reaction was, why on earth would you want to make a film on your phone? It’s a phone! I remember the yellow plastic phone on the kitchen wall with a 10-foot cord. The Motorola bricks, the Razor! Shoot a film on your phone ?!?! Ah ha! There’s the rub, I realized I was reacting just like the film veterans were reacting to me and my video punk friends back in the day. Actually, I realized that after I shot a bunch of footage on my phone that looked great.

I was somewhere with an unexpected opportunity to shoot some footage and I had no camera. I used my phone out of necessity. Once I got home and saw the results I immediately adopted it into my workflow. I did some research and downloaded a camera app that was a bit beefier than the stock one on my phone. Did some more research an purchased an audio recording app for another five bucks. And I have to say, it works quite well. I am now planning to shoot my next short film with my camera.

The last thing I’ll say is I intentionally wanted to not make this a technical comparison. However, I edit video for a living and without going into boring detail, in laymen’s terms, the video looked and sounded just fine. And for a ten dollar investment? I’d upgrade that comment to, it looked and sounded amazing.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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  • Multicultural Cast And A Droid

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

  • Going To Need A Bigger Ship

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

  • On Deck Or In The Cockpit

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

  • Communication Devices

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

  • On The Ground

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

  • What Was That?

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

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

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HOW TO DESIGN & BUY SCI-FI COSTUMES FOR FILMMAKERS & COSPLAY ON THE CHEAP IN A FEW MINUTES

In this tutorial, I take you through my process of designing and creating looks for my sci-fi characters in my films by using Amazons wish list function as an organizational and creation tool.

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You Would Never Dare Dream That You Could Write You First Short Film Tonight And Make It Tomorrow, But You Can.

Most likely you’re here because you’ve never made a film but are thinking about it, circling the idea, waiting for your moment. Or maybe you had a false start and the first time didn’t go so well. Don’t worry I am going to help you. The following is just a very basic exercise to get you started down your path of making an original video. The great news is all that time spent on your phone staring at the screen exercising you thumb eye coordination is about to pay off. And there is no bad news.

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I imagine as a first-time filmmaker you will be way more comfortable shooting video on your phone rather than a DSLR camera. When it comes time to edit I think moving things around on your phone will be far less intimidating than sitting in front of your computers newly installed editing software with no idea what button to push to even launch it. For this exercise, it’s best to just stick with the phone.

Of course, there is the need for a script. Gasp. Just whip up something compelling, humorous, thought provoking and entertaining. I’m sure some of you can do that but most of us can’t. Not for a lack of desire and drive. Most of us need to be taught how to write and through hard work and dedication get good at it. But in the meantime, we need to just get started. Action begets action! Let’s not worry about writing an award winner, let’s concentrate on getting something on paper or more realistically in your phones note program, might as well. It’s like texting to imaginary friends about made up stuff. Almost like real life. I will say again the goal is to just make something, get the ball rolling. Let’s do this right now.

No use in avoiding it, get to work on the script. Keep it simple our goal is 2-3 mins of content.  Think one location and two actors. First, we create a  title and a log line. If you were sitting down to write a series or a movie you would not start like this, maybe you would but this will work well for what we are going to accomplish in this exercise. Having said that, here’s a quick example. This is the log line for Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’: A land lubber sheriff tries to kill a giant shark to protect his family and seaside resort town.

Let’s do ours quickly,  first thing that comes to mind. There are no wrong answers.

Film Title 


Once you got that let’s answer these questions and write a logline.

NAME


We’ll call him/her the Hero

GENDER


FUNCTION


What’s the Hero’s FUNCTION? eg. long distance runner, artist, father etc.

FLAW


Does the Hero have a FLAW? What is it? eg. an arrogant, a lazy, a macho, an insecure etc.

INCITING INCIDENT


What is the story’s first major event, the INCITING INCIDENT eg. falls in love, is fired etc.

GOAL


What is the Hero’s visible GOAL? eg. to win the race, to catch the killer, etc.

NEED


What is the Hero’s NEED? eg. to connect, to stand up for herself etc.

Don’t overthink it, the goal is to make a film to get your dream career rolling. Action begets action, right?  Keep in mind you have no budget so a pilot crash landing in the Himalayas is not going to work for this. Here is an example from this worksheet. Title: “ Poison The Tap Dancer Upstairs” Marge Mayhem an emo horror writer plots to poison her upstairs neighbor, an aspiring tap dancer Teddy so she can write in silence and finish her book. You get the idea. If you’re totally stuck remember the exercise is to just get out there and make something. If you want to be adventurous just use a random title generator  &  a logline generator . Using that method I just randomly generated “Helping McGee” A funny athlete and a gay robot builder travel through time. I’d watch that.

We are just gearing up to make a short with just the title and logline alone you should come up with 2 mins of dialogue. And if that too has you paralyzed with fear just make it with minimal dialogue, not a silent film where nobody talks have natural sounds and a few one liners. With both those examples , can imagine that. And I’d recommend that. For example in “ Poison The Tap Dancer” We see Marge typing, chunks of ceiling fall on her computer she looks up, she says,”humph” we cut to Ted tap dancing around the apartment in pure bliss. You get the idea. May seem silly but just enjoy the act creating something, don’t judge. Its an exercise in getting you started – today.

This next step is important, make sure your phone is charging while you are working on the script. You’ll need it for the next two crucial steps. Step one call a few friends and tell them they are coming over to be in your movie. Or maybe you are going to their house, apartment, roof, yard or basement because it is a better location. Explain to them it is  just an exercise and that they will have fun and you are buying pizza. Also I’m sure you have funny, smart friends but just in case they can’t act all the more reason to keep the dialogue minimal. Next and most important is your phone’s camera that you will upgrade the recorder and the editing app you will add. Most camera phones actually shoot pretty decent video, terrible audio but the picture is great. All the more reason to consider a minimal dialogue approach. I think that’s three reasons if you’re counting.

When shooting your first short we can take a very simple but effective approach to make sure you capture all the video you need to tell your story. For each one of your scenes shoot the entire scene in a wide shot, repeat the scene again in a medium shot and finish with a close up or close ups on your main characters. Shoot all the way through to the end,  if something minor goes wrong keep going. Some moments may be useful. Even if they are just listening and not speaking record the entire scene with the listening subject in close up. Last pick up inserts, fingers typing, feet walking or running a confused dog perhaps. From our friends at wikipedia. A Wide Shot, typically shows the entire object or human figure and is usually intended to place it in some relation to its surroundings.  A Medium Shot, mid shot (MS), or waist shot is a camera angle shot from a medium distance. I’m sure a close up needs no explanation. The reason for that type of coverage is that it is safe. For the actors it allows them to redo lines and you can cut between their best moments from other takes. For the director it gives you many options to tell your story. A film is written three times. First when you write it, second when you shoot it and third when you edit it.

Once you have your footage you need to edit it and yes we will do that on your phone to. One great thing is you don’t have to worry about transferring your video to a computer just do it all on your phone.  There are quite a few options, Magisto (iOS and Android) , Adobe Premiere Clip (iOS and Android) , Apple iMovie (iOS) &  GoPro Splice (iOS)  I’m sure there are others but these are the ones that appear most in searches on the topic. Read up and see which ones suit you and your phone. As I mentioned earlier you should  beef up your camera app whether it’s Android or iPhone . I’m sure you will struggle a bit to get up and running but that’s part of the process.

Just keep Going. Upload your video to your social media get input from your friends and start planning your next project, I promise you with each one you will get better. Maybe you nailed it this time in which case with your next video you will get, more better. Finally as we both well know by now, action begets action.

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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.

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