Casting A Minor Celebrity Will Increase Interest In Your Short Film Or Web Series

One great way to elevate the status of your web series is to cast a known actor who has been off the radar. In film, Quentin Tarantino is the master of this. With our modest web series production budgets, we can scale this practice down. For example, if your web series is sci-fi you would try and cast a memorable day player who was in several episodes of the TV series Star Trek: Enterprise (2001–2005). If you are making a comedy perhaps you look for a lead actor from an 80’s TV show that you’ve not seen show up in anything in a while. Making a Thriller? Find that actor from that memorable X-Files episode, you get the idea. My colleagues and I are always trying to think of actors for our projects that people know, but don’t know they know, until you remind them. If your script and concept are solid and you are organized and persistent, you can land one of these actors for your show.

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Some examples of would be Beverly Owen (later re-placed by Pat Priest) as the teenage niece on, “The Munsters”. Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts who both replaced the Kate Jackson character in the original, “Charlie’s Angeles”. Jenilee Harrison and Priscilla Barnes who both replaced Suzanne Somers character in the 70’s & early 80’s TV Show,” Three’s Company”.

Some people may be skeptical but when you have invested all of your time and energy into a project you want to make sure you’ve done everything to ensure the success of your show. Securing an actor that resonates in the pop culture zeitgeist can go a long way in stimulating interest in your project. Consider casting a recognizable actor in a minor role as the Mom or Dad, the Boss, the Quirky Neighbor, the Spaceship Captain… I could go on.

Here is the Hack. Consider this type of an actor for a supporting role in which you can shoot their appearances across your entire season in one day. Once you have an actor in mind you need to consult IMDB Pro to learn who represents them. If they list an agent and manager the manager is preferable as they tend to have a more personal relationship with their clients. If it’s just an agent then use the agent.

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The Look: The Galactic Galaxy Production Diaries

This week I want to talk about the look of my web series Galactic Galaxy. What really makes Galactic Galaxy unique and frankly me proud is the graphic novel treatment. Most often it is compared to The 80’s epic cartoon Heavy Metal. Which is a happy accident or maybe not I actually saw that movie in the theatres? I’m pretty sure we snuck out of The Great Muppet Caper and into another time and space… I digress. Many of my SciFi influences for the show are from The early 80’s Heavy Metal Comics or Metal Hurlant when it was first released and featured Mobius and my favorite Philippe Druillett, so though it was unintentional, it certainly makes sense.

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I did lots of research on how to technically turn live action into illustration, the most obvious was Rotoscoping. Rotoscoping is an animation technique used by animators to trace over footage, frame by frame. The most influential for me was 1977 Wizards by Ralph Bakshi but that was very basic and more of a Broll filler. But like Heavy Metal an indispensable influence. I would not exist without those movies. More recently were the beautiful movies from Richard Linklater, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly which are beautiful. Bob Sabiston is the man responsible for that work and it is stunning. So much so that it is the other end of the spectrum, the time money and sheer artistry behind that method was well beyond my means

maxresdefaultI used to say back to the drawing board but what is more accurate these days is, back down the google rabbit hole. I started looking into DIY desktop solutions from great resources like Red Giant and Video Co-Pilot. Shout out to Andrew Kramer, once you start to learn about SciFi DIY you can probably trace 80% of it to his tutorials. I was not able to find exactly what I needed so I started to cobble together bits and pieces from various resources until I came up with something that might work in theory. After some initial tests, I was able to come up with something that would work for my budget and not compromise my vision.

The basic process I came up with was a combination of online tutorials, some basic software and a year of trial and error. In essence, I Shoot on green screen and then key out the live action (remove the green). Then I apply a series of filters that turn the actors into an illustration. To add depth and movement a virtual film camera is introduced via Adobe After Effects to combine the 2D live action with a 3D background. To really sell this look I add very subtle camera moves and a few other subtle tweaks with film grain and lens flares.

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In the end, it is a lot of work for a primarily DIY production. Many long hours were put into the creation of this show and I cannot wait to show you the end result. Be sure to subscribe and follow my video channel for more Sci-Fi filmmaking How To.

Proof Of Concept: The Galactic Galaxy Production Diaries

This week I want to talk about the proof of concept short I made for My web series Galactic Galaxy. Once I decided on the unique “tooned” look of the series I knew I had to figure out the ins and outs of how exactly it was going to work? I went through the original script and selected three scenes that showcased the most characters and major locations. The thought is this way I can get a very good idea of how to make this work and what it was going to look like.

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On a very basic level in my apartment, I did a super basic, very rough test of the skull warrior. I shot very rough poorly lit footage. A worst case example if you will. I did a test of the process I planned to use and for a test, it looked pretty decent. I was relieved, this could work. From this, I was motivated and excited.

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I went to work and did a casting for the scene and was planning on just doing it quickly and inexpensively as a test. Well, the good news was I did, in fact, figure out how the process would work and that in fact, it would work. However, that test footage took one year to finish. It was so exciting but so much to work out. But once I had the systems in place and the kinks ironed out it went much quicker with the web series. Still took one year but that was for six times more content.

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As an afterthought, I filmed the Queen character doing a monologue I wrote to give some exposition to the random scenes so I could show it at festivals as a short film, and use it for promotional material. I was fortunate enough to get into the Dances With Films Festival which resulted in a Screening at the Historic Manns Chinese Theatre which was both exciting and motivating. the short also won a silver medal at The Stann Lee Comic Con. Not bad for a proof of concept film with no plot.

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Motivated by the interest shown in the proof of concept film, I was more excited than ever to get to work on the series.  A valuable function of that was early short film was I knew the original script was not going to work and some of the characters while wonderfully acted were not working quite right within the story. Also as I mentioned I love the process and I was looking forward to refining my vision. From the short, it was clear I would have to go back to the drawing board and start the dreaded … rewrite.
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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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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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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.

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Your Impossible To Make SciFi Series Idea Will Be A Rewarding Experience. So Start Free Writing it.

First off your idea is not terrible or crazy, weird maybe, complicated probably, bizarre at best and a rehashing at worst. The most exciting thing about creating science fiction is the fiction part. The science part, fortunately, is made up too. So what’s stopping you from getting started?

Should you take a writing course? No. Should you map out the world and characters? No. Should you download screenwriting software? No. The best and easiest thing to do is to just start writing. Well that’s not easy you are thinking, maybe even said that out loud. Yes, it is if you just write.

I recommend you start bringing your world to life by Free Writing. For those who do not know, what is Free Writing? Free writing is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism. Some writers use the technique to collect initial thoughts and ideas on a topic, often as a preliminary to formal writing. -Wikipedia

I find this particularly useful in sci-fi. For example in my show Galactic Galaxy my main character Fen is a Space Werewolf. I wrote the first draft of my series in a Free Writing session a few years ago. Honestly, I have no idea why I wrote “Space Werewolf”  but, for some reason, Space Werewolf appeared as I was quickly describing the character. Now three years later I can tell you Fen’s estranged father was not a Space Werewolf but was, in fact, the son of a prominent  Space Werewolf family on a Wolf Planet where his father was ostracized because he was not born a wolf. He was teased and bullied and as a result when he was a young man he left home in a rage to conquer the galaxy. When his son Fen was born he abandoned him because he was Space Werewolf, a Luna Lucan. And on and on. If I had spent weeks toiling over the character I would not have come up with something that interesting. I have several more examples but you get the point.

I suggest you start thinking about your world, your story, the characters and just start talking about it. Talking to your friends or people online in sci-fi groups. Start saying I have this idea for a story and describe the characters, talk about what you think happens, tell anyone who will listen. If you do not have friends or are not comfortable with that, start thinking about it.  Do that until you are ready to burst or are just sick of talking and thinking about it. Then pick a time, day or evening what ever works for you. Give yourself at least a 4-hour undisturbed window. Pick your spot, your bedroom, the computer desk, your kitchen, the library. I did mine in a coffee shop because even though its public no one disturbed me there. You should write on a computer in Word, Pages, Google Docs or any free text editor program. The reason is once you are done writing you will mine your gold from the document with some basic copy and pasting.

I simply ask you to get started and let your sci-fi freak flag fly. Sit down and just write your idea – don’t stop. Spelling and grammar be damned, just look at the keys and type as fast as ideas occur to you with no regard to structure or plot just let the ideas rip.

Later you will go back and add structure and context and start to build your script. But first just take a pass and clean it up into a readable short or long story. Still, hold off on the screen format. Just tell your story. In other posts, I will go over with you how to start crafting your series into a workable document.

I’ll leave you with this to think about. J. R. R. Tolkien claims that he started The Hobbit suddenly, without premeditation, in the midst of grading a set of student essay exams, writing on a blank piece of paper: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit”.

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

Your No Budget SCI-FI video project will look like Grozit so it should at least be funny.

Yes, please make a low budget sci-fi short film or web series. No, please do not take yourself seriously. Seriously… don’t.

Grozit

SCI-FI big budget films in the hundred million range look amazing, truly it is an astonishing thing to behold. SCI-FI Films with five million and less never look so great. However with your micro budget, if the story is humorous or celebrating the genre with homemade sets and props, we are not bothered by the lackluster special effects. In some cases they are charming.  

You don’t have to be hilarious, just have a light touch. Joss Whedon’s, 2002 TV series Firefly is an exceptional example of this. It contains decent TV sci-fi special effects that sometimes are budget restricted but the plots and characters all have a sense of humor.  The special effects are just framing not focus. I am not talking  Spaceballs yuk yuk funny which is something else entirely. That is to say, I am not suggesting parody. What I am suggesting is that with a sly wink to the audience and irreverent characters you can get away with a lot more in a low / no budget production with simple and clearly inexpensive set dressings, effects and costumes.

For example, if you only have $100 dollars and you built your set with Home Depot materials based on a How To Video you found online for making your set out of PVC tubing, floor foam, and toilet bowl parts. When you film a scene on that set and your space captain speaks into a spray painted box with holiday lights and says, “ Ensign, reroute all power to the main Synetic core, the Malodor fleet is gaining on us ” no amount of great acting is going to make that scene believable and suspend our disbelief. However, if your actors are in a heightened reality and the direction is more theatrical than cinematic it works.

Let’s talk about that more. You do not need to write a comedy. That’s a very serious and difficult thing, you just need to have a sense of humor. When we say heightened, it’s a style in sci-fi that is often compared to Shakespeare. Now before you get all riled up, I do not mean the quality of the content, I mean the performance style. In Shakespeare, an actor in earnest must say and believe, ““Round about the cauldron go. In the poisoned entrails throw.” -Macbeth. In sci-fi, it might be something like, “Around the survivors, a perimeter create.” -Yoda        

More James Tiberius Kirk less William Adama. Imagine Kirk & Adama on your $100 set in a $7 thrift store costume, who do you imagine will play better in the final cut. I’m not saying be ridiculous, which could work but again that’s more Spaceballs, we are talking Firefly here. You do not want to send up or mock the genre, you want to celebrate it. When creating your script keep in mind your crew will, in fact, be flying a cardboard ship but still take the work very seriously and simply present the content with a wink and a large portion of the sci-fi community will appreciate it. Some will hate but we cannot concern ourselves with that.

Having said that if you do want to create something more serious in future posts I will talk about daylight exterior shooting in the desert, industrial ruins or a junkyard with minimal pew pew and space ships for a more dramatic type of sci-fi storytelling.

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