Writing the movie scene

Who is The Sci-Fi Maker Show for?

This show is for anyone who wants to make their own science fiction movie or video. This includes:

  • Directors – stay independent or go “Hollywood”
  • Writers – write for others or produce their own scripts
  • Producers – learn what makes a good script so you can pick the good ones to produce

The Scene

Scene from iRobot
Scene from I, Girlfriend – a science fiction comedy short subject

According to Wikipedia, a scene in a film or video is “the action in a single location and continuous time.

If you change locations, that’s a new scene.

If you don’t change locations, but it’s now later in the day or a different day, that’s a new scene.

One location – continuous time.

Elements of a scene

  1. Characters – this includes the protagonist or “hero” of the scene
  2. Setting – Where and when the scene takes place
  3. Goal – what the protagonist wants or needs. The stakes should be high.
  4. Obstacle – The person, place, or thing preventing the protagonist from achieving their goal. This creates conflict.

Important: The protagonist doesn’t always get what he or she wants!

Back to an example

In “Back to the Future”, Marty McFly is the protagonist.

His goal: Get his parents to fall in love (in 1955)

The stakes: If Marty cannot get his parents together, he and his siblings cease to exist!

The obstacles

  • George McFly’s lack of self-confidence and shyness
  • Lorraine’s crush on her son (Marty)
  • Biff
  • Bonus: George and Lorraine have to fall in love at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance. This obstacle is a time deadline and creates suspense.

Mitch’s seven scene-writing tips

  1. Keep it simple (K.I.S.S.) – keep the number of characters to a minimum and keep the story simple.
  2. Come into the scene as late as possible and get out as early as possible.
  3. Eliminate anything not essential to the story. Everything should move the story along or reveal something about the protagonist’s character and motivation.
  4. Show us what the character is feeling.
  5. Read the scene out loud.
  6. Rewrite.
  7. Produce the scene if you can.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Next time

We’ll talk about the screenplay format and some tools you can use to make this easier.

As always


Camera options for shooting your science fiction video

Talking about cameras

In this episode of The Sci-Fi Maker Show, I discuss camera options for shooting your science fiction video or movie.


Camera operator
Camera operator

Your cell phone or tablet: the camera you already have

Today’s cell phones and tablets include cameras that can shoot high definition or even 4K video.

If you want to shoot your movie or video with your cell phone or tablet, we recommend you use FiLMiC Pro for manual control of the camera.

You will need accessories to mount your cell phone or tablet on a tripod and to attach additional lenses. We tested the Beastgrip Pro and can recommend it.

Shooting a movie
Shooting a movie


  • You probably already have one
  • New cell phones and tablets can capture surprisingly good video IF you know what you’re doing
  • There are apps that allow you to edit your video on your phone or tablet


  • The small sensor on your phone or tablet is limiting
  • The lens is wide angle and telephoto options are lacking
  • You cannot adjust the aperture

DSLRs: the indie filmmaker’s new best friend

Many independent filmmakers have turned to DSLRs from Nikon and Canon to shoot their projects. Recently, Sony has released mirrorless camera that do a fantastic job of shooting video.

Most of these newer cameras shoot high definition and many even shoot 4K.

Two camera operators and director
Two camera operators and director


  • You have total manual control or the camera’s settings
  • Interchangeable lenses: wide angle, normal, and telephoto
  • Video can look stunning if you know what you’re doing


  • Can be complex to operate and learn
  • Not ergonomically designed for shooting video
  • “Rolling shutter”
  • Heavier than your phone
  • Can be expensive

Professional cameras

These are the cameras you’ll find on the sets of major motion pictures. Vendors include Red, Arri, and Sony.

Best practice: hire an experienced director or photography and/or camera operator to use these cameras.

Shooting a movie at sea
Shooting a movie at sea


  • Very good quality
  • Lots of filmmaking accessories available
  • This is what they use for major motion pictures


  • Very expensive
  • Need to add many expensive accessories to use these cameras
  • Steep learning curve
  • Complicated work flow for shooting and editing
  • Not as many experienced camera operators

Pro-sumer camcorders

The upscale relatives of the camcorders you’re probably familiar with. Vendors include Sony and Panasonic.

Lately, independent filmmakers have been seduced by DSLRs and are using them instead of pro-sumer cameras.

Camera operator with assistant operator and sound recorder
Camera operator with assistant operator and sound recorder


  • Ergonomically designed for shooting video
  • Some have large sensors
  • Some work with interchangeable lenses
  • Not as complex as DSLRs (arguably)


  • Can be expensive
  • Not all work with interchangeable lenses
  • DSLRs and mirrorless cameras becoming more popular with indie filmmakers

Other cameras

There are some other camera options:

  • “Point-and-shoot” cameras
  • Web cameras
  • Actions cameras, such as GoPro
  • Drones

No matter what kind of camera you use, you have to learn to operate it properly (in manual mode) to get good results.

That means you have to read the camera manual. You can also watch instruction videos on how to shoot video with your camera on YouTube.

Video: How to shoot video using window light

I shot an explainer video describing exactly how I created a cinema look using a North-facing window for my light source.

I used my five year old Canon 7D camera and 50mm F1.4 lens.

Don’t just watch this video.

Go out there and start shooting your OWN videos!


In case your missed it, the February 2016 issue of American Cinematographer has a cover story about how Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shot.

You can find our more here.

What’s next?

We are going to produce a science fiction short subject video or scene. You can follow along at home by listening to our podcast episodes.

If you want to create your own project, that would be great! We can compare notes.

We start with the idea for the video. I have a small germ of an idea at this point. I’ll be fleshing that out so I can move on to the script phase.

In the meantime, leave us a rating or review on iTunes. It will help others discover the show.

As always


7 tips for science fiction filmmakers on making shorts

Last week

In our last episode, I discussed a great online resource for filmmakers: the Screencraft Screenwriting Blog.

One of the blog entries, 9 Tips for Filmmakers Struggling to Make Their Short Film, contains a lot of useful information for science fiction filmmakers.

It inspired me to create my own list of tips for science fiction filmmakers.

My 7 tips

  1. Don’t use crowdfunding for your film shorts
  2. Shoot a lot of bad videos
  3. Stop making expensive, but terrible science fiction shorts
  4. Be passionate
  5. K.I.S.S.
  6. Seth Godin’s 2 kinds of science fiction – shoot the second kind
  7. Don’t make corporate shorts

Next time

We’re going to talk about the types of cameras you can use to shoot your science fiction videos.

I did some test shooting with one of my cameras, and I’ll show you the results I got without spending any money.

Harley Quinn at Dallas Comic-Con Fan Days
Still photo from video test: Harley Quinn at Dallas Comic-Con Fan Days

As always


What’s stopping you?

What’s your excuse?

A few years ago, Kent Tolbert, a draftsman, lost his sight.

Instead of giving up and feeling sorry for himself, Kent started writing screenplays.

Kent Toldbert: Screenwriter
Kent Tolbert: Screenwriter


In the fall of 1980, Kent took his first screenwriting course at Oklahoma State University (I was in the class with him).

He  followed up with three more screenwriting classes.

Four classes – four scripts.

Although there were no best-selling screenplay books out at that time, the course outlines followed Syd Field’s screenwriting book (affiliate link) which was published a few years later.

Kent didn’t write any screenplays after college until recently.

His brother, Doug, does much of the “heavy lifting” according to Kent.


Today, there are many Internet resources available to learn screenwriting

Kent plans to write a sci-fi horror script later this year. His research begins on Wikipedia.

Some of his online scriptwriting resources include:
Writer’s Digest

Scripts written (so far) include:

  • Four scripts at O.S.U. – one for each class.
  • Five Big Bang Theory scripts (for a contest)
  • One Star Trek crossover script
  • Last year, Doug and Kent wrote two screen plays and three television pilots

Kent thinks in visual terms even though he can no longer see. He relies on 40 years of visual memories.

He  watches a lot of movies (with narration) – lots of science fiction and genre movies.

A habit he learned back in college, Kent carries around a list of ideas. He’s been doing that since 1980.

Each year, at beginning of the year, Kent and Doug plan the scripts they will write that year. But, things don’t always go as planned.

Kent tries to write every evening. He leaves his computer on and might write at any time: day or night.

He often develops a “craving” for his characters and plots and wants to see what happens next. This keeps him motivated to finish his scripts.

Sometimes, the characters and plots don’t go where you expected them to go.

Doug and Kent’s process

Every two or three days, they get together to work on their scripts.

They go out to dinner and talk about their scripts and make plans for their next projects.

Each of them take the lead on different projects.

When they reach the halfway point in their scripts, they exchange scripts for critique and comments

Sometimes, they send scripts in to contests. They often get feedback. The most common comment or critique they receive: not enough conflict.

Without conflict, you don’t have a story.

One of their Big Bang Theory scripts placed in the quarter-finals of Scriptapalooza.

Some of Kent’s other scripts have done well in competition.

They make connections at conventions. At least year’s Comic-Con in Tulsa, Kent met Bruce Campbell.

Kent told Campbell  he was thinking of writing a western.

“What’s stopping you? was Campbell’s reply.

Great advice. Kent plans to have two western scripts for Campbell when he returns to Tulsa.

Music provided by Richard Galbraith (Thanks, Richard!).


Script Mailer – for a fee, they send your query out to a lot of places, such as production companies and talent agencies.

 Affiliate link

Coming up next…

In the coming weeks, we’ll be covering more useful subjects for aspiring science fiction filmmakers:

  • How to write a great scene
  • How to edit your scenes
  • Creating a science fiction short subject video
  • Science fiction screenwriting and video contests

As always


Shoot your sci-fi movie for next to nothing

The Sci-Fi Maker Film School is back in session!

This is an exciting time to be a science fiction filmmaker! Advances in technology make it possible to produce a great-looking movie without going broke.

There is a new movement in independent filmmaking called “lo-fi sci-fi” (or “low-fi sci-fi”). The Wall Street Journal featured some interesting lo-fi sci-fi movies a couple of years ago. Unlike the low budget science fiction movies of the 1950s, these new films are “focusing on concepts and characters over spectacle.”

Unboxing the Beastgrip Pro
Unboxing the Beastgrip Pro

Are you going to join the new lo-fi sci-fi filmmaking revolution? If so, you’ve come to the right place!

Shooting with a smart phone

You don’t have to buy or rent an expensive motion picture camera such as a Red Digital Cinema Camera or an Arri Alexa.

You can shoot your science fiction video with a more reasonably priced HDSLR camera such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark III or a Sony α7S II. These cameras were designed for still photographers, but produce amazing, cinema-like video.

To keep your costs down, you could buy a good, used HDSLR camera with high definition video capabilities.

Or, you can use your smart phone – as long as it’s relatively new and able to shoot high definition video.

I shot an “unboxing” video about the Beastgrip Pro – a $149 camera rig designed to work with a variety of smart phones.

The Beastgrip pro makes it easy to hand-hold your smart phone when shooting video. You can also connect the Beastgrip pro rig to a tripod for even steadier shots.

I took the Beastgrip Pro out for a test shoot with my iPhone 5s and the FiLMiC Pro app. This app gives you manual control over your smart phone’s video settings, such as shutter speed, frame rate, white balance, and more.

I went to the North Texas Comic Book Show to find some cosplayers to shoot and was not disappointed.

The Beastgrip Pro worked well and it looks kind of cool. Several people commented on it at the show. I attached a 37mm wide-angle lens to the rig for wider angle shots.

Using the FiLMiC Pro app

The FiLMiC Pro app took a lot of getting used to.

The interface for the app varies depending on the type and version of smart phone you have.

On my iPhone 5s, I had to find a way to lock the shutter speed at 1/48th of a second because I was shooting at 24 frames per second.

The only way to guarantee my shutter speed didn’t change was to avoid using the exposure reticle.

Here is my working method to ensure the shutter speed does not change when shooting with FiLMiC Pro:

  1. Set your desired frame rate (I used 24 frames per second).
  2. Set the shutter speed (I used 1/48th of a second. For 25 fps, use 1/50th of a second, and for 30 fps, use 1/60th.)
  3. Adjust the ISO to get the desired exposure.
  4. Lock this exposure setting.
  5. Do NOT touch the exposure reticle after you lock the exposure.

Video results

Locking the white balance, focus, and exposure is the way to go if you want to use your smart phone to shoot your science fiction movie.

Smart phones enable you to shoot in fairly low light compared to a more expensive camera, but there is a trade-off in quality.

My best advice for ensuring good video from your smart phone?

Practice, practice, practice!

I did see some jiggly artifacts in my video that concern me. I’m going to do some more shooting and see if I can find out why that happened.

Coming up next…

In the coming weeks, we’ll be covering more useful subjects for aspiring science fiction filmmakers:

  • Next week – an interview with a science fiction screenwriter
  • How to write a great scene
  • How to edit your scenes
  • Creating a science fiction short subject video
  • Science fiction screenwriting and video contests

As always