A new direction for the Sci-Fi Maker Show

About last week…

Last week, I promised we would have a special guest on this show. Due to a scheduling mix-up, we will have that guest on next week’s show.

You don’t want to miss it!

spaceMitchsmall
Please send me an email. It can get lonely out in space.

New email address

I want to make it easy for you to get in touch with me, so I got a new email address for the show.

secret image

Send me an email about your indie sci-fi project or shoot me a question for the show.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Update: My science fiction film

I recently came across a very interesting old comic book series.

It’s out of print, but the rights are available.

I’m working to secure the rights to this property so I can adapt it into a movie. Or, possibly, a web series.

Fingers crossed!

Your log line

I’ve been reading a fantastic new book for screenwriters: Sell Your Story in A Single Sentence: Advice from the Front Lines of Hollywood, by Lane Shefter Bishop (affiliate link).

The premise of the book is simple: How to tell what your story is about in a single sentence.

If you can’t distill your story into a simple sentence, you don’t have a good grasp on the story.

Although learning to tell what your story is about in a single sentence is a great pitching or selling tool, it also gives you, the filmmaker or screenwriter, the guidance you need to develop your script or movie.

After you have your log line, write it down and post it on your computer monitor so you can keep referring to it during the writing and development process.

I recommend reading this book before you start writing or even outlining your script.

Shout out

I heard about this book on The Curious About Screenwriting podcast with Max Timm.

You can check out that podcast episode here.

Moving forward

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot about the future of independent films lately.

Much of the news appears grim.

Some independent filmmakers claim it is difficult or impossible to make a living in today’s market.

Industry publications, such as Variety, have published stories about the bleak future of independent filmmaking.

I suspect the future is not as bad as these people think.

Yes, most of the movies screening at theaters are big budget projects. They cost a lot and expect to make a lot.

There are fewer small budget movies released theatrically these days – although we probably ought to look closely at the data to be certain.

The home video market (DVDs) is probably shrinking. (Do you still buy DVDs?)

We need to look at ALL the distribution options available to filmmakers today.

  • Video on demand
  • Netflix
  • Amazon Video
  • Hulu
  • YouTube and YouTube Red
  • Vimeo
  • Apps for smart TVs and set top boxes
  • Broadcast TV
  • Cable
  • Theatrical (domestic and foreign)
  • What am I missing?

In the coming months, we’re going to look at distribution options for independent science fiction filmmakers.

We will talk to distributors, filmmakers, producer’s reps, and other players to find out what the market is like for independent science fiction projects.

We need to find out how much money a filmmaker could realistically expect to make in this market.

There’s no point in spending or raising $300,000 for a project if the upside is less than $100,000.

My promise to you is we will dig and find the answers. We’re after real numbers.

I don’t expect this to be easy, but it should be interesting.

As always

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The Golden Fleece

Road trip to your science fiction adventure

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

Weird space creature
(illustration by William Bubba Flint)

 

This week, we’re going to continue to discuss a simple approach to creating the story for your science fiction film.

Like last week, it is based on one of the 10 genres in the very popular screenwriting book: Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (affiliate link).

Once again, we’ll take one of those genres and add a science fiction trope to it. You can use this as a starting point to begin creating your story.

If you are a producer or director, you can use this technique to create a story that a screenwriter can write for you.

If you’re a screenwriter, this will give you a new tool to add to your writer’s toolbox.

Last week’s genre was “Monster in the House”.

The genre we’ll be using this week is “The Golden Fleece”.

What is “The Golden Fleece”?

A hero goes “on the road” in search of one thing and winds up discovering something else – often himself or herself.

For example:

  • Star Wars
  • Back to the Future
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • National Treasure (good template for this kind of movie)

This won’t give you the entire story, but can be the foundation for your story.

Road trips can be a local trip. You don’t have to travel far.

This is my favorite kind of sci-fi: we’re going on an adventure!

This is the kind of science fiction that is fun!

Ingredients

Quest for what?

  • Artifact or treasure
  • A girl or guy the hero met
  • A weapon
  • A UFO
  • Evidence of aliens on earth
  • Rescue someone from ???
  • Escape from ???
  • Save the planet from ???

Who is in your way (the bad guy)?

  • Government (agents)
  • Robot sentries
  • Aliens
  • A rival after the same thing
  • A Bond-type villain
  • Time travelers from the future

Who/what do they meet along the way?

  • Robot (helpful/not helpful)
  • Victims of the thing they are trying to stop
  • A love interest
  • A sage (Obi Won)
  • Aliens
  • A “Han Solo”
  • Someone hunting the same thing you are hunting for. And they are dangerous. Perhaps they will destroy/rule the world with it.
  • A cartoonist
  • A magician
  • A con man
  • Lindsay, the Alien Hunter
  • Clues, such as a treasure map
  • An old 16mm film (hello, Iron Man) or video tape or book

What the hero learns (lesson or boon)

  • They are much stronger than they thought
  • That they have been unhappy in their old life and now have a new purpose
  • Loss of innocence – the world isn’t as they thought it was
  • Wow, my parents are badasses! (a new way of seeing the world)
  • You can’t go home again
  • There’s no place like home

Create a LOT of log lines and action plan

Use the techniques described in the book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (affiliate link).

  1. Combine the ingredients above and generate a ton of story ideas before choosing one. Build up a HUGE list of ingredients and mix them up in different ways.
  2. This will take more than one or two days.
  3. Don’t filter. Go crazy.
  4. The good ideas/combinations will eventually stand out.
  5. You can also use this for costume design, makeup designs, etc.
  6. Choose your best combination. You want a combination that results in a movie you would REALLY want to watch (and, therefore, make)
  7. Get to work on your script.

Next week

I have a special guest scheduled for our next show.

Special shout out

The Forgotten Horrors Podcast.

Authors John Wooley and Michael H. Price explore the depths of cult cinema.

They go deep and it’s a lot of fun. Check it out!

As always

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Monster in the house

Crafting your story

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

This week, we’re going to talk about a simple approach to creating the story for your science fiction film.

2005 saw the release of a very popular screenwriting book: Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (affiliate link).

In this book, Blake Snyder describes 10 genres to illustrate story structure.

This week, we’ll take one of those genres and add a science fiction trope to it. You can use this as a starting point to begin creating your story.

This will work for you if you are a screenwriter or if you are a producer or director and want to create a story that a screenwriter can write for you.

The genre we’ll be using this week is “Monster in the house”.

William Bubba Flint Alien Illustration
illustration by William “Bubba” Flint

This is just what you think it is. You’ve got a house (isolated location) and a monster. The monster is trying to cause great harm of some kind to our protagonist.

In addition, the hero is often responsible for creating the monster in the first place.

Some obvious examples are Alien, The Thing, and Jaws.

So, we’ve got our genre – now it’s time to add the science fiction trope.

Ingredients

Location

This needs to be some place the hero cannot leave. They are trapped and must defeat the monster.

  • Alien planet (they crash landed)
  • Remote island
  • Cruise ship
  • Ghost town (car broke down so they can’t leave)

Who is trapped?

  • Astronaut
  • Sorority girls,
  • Three nuns
  • Improv troupe
  • Motivational speakers
  • Kids (break into an abandoned warehouse)
  • Surfers
  • Pizza delivery guy and his buddies

The monster

It must provide a real threat to the hero.

  • Robot
  • Alien(s)
  • A device that will destroy the planet
  • Humans under mind control
  • Dinosaurs

How did the hero cause this?

  • They woke up the monster
  • They activated the device by accident
  • They dug it out of the mountain/ice/etc.
  • They sent out a signal that summoned the monster

What is the threat?

The stakes need to be real and severe. Life or death.

  • The monster will kill them
  • The device will explode
  • The monster will erase their memories
  • They will turn into monsters
  • The monsters will kidnap them
  • The dam will burst and flood the town

This week’s action plan

  1. Create  examples combining the location, why they can’t leave, the monster, how they caused this, and the threat.
  2. Collect as many characters, locations, etc as possible. Build a collection you can draw from later. These are your ingredients for cooking up a great science fiction movie.
  3. Choose your best combination. You want a combination that results in a movie you would REALLY want to watch (and, therefore, make)
  4. Get to work on your script.

Next week

We’ll tackle another Blake Snyder genre.

As always

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The secret sauce to make a sci-fi film on a small budget

One filmmaker’s journey

Alex Ferrari is a filmmaker out in Hollywood. He’s been in L.A. for over 20 years and has been trying to direct a feature film since he got there.

Alex has a great podcast and website for filmmakers called “Indie Film Hustle”.

And now, after all those years of hustling, Alex has started work on his first feature film. It’s an inspiring story. Check it out here.

Your science fiction filmmaking journey

Here at Atomic Sci-Fi Studios, we hear a lot of people ask, “Can you can really make an independent science fiction film with little or no money? A watchable science fiction film?”

Monitor with slate
On the set of the science fiction comedy “Frackers”

Or course you can!

However, to paraphrase Clint Eastwood in “Cool Hand Luke”, a good filmmaker has got to know his limitations.

In our case, those limitations are the constraints of the film’s budget.

The reason people ask if you can produce a good independent science fiction film is because they are thinking of movies like “Star Wars” and “The Avengers”.

But there are plenty of science fiction stories that can be told in a movie without a large budget.

Last week, we visited the set of an independent science fiction comedy – “Frackers“.

The producers and screenwriters of “Frackers” developed an entertaining science fiction story that does not require a lot of expensive special effects and sets.

The secret sauce

The secret sauce or method for creating a good science fiction film on a small budget is:

  1. Find a science fiction trope that doesn’t require an expensive production (constraint).
  2. Write a good script.
  3. Find the right team
  4. Execute your script.

Trope

Wikipedia defines trope as “used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.”

In other words, what the audience expects to see in a science fiction film.

It’s not just space ships and super heroes.

First, take an inventory of what resources you have in terms of locations, props, costumes, etc. This will help dictate the kinds of stories it possible for you to tell as a science-fiction filmmaker.

A few trope examples

This list is just to get you started.

You should be able to think of many other tropes you can use in your movie.

Time travel

If your time travel story is about going back to the recent past or jumping just a few years into the future, you don’t really need much in the way of props and costumes.

Check out the movie About Time (affiliate link). It doesn’t have any special effects. The lead character travels back in time several times to get what he wants – with mixed results.

There are a lot of time travel stories you can tell without breaking the bank.

Alien invasion

It doesn’t have to be “Independence Day”.

You can have a few aliens hiding out in your town. Maybe they look just like us (no makeup required).

If you have some friends who are really into monster makeup, you can do a story with a small number of aliens. Just be sure the makeup is convincing.

Remember to keep the scope of your story small and manageable. A small cast and just a few locations keep your costs way down.

Robots

Like aliens, robots could look just like us.

This might work better as a comedy when your budget is low, such as my short film, “I, Girlfriend”.

This video has over 100,000 views so far.

If you know the right talented cosplayers, you might be able to create a convincing sci-fi robot.

As I said, you need to know your constraints – but don’t be too limiting. That’s why you need to build a good team for your movie.

Space Travel

Do you think this is out of your reach?

Your story could start after the space ship has crash landed on an alien planet. The “Twilight Zone” did this.

Now your crew (or lone crew person) has to survive on a hostile, alien planet.

All you need is a space suit or uniform, an interesting location such as the desert, and maybe an alien or two.

You might also be able to find some stock footage you can add to the mix for the rocket launch or some space travel.

Super powers

Your super heroes don’t necessarily have to fly.

Maybe they are invisible. Or have super smell. Or they can control minds.

Many of the X-Men characters have powers that would be easy for a low budget filmmaker to use.

Alternate universe

It looks just like Earth, but things are different.

Obviously, little or no special effects are required.

Teleportation

If someone on your team knows a little After Affects, Apple’s Motion, or some other effects software, you can probably pull off the special effects required for teleportation.

Of you can simply fade them out of one shot and fade them into another with a cool sound effect.

Post apocalyptic world

My least favorite kind of science fiction, but it’s easy to do.

And cheap.

That’s why so many low-budget science fiction movies use this setting.

There are a lot of interesting stories that can be told in this setting.

Deliberately cheesy

You also have the option of a self-aware comedy or send-up of a science fiction movie.

If your props, costumes, or makeup look cheap, so much the better!

The best example I can think of is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (affiliate link).

Secret sauce revisited

Remember, no matter what science fiction tropes you use in your film, you still have to:

  • Create an interesting story.
  • Write a great script.
  • Put a great, talented, hard-working team together.
  • Execute your vision.

As always

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