How to start your sci-fi movie project

science fiction landscape

How to begin

The first step is to develop your science fiction movie concept. You should be able to describe your movie in a single sentence – sometimes called a log line.

Do not proceed any further until you really nail down your concept. If you can’t tell people what the story is about in a single, well-crafted sentence, you probably don’t have a clear idea yourself.

Take all the time your need on this step. It isn’t costing you anything at this point.

I find the book Sell Your Story in A Single Sentence: Advice from the Front Lines of Hollywood (affiliate link) by Lane Shefter Bishop very useful when I’m working on my story concept. This book breaks the process down into a simple-to-follow procedure.


(Affiliate link)

There are a lot of great examples in the book you can use to jump-start your own story generation process.

What resources do you have for your movie?

While you work on your story idea, it’s probably a good idea to take inventory of all the resources you have you can use in the movie.

For example, do you have an interesting location you can use?

When Daz Scales was working on the idea for his short film Darkwave: Edge of the Storm, he came across an abandoned communications outpost he was able to use. He set his story at that location and it gave his project a great deal of visual appeal.

I interviewed Daz a few weeks ago on the show – you can find out more by checking it out.

Maybe you know some cosplayers who could make some really great-looking costumes for your project. Perhaps you have a friend who is seven and a half feet tall who could play a scary, tall alien.

You can also ask around. Your friends may know of locations and props you could use to make a better science fiction movie.

Create your title

Once you have your story well defined and described, it’s time to come up with your title.

Come up with something simple but attention-grabbing that summarizes what your story is about.

This shouldn’t be too hard if you’ve defined your story well  in the preceding step.

Use the title to create the movie website and social media

Your next step is to get started on your website and social media for the movie.

Start by registering the domain name for your movie web site. I recommend using the movie’s title as the domain name if that is possible.

If the domain name for your movie title is not available, try adding “movie” to the end of the name.

You don’t need to build your website at this point. All you’re doing right now is locking down the domain name.

Personally, I use NameCheap (affiliate link) for registering my domain names. It is very inexpensive and easy to use. I’ve been using them for about five years.

After you register the domain name for your movie, you need to set up the social media. Try and use your movie title when you create these. I recommend setting up the following:

  • A Facebook fan page
  • A Facebook group
  • A Twitter account
  • An Instagram account
  • A Pinterest account
  • A Snaphat account

For now, you can just set up these pages, groups, and accounts. You will start adding content later.

Make a poster

Recently, I talked about Jason Buff’s blog post, 5 Key Steps Before Writing Your Screenplay,  on Indie Film Academy. He advises filmmakers to create the poster for their movie early in the process.

Having a movie poster makes the movie seem more real. If done well, it can help build excitement for your project.

I’m lucky because I have a friend who is a talented artist and he has a style that will work well for my science fiction movie.

If you don’t know any artists who can create your poster, you have other options:

You can also Google “crowd source design” to find other sites for your movie poster.

You may also opt to hire your own designer. Once again, Google is your friend when you are looking.

Spread the word and get feedback

Once you have your concept nailed down and your movie poster is done, it’s time to test market your movie.

In this step, you actively seek feedback from as many people as you can.

Do not skip this step! Your goal is to see if your movie is something people actually want to see.

This is where you will find out if your movie idea is worth pursuing. If people are excited about your idea, you can move on to the next step.

If they don’t like the idea, find out why. This is important. You might just need to make some changes to the idea. Make those changes and start over. There is no point in going further if they don’t like your idea.

In the worst case, people just won’t like your idea. If the feedback you receive indicates no one is interested in your idea, you’ll need to go back to the beginning and come up with a new idea.

If you have to start completely over, you’ll need to make sure your domain name doesn’t auto-renew – unless you can use the existing title for your new idea.

This process is very similar to the lean startup model used in business. In the lean startup model, you seek customer feedback during product development to ensure you don’t spend a lot of time and money pursuing an idea or product that consumers (your audience) don’t want.

Better to stop now if it isn’t working than to spend a year or more writing and producing a movie that no one will watch or enjoy.

As always

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Interview with filmmaker Alrik Bursell

Alrik Bursell
Alrik Bursell

Inspired by actual events!

Alrik Bursell is an Oakland, California-based filmmaker whose short film, Brother, is a Twilight Zone-style sci-fi/horror project based on a a real-life situation.

In my interview with Alrik, he talks about the many challenges he overcame when making the short film, Brother.

The project began in early 2015. By January, Alrik had completed three drafts of the script. His original plan was to produce the film very quickly.

That’s not how it worked out.

In March, he met comedian Capone Lee, showed him the script, and got him to agree to be in the project.

Capone Lee
Capone Lee in “Brother”

The plan was to start shooting in early April. Alrik encountered some casting challenges and wasn’t able to shoot until late May. As a result, Capone almost dropped out of the project.

Ultimately, Ulrik was able to cast two talented actors so the show could go on.

David O'Donnell andDezi Solèy
David O’Donnell and Dezi Solèy in “Brother”

Brother took three days to shoot – over a long Friday through Sunday weekend.

The project was delayed further by some complicated special effects.

The project was entirely self-funded. The crew worked for free which kept the budget low.

Alrik advises relying on your network to find good people to work on your film.

The final edit was completed in November – until Alrik noticed some things in the project that bothered him.

The “real” final edit was delivered the following March in time for a film festival showing.

Brother – Independent Horror Short Starring Capone Lee from Bursell Productions on Vimeo.

Alrik’s next project is a science fiction feature – The Alternate.  He is looking for some well-known actors to cast for the film.

He has started fundraising on this project and hopes to start production by next fall.

If you want to read the script for The Alternate, you can do that here.

More about Alrik

The aptly-named podcast, Making Movies is Hard, is a show for filmmakers that Alrik co-hosts with Timothy Plain.

As always

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A better way to make your sci-fi movie

Film crew on location

A better order for your film project

Stop wasting your time and money! You might be making a science fiction film no one will ever watch. There is a better way and we are going to show you how!

I ran across a game-changing blog post by Jason Buff of the Indie Film Academy podcast.

Jason proposes changing the order of putting a film project together. For many filmmakers, the order goes like this:

  1. Write the screenplay
  2. Raise money to make the movie
  3. Shot the movie
  4. Edit the movie
  5. Sell the movie

Jason has interviewed many successful filmmakers over the last few years and has discovered they follow a different order.

Jason’s order of development does not require a completed screenplay. However, you do have to have an exciting premise that really grabs people.

Here is Jason’s order:

  1. Create a poster
  2. Spread the news (build your audience)
  3. Pitch the story
  4. Check available filmmaking resources (including locations)
  5. Crowdfund a short version of your movie.

This way, it is much easier to sell your project. You have a strong premise, a poster, and a 10-minute “trailer” to pitch.

Making a feature length science fiction film is going to take a lot of time and money and energy. Don’t spend a year or more and tons of money only to find out no one is interested.

This is an important idea. You can read all about it on Jason’s website.

How to get your film project done

It’s great to have a better way of putting your film project together, you still have to get it done.

How is your film project coming along?

I’m incredibly busy and I’m sure most of you are as well.

So, how do we get our film projects done?

Baby steps

Let’s not make this complicated. No matter how busy you are, you should still be able to carve out a few minutes every day to work on your film project.

If you only have five minutes a day, spend five minutes each day working on your project. The point is to keep moving forward.

As busy as I am, there is no excuse for me not to spend at least 30 minutes a day on my project – even more on weekends.

This is not an original idea, but it is a good one. Work toward your goal, in our case film project, every day.

You will see progress.

How to be more productive

Confession time for me – I was working on my story idea every day when I got home from work.

And I was getting nowhere. I couldn’t come up with many story ideas and the ideas I came up with were awful.

I felt like I had to idea juice left by the time I got home.

Finally, one evening, I got one good idea – I Googled “peak performance time of day” and “when is the best time to write”.

Yes, there are good times and bad times to try to be creative.

In this Wall Street Journal article, some research suggests the best time to do creative work is in the evening when you are tired. Fatigue can be your friend when you’re trying to come up with original ideas.

In this scholarly article, they found that older people tend to be more productive in the morning while younger people are more productive in the evening.

I found another article that provides guidelines to help you discover the best time of day to work. There is a lot of useful advice here.

If you’re interested in the optimal time to get ideas and write, check out this article.  The author suggests the best times are when you first wake up or when you’re groggy.

Neil Patel has a great infographic that tackles this question. This is definitely worth checking out but, Neil, lose all the distracting pop-ups!

How to get unstuck on creating story ideas

I Googled “story idea generator” to see if I could find some good methods to get unstuck.

Here is a list of story idea tools and articles you can use to get unstuck:

For me, once I discovered I was a “morning person”, I didn’t need these other tools.

As always

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How to create your own film school

Filmmaker with camera

Your own private film school?

Yes, you can create your very own film school to learn how to create better science fiction films.

On The Sci-Fi Maker Show, we’ll bring you a lot of useful information you can use to be a better filmmaker. But, it’s up to you to learn the basics.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books, online courses, blogs, podcasts, and other resources you can use to learn filmmaking.

Attending film school is not a practical or affordable option for many of you. And it isn’t the only option for aspiring filmmakers.

The money you might have spent on a formal film school education could be used to fund your first (or second and third) film.

Film school curriculum

It’s up to you to design your curriculum based on what you want to accomplish as a filmmaker.

If you want to become a science fiction filmmaker, you need to focus your learning on the skills you’ll be using.

If you want to be a director, you would obviously need to learn directing. However, it might be helpful to learn about screenwriting because, as the director, you need to understand how stories are best told.

Directors of photography can learn a lot by studying directing, screenwriting, and editing in addition to cinematography and lighting.

Don’t try to become an expert in every area. Yes, it’s possible to do every job as the filmmaker, but you won’t do them all well.

Unless you’re Robert Rodriguez.

Choose your subjects and courses wisely.

Basic filmmaking courses

  • Directing
  • Screenwriting
  • Cinematography
  • Lighting
  • Editing
  • Working with Actors
  • Production Process

Film School Resources

There is more than enough information in the following resources for you to create your own film school education.

Review these resources, develop your own, create your custom curriculum, roll up your sleeves and get to work!

  1. Lynda.com – Classes on filmmaking are excellent. Very knowledgeable instructors. Starts at $19.99 month with a free trial.
  2. Udemy – Tons of filmmaking courses. You pay for each class. Most classes are very affordable. Sign up for discounts!
  3. Skillshare – Lots of great courses. There is a free option and a premium option (with more classes, no ads, and offline access)
  4. Quora – Great articles you can learn from. Search for what you want to learn, such as “how to write a screenplay”.
  5. Stage32 – Free to join. They offer tons of seminars and courses on filmmaking. Bonus – it’s also a filmmaking social network!
  6. YouTube – Great for learning specific tasks.

Grab a camera and shoot

It’s not enough to learn how to make movies. You have to go out and make some films!

Apply what you learn. Team up with other filmmakers, cast, and crew and show the world what you’ve learned.

There is a huge audience out there hungry for good science fiction films.

It’s up to us to make them!

Update

In an earlier episode of The Sci-Fi Maker Show, we interviewed filmmakers Samtubia and Samgoma Edwards. Their short film, TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story,  was the winning entry in the 2016 Filmmaker Select Star Wars Fan Film Awards.

Since they won the award and being on this show, a lot of exciting things have happened: they signed with a major filmmaking agency and are developing their first film!

When I spoke with them on the show a few months ago, I knew they were going to blow up.

By the way, they taught themselves how to be filmmakers and watched a lot of YouTube how-to videos.

Find out more by checking out these two articles about Samtubia and Samgoma Edwards:

As always

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