Category Archives: Screenwriting

Transmogrification

An end and a beginning

Transmogrify: to transform, especially in a surprising or magical manner.

Today, I’m transmogrifying Sci-Fi Maker.

This is the last episode of The Sci-Fi Maker Show.

This show’s purpose is to help you become better filmmakers. And there are some other good shows that cover that. I can recommend:

I’m leaving you in their capable hands and shifting my focus.

My new Show is Meditate with Mitch. This new daily show is about, ultimately, getting things done – whether you are a filmmaker, screenwriter, entrepreneur, student, or worker bee.

If you’re having problems getting your movie or script done (or even started), why not check out Meditate with Mitch?

You’ll find out how I have reorganized my days and priorities so I can do a daily podcast, make my movie, and still have time for a life.

Meditate with Mitch: one minute of motivation and five minutes of meditation – seven days a week. You’ve only got 24 hours in a day. Find out how to get more done each day while enjoying it more.

If you want to stay in the loop as we make our short film and our feature, Planet Burlesque, you can “like” our Facebook page and follow our progress there.

Stay tuned! We’re making our movie on the Internet!

Space Mitch

As always

That’s a wrap!

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Science fiction feature film “Cronus”

Cronus: A sci-fi film about memories

Cinematographer on set
On the set of “Cronus”

Derik Presley, a first-time feature film director, has a winner on his hands with the movie Cronus.

This project is an intriguing and entertaining science fiction film about memories with a Twilight Zone feel.

On this week’s show, I talk to Derek and one of the film’s producers, Laura McQuay.

Bum
Unfortunate subject of a memory experiment

They talk about the many challenges they faced making the movie.

Unlike many low-budget independent science fiction film projects, they produced this movie with a sizable crew in the traditional “Hollywood” fashion.

Although this was his first feature, Derek has directed five short films, including The 82 Peddler, a film I really like with a steampunk feel.

Cronus crew on the set
Cronus crew on the set

The journey for this movie was long, but the results are impressive.

Cronus is on its festival run right now, so keep your eyes out because it might be playing in your town soon.

As always

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Participate in the making of a sci-fi movie – The Circuit

Want to be in or work on a science fiction film?

Are you a filmmaker, screenwriter, or fan trying to break into the film business, but you don’t have connections or you don’t live in Los Angeles?

Do you think would be almost impossible to get a chance to work on a science fiction film featuring actors from Star Trek, Star Trek Voyager, Stargate: Atlantis, Game of Thrones, The Black List, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Justice League, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Farscape, 5th Passenger, Total Recall, the Hobbit films, Hellboy, Dr. Who, Teen Wolf, and others?

Artwork for The Circuit movie

Manu Intiraymi (Icheb in Star Trek: Voyager,  Billy in One Tree Hill)  is the executive producer, a writer and a director on The Circuit – a ten-part science fiction anthology series.

The anthology will highlight 10 original science fiction stories, with 10 sub-genres and one location. It will bring together several names in film and television joining some of the most noted production, design and visual effects professionals in the entertainment industry.

Olivia D'abo

But what makes this project so special and groundbreaking is this: the producers are encouraging you – the fans, the writers, the actors, the visual FX artists – to participate in the making of it.

And not just participate – some could work side by side with the professionals on the film.

Do you do special effects? Make a video showing what you can do.

Are you a screenwriter? They are looking for screenplays and stories to include in the anthology.

To find out more, you can go to The Circuit website. You can also join The Circuit Fan Group on Facebook.

Another way to participate in The Circuit is to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign. The rewards for this project include getting your name in the movie, autographed cast pictures, being an extra in the film, attending the premiere, play a scripted character in the movie, and more!

The Kickstarter campaign continues until May 23, 2017.

You can submit for any job on the crew or submit to come and intern behind some of the top professionals by submitting your material at the website, to manuintiraymi@thecircuitfilm.com or through the Kickstarter page.

Astronaut in The Circuit

As always

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Back to our future

Getting back to our roots

This show is for you, the filmmakers and screenwriters creating science fiction. I have to confess, lately, I’ve gotten away from the science fiction focus of the show.

There are a lot of great podcasts for independent filmmakers. This show is a little different. Science fiction films are special and so are the people who make them.

The science fiction community is a passionate community. For example, here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, there is a special sci-fi event almost every weekend. I know local cosplayers, artists, and exhibitors who seem to spend every weekend at these events.

Batgirls

Why should they get to have all the fun? My promise is to refocus the show back to you – the science fiction filmmakers.

I do this show because I want to help you make better science fiction films and more of them.

Independent filmmaking is exploding. There is a great deal of competition out there and getting noticed is challenging.

When we make a science fiction film, we have an advantage over other filmmakers: lots of science fiction fans looking for new sci-fi movies.

Making science fiction films means we can tell stories you just can’t do in other genres. For us, the sky really is the limit. Or maybe we should say we have no limits at all.

These are exciting times for independent filmmakers and even more exciting for sci-fi filmmakers.

Let’s go out there and tell our stories!

Recommended filmmaking podcasts

There are some other great shows for filmmakers out there. They cover the filmmaking process, funding, filmmaking tools, finding actors, scheduling, distribution, and other topics useful for all filmmakers.

Meanwhile, this show is going to stay focused on topics specific to science fiction filmmakers.

I recommend the following shows because the topics they cover are useful for all of us.

Check out all of these podcasts and subscribe to the ones that you find most useful.

If you come across other filmmaking podcasts you find useful, let me know and I’ll share it with everyone.

Update on our movie

Progress on our movie, Planet Burlesque, has been a little slow lately. Like a lot of you, I’ve been very busy.

I rearranged my schedule so I have more time to work on the movie.

What we’re looking for right now is another producer. We are also looking for a good shooting location.

We’re making this movie on the internet. You can follow along on this show as we make it. With our live videos on Facebook, you’ll be able to watch us shoot it as it happens.

Stay tuned for more!

As always

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Is your movie missing that certain something?

What your movie is missing

Cosplay at Comic-Con Fan Days in Dallas
I went to Comic-Con Fan Days in Dallas last weekend and took lots of cosplay pictures, like this one.

Maybe your film has a likable protagonist with a clear goal worth pursuing and a formidable antagonist standing in the way.

And maybe your story structure is sound—with escalating conflict building toward a satisfying resolution in the third act.

You’ve studied screenwriting, read all the books, and practiced your craft. But, still…

Something is missing.

What’s missing is theme

A movie can be entertaining and successful without a theme, but the movies that stay with you long after you watch them are usually those with a strong theme.

The theme is what your movie is really about. It’s often the moral of the story; the lesson the hero of the story learns.

In The Hero’s Journey, the boon is what the hero brings back from the adventure and shares with humanity. The boon often the theme of that story.

The theme is not the same as symbols or metaphors, but the symbols and metaphors in the story often relate to the theme.

More cosplay at Comic-Con Fan Days in Dallas
And this one.

Many beginning filmmakers don’t understand or use theme in their scripts. Most movies without a good theme don’t quite work. It’s like leaving out an important ingredient in a recipe. It doesn’t taste quite right.

Once you’re clear on the theme of your story, you can make better plot and character decisions based on that theme. The theme provides a guidepost for your script.

Some writers go through the writing process to figure out what the theme is and what they’re really trying to say. They might discover the theme in the first draft and then go back and rework the story so it fits the theme better.

Regardless of your writing approach, having something you want to say in your story – the theme – is key if you want to make a great movie.

Keep learning

I always end my show with three pieces of advice: keep writing, keep shooting, and keep learning. If you want to be a better filmmaker, you cannot stop learning.

If you follow me on Twitter (@mediamitch), you might notice I’m always on the lookout for useful articles, videos, and podcasts for filmmakers and screenwriters.

This past week, I just kept hitting gold on Twitter and shared all of it with my followers.

Here are three of those golden nuggets:

Visual writing

5 Tips for Writing Visually

This article contains five great tips for screenwriters.

The writer points out screenplays are not always visual but should be.

“The more you use visual techniques in your script the easier it will be for people to see your script as a movie and for it to eventually to become one.”

Faster writing

11 Ways to Write Faster

Item number six is making a huge difference for me as a screenwriter: Eliminate distractions.

This may be very difficult for many of you.

When you write:

  • Turn your phone off
  • Close your web browser to avoid social media, distracting websites, and email.
  • Remove everything from your workspace unrelated to your project (clutter)
  • Close the door

Writing with theme

Make Readers Fall in Love with Theme

Do you know what the theme of your script is?

It’s what your film is really about. It is the question the script is asking.

“Your script should have a compelling, thought-provoking theme, and ideally one that it illustrates by way of its story, its characters, and the choices they make.”

Some examples:

  • Star Trek: Wrath of Khan – Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?
  • Alien – How should you deal with fear?
  • The Martian – How do you carry on when all is lost?

George Lucas

“I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct […] I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery.”

For filmmakers, the big question is – Do you know the theme of your movie?

As always

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Bad independent films are preventable

The truth about independent filmmakers

We celebrate the independent filmmaker success stories: Kevin Smith’s Clerks, Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi, Edward Burns’ The Brothers McMullen.

Theses stories and others like them inspire people everywhere to go out and start making movies. Each year, hundreds, if not thousands, of low-budget independent films are produced in every genre imaginable.

Here is the sad truth: most independent movies are terrible, even unwatchable. They make no money—for the filmmaker or investors.

If you don’t believe me, sample some low budget movies on Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, or YouTube.

Go watch a few right now. I’ll wait…

Pretty sad, isn’t it?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Why they suck

Before we get to the reasons, let me first say this:

Bad independent films are preventable!

Two-person film crew

I don’t want to discourage anyone from making movies. Quite the contrary, I want to see more independent movies.

I just want to stop you from making BAD movies.

The best way to avoid making bad movies is to understand why so many people make bad movies and avoid making those same mistakes.

Most independent films fail because:

  • The script is terrible
  • The acting is amateurish
  • The production quality is awful

Script and story problems

You can’t make a great film out of a lousy script, especially on a small budget.

Most indie films have poor scripts. The screenwriter usually doesn’t understand story, structure, conflict, theme, plot, character, or much else about film scripts.

This is entirely preventable.

You can learn screenwriting from books, videos, classes, workshops, and other resources. Most of these resources are free or inexpensive.

Once you learn how to write a screenplay, you have to write screenplays—lots of screenplays. It takes a lot of practice to become a good screenwriter.

You also need good feedback on your scripts. Get feedback from knowledgeable people. Learn from that feedback and improve your scripts.

I get it, you’re impatient and want to start making your movie right away.

Do not make your movie until your script is amazing.

Quick side note: follow me on Twitter (@mediamitch) for links to good screenwriting and other filmmaking resources. Never stop learning!

Atrocious acting

I watched several trailers for new indie films last weekend. Few of these films had good or even decent acting.

Almost everyone recognizes bad acting when they see it. Bad acting is hard to watch and listen to.

The audience cannot take your film seriously if the acting is bad.

Do not put your friends (and yourself) in your movie (unless you happen to be talented actors).

Find good actors. Hold auditions. Get the right actors for the roles. Find a way to pay them.

Do not skip this step. Your movie will not succeed without good actors.

Bad production quality

Most low-budget films look and sound terrible. It’s obvious the director, camera operator, and sound person have no idea what they’re doing.

Luckily, you can learn what you need to know about shooting and lighting a movie with free or inexpensive online resources.

Education is a wonderful thing.

For example, you can learn not to shoot on locations with plain white walls.

You can learn how to properly operate a boom (and find out what a “boom” is).

Spend some time on YouTube learning about cinematography, lighting, recording location sound, set designing and set dressing, directing, editing, sound design—the list is endless.

Better yet, use a small, experienced crew. If you can’t afford experienced crew, build your filmmaking team and make sure they learn the filmmaking skills required for their roles.

Finally, a common problem in too many indie films is bad sound.

Don’t neglect the audio. Poor sound quality will ruin your movie and make it unbearable to sit through.

Your next step

Once your team is in place, you’ve found good actors, and your script is amazing, make a short film. You will learn more from making this short film than a formal film school education.

Once you complete the short film, learn from it. Does it look like a real movie? Does it sound like a real movie? Is it entertaining? Have you told a good story? Does it all work?

Get feedback on your short film and lots of it. Listen to this feedback and learn from it.

Enter your short film in festivals and contests and see how you stack up against the competition.

Have you learned all you can from this experience? Good, now go make your next short film.

Do not attempt to make your movie until you can make really good short films. Here’s a simple litmus test: if your short films are really good, they should be getting noticed at the film festivals and winning film contests.

Are you ready?

Have you reached the point where your short films are really good?

NOW you can make your movie.

 

As always

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Now comes the fun part: pre-production

Pre-production and adding cool stuff

Steampunk cosplay

We are making our science fiction movie on the podcast! You can also watch our movie-making activities live on the Sci-Fi Maker Facebook page.

This week on the Sci-Fi Maker Show, I get script feedback from Bubba and we start brainstorming ideas for the shoot.

I finished the script for the short film based on “Planet Burlesque”, which is our 2017 feature film project. My producing partner, William Bubba Flint has some great suggestions we can incorporate into the script.

I’m pretty excited about this because these suggestions can take the short film to “the next level”.

We are moving from the development phase to the pre-production phase where we start production planning.

Also, a filmmaking friend of mine is offering to help – that’s always welcome. Thank you, Chris!

This week, I’ll be reaching out to a hard-working assistant director to see if she’s interested in participating. She could certainly make things go smoothly on this project.

Here’s the pre-production stuff we need to do next:

  • Develop our list of cool shot ideas
  • Find and secure a location – we need a parking lot and adjacent building or house
  • Schedule a shooting day
  • Start casting
  • Lots of other details

If you want to stay in the loop as we make our short film and our feature, “Planet Burlesque”, you can subscribe to The Sci-Fi Maker Show on iTunes and you can “like” our Facebook page.

Stay tuned! We’re making our movie on the Internet!

As always

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Rewrite and watch what happens

Add some magic to your script

Magic
Cosplayer from Dallas Comic-Con

Want to add some magic to your film script?

Rewrite!

Rewriting is where the good stuff happens.

“Writing is rewriting” may be a cliche, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Unlike a lot of writers, I look forward to finishing the rough draft so I can get to the good part – rewriting.

Once you finish your first draft, the pressure is off. Congratulations! You’ve conquered the blank page!

Writing is rewriting, and most professional writers advise getting through the first draft quickly so there’s something on the page to begin to rewrite. (And rewrite and rewrite again.)

This quote came from 5 Easy Ways to Conquer Your First Draft on the ScreenCraft website. This article describes five methods to get that first draft done so you can get to the rewriting.

I found some great rewriting advice from Mike Schneider on Quora.

  1. Don’t be precious with your script. Everything you’ve written can be cut or changed.
  2. Send your script out for feedback from some knowledgeable readers.  Don’t resist the feedback – listen. If you hear the same feedback from more than one person, you probably need to change that part.
  3. Spend some time away from the script to get a fresh perspective.
  4. Rewrite from the beginning.

Don’t forget, most people never even finish the first draft of their script. Celebrate that and move on to the rewriting!

How many rewrites should I do?

Everyone is different. Some writers do one or two and others might do 50.

I did a quick search on Reddit and found a writer who typically does seven drafts. The process goes like this:

  1. Rough draft. Some writers do this as quickly as possible to get everything on the page. This is often called a “vomit draft”.
  2. Put the script away for a couple of weeks.
  3. Major rewrite – this is when you cut scenes, move them, add new ones, change dialog, and move plot points.
  4. Put the script away for a couple of weeks.
  5. Polish rewrite – fine tune dialog and improve conflict within scenes.
  6. Send your script out for feedback.
  7. Spend a week processing the feedback. Decide what to keep and what to ignore.
  8. Big rewrite incorporating the feedback you decided to keep.
  9. Put the script away for a couple of weeks.
  10. Polish draft incorporating the feedback.
  11. Put the script away for a couple of weeks.
  12. Read the script and make some tweaks.
  13. Send your script out for feedback. The feedback should be smaller and scene specific this time.
  14. Make the changes based on this new feedback right away.
  15. Stop

During those two-week waiting periods, keep writing. Either write something new or revise something else. Just keep writing.

Rewriting the script for the “Planet Burlesque” short

5 cosplayers
5 cosplayers who are not in the short film

I wrote the first draft of the short film script, based on the world we are creating for our feature film in 2017, “Planet Burlesque”.

I was able to finish this draft quickly because it’s only five pages long and I plotted it out earlier using Evernote. You can even watch me write the entire script in real time on our Facebook page.

I sent the script to my producer on the project, William “Bubba” Flint, for feedback.

He read the script, but won’t be back in town to give me feedback until at least tomorrow. I’m going to record his script feedback so you can hear all of it on the next episode of The Sci-Fi Maker Show.

I won’t wait very long to incorporate his feedback into the next draft of the script. Another rewrite or two and we should be ready to start planning the shoot.

We will broadcast the planning, casting, and shooting of the “Planet Burlesque” short film live on video from our Facebook page.

You heard me, you can watch us make our movie LIVE on Facebook!

If you “like” our Facebook page, you should receive notifications whenever our videos are live.

We’ll also include some of our planning meetings on the podcast.

Your action plan

If you really want to make a science fiction film, it’s time to start (if you haven’t already). I strongly recommend making a short first.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but it isn’t rocket science either:

  1. Write your first draft
  2. Rewrite, feedback, and rewrite
  3. Make your film

As always

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Writing the script for the science fiction short

I recently came across the following quote on Twitter:

Every scene should be able to answer three questions: “Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?” – David Mamet

Last week on The Sci-Fi Maker Show

Last week, we had our first pre-production meeting for  Planet Burlesque and recorded it for the show. Now, we need to reach out to actors, a special effects person, makeup artist, and others for the actual shoot.

The outcome from our first pre-production meeting – we have some work to do before we can start production. We’ve got to go out and find our people.

We’re going to try and record all our meetings with cast and crew so “you are there”.

Write your script!

First page of a rough draft of my script for the short film
First page of very rough draft for the short film.

You can’t make your feature or short film until you finish your script!

This weekend, I’m working on the script for a short film set in the world we are creating for “Planet Burlesque” – our science fiction feature. I’m trying to finish the draft so I can send it to my partner on this project, William “Bubba” Flint.

I am streaming the actual writing of the screenplay using Facebook Live on our Facebook page.

That’s how we roll here. We’re live streaming and podcasting the entire movie making process.

Why I’m using Final Draft to write the script

I just upgraded from Final Draft 9 to version 10 and I’m pretty happy with it. They made some useful improvements, but the workflow didn’t change.

Some of you might be wondering why I’m using Final Draft, which costs around $200, to write the script for Planet Burlesque when there are some free alternatives.

And, since this is an indie project, who cares if the format is “correct” since we aren’t trying to sell the script to Hollywood?

Here are my reasons:

  • Actors and crew may be used to the Hollywood screenplay format. You want to appear credible and competent.
  • You can enter your script into script competitions.
  • You may be an indie now, but what if you’re successful and get noticed by Hollywood? This way, you and your script will be ready (and your screenplay format won’t embarrass you).
  • Final Draft makes it easy to take your spec script and turn it into a shooting script.
  • Nowadays, most producers or agents will ask you to email them a copy of your script in PDF format or, more likely, in Final Draft format.
  • I have heard script readers in Hollywood can tell if your script was written in Final Draft or in free software. I can’t prove this or tell if it matters.

I’m spending some time to really learn Final Draft 10. Hopefully, this will save me time and effort in the long run.

Book of the week

If you watched me on Facebook Live last week, you heard me talk about  Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too! (Affiliate link)

Book cover for Writing Movies for Fun and Profit

The book is a fun and easy read and was written by Robert Ben Garrant and Thomas Lennon (Felix Unger on TV’s “The Odd Couple”). The total box office for the movies they’ve written is over $1.5 BILLION!

These guys are working Hollywood screenwriters – not screenwriting gurus.

Lots of great advice for screenwriters and filmmakers from actual Hollywood insiders. This book includes a lot of useful information I have never read in other screenwriting books.

I cannot recommend this book enough!

Time for me to get back to work on my script.

As always

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We’re making our movie on the podcast

We’re taking you with us

I thought it was time to try something new. Here it is:

We’re making our science fiction film, “Planet Burlesque”, on The Sci-Fi Maker Show.

Planet Burlesque

What this means is we are going to podcast our production meetings, auditions, shooting, editing, marketing, the premier – everything!

You can be with us every step of the way.

Some of this will be included in the pre-recorded audio podcast and some will be live-streamed (on Facebook Live with video). Whenever we are live, you can interact with us via the comments.

For the latest information about “Planet Burlesque” and to watch our live streams, go to https://www.facebook.com/planetburlesque.

Are we the first people to make a movie on a podcast? If we’re wrong, the internet will let us know.

First, we make the short

Before we start working on the feature version of “Planet Burlesque”, we will produce a short film based in the world of “Planet Burlesque”.

“Planet Burlesque” – the feature version – is set in the present day and features three burlesque performers from a parallel universe who are stranded here on Earth.

The short film will feature one of those burlesque performers.

Our first pre-production meeting

This podcast episode is the first “official” meeting for “Planet Burlesque”. It is a pre-production meeting where William “Bubba” Flint and I discuss how we’re going to make the short.

Bubba created the movie poster for “Planet Burlesque”. You can see more of his work on Instagram.

Our plan is to shoot this in one day which requires us to simplify this as much as possible.

I hope to finish the script in a week or so.

I inventoried my production equipment and have the following:

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Lights – we might need to rent a small kit.
  • Sound – we might need to chase down a shotgun mic

Action item: I need to create a checklist for this project. Right now, I’m capturing everything in these show notes.

Our crew (for now):

  • Me
  • Bubba
  • Makeup artist

Cast requirements for the short:

  • Vampire burlesque performer
  • Female who does not look like the vampire
  • Male

Costumes:

  • Vampire costume – probably need 2

Special effect:

  • When vampire is transported to our planet/universe

Vehicles:

VW van or bus
“Rusty”, the PlanetBurlesqueMobile
  • VW bus (Rusty Pete)
  • Second vehicle – might use my car

Location:

  • Exterior – street, parking lot or driveway
  • Interior – office, house, or studio

Once the script is complete, we will have our next meeting and will podcast it.

Please stay tuned!

As always

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