As emerging screenwriters, there’s no point writing a science fiction short, right? We can’t hope to get it made. It’s all CGI talking monkeys and Interstellar spacecraft. Yeah? Well if you think like that you might as well give up now. Your job is to think outside the box. Your job is to make it work.
1) Don’t Overdose on SFX
You’re making your film to convince people you can be taken seriously, so it’s better to avoid asteroids on strings unless you are shooting a ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’. Do you want a film that has people talking about your fantastic genre busting idea, or about the silly green makeup on your three breasted Alpha Centurion?
If you haven’t watched Shane Carruth’s ultra-low budget ‘Primer’ go buy the DVD now. In it two guys accidently build a time machine from bits of bobs of computer parts. Extremely low budget and extremely award winning. And what about those holodeck episodes in Star Trek? There’s not a laser beam or spaceship interior in sight. Or The Terminator? Not the expensive sequels of diminishing returns, the first one, the best, that 1980’s powerhouse of low budget thrills. What do you actually see of Arnie killing the first two Sarah Connors? How much of the time travelling do you actually see? MORE: 6 Ways To Make The Most Of Low Budget Visual Effects
2) Avoid Exposition
Don’t waste time with clunky expositional dialogue that adds no value. The people that watch your movie already know the rules of sci-fi. They understand what a post-apocalyptic world is. When they see your characters huddled in that fantastic disused warehouse you discovered in the woods, they’ll understand why there is no electricity or soap. You don’t need to tell them every detail of the nuclear disaster that wiped out 75% of humanity and the toiletry section at the local Boots chemist. MORE: Top 5 Tips for Writing Science Fiction
Location lends mood and meaning to your film and you are living in the future right now. Go outside and look around. Okay it’s not in the way ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Back to The Future’ envisaged, but there are fabulous opportunities for technological backdrops everywhere. Take photos of the modernist buildings you see on your way to work. Think of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and those famous sequences shot around Thamesmead, or that sequence with the tramp in the subway. It’s not that hard to find a gritty dystopic backdrop, is it? MORE: All About World Building In Sci Fi
4) Not all Monsters, Aliens and Robots require makeup!
I’ve already mentioned The T100 – the ultimate futuristic killing machine- a robot that looks exactly like a man in a leather jacket wearing sunglasses. Then there is Ava, the android in the excellent British Science Fiction Ex Machina – an android so feminine that we all fall in love with her. What about Bishop? Or Ash? Or David? Anyone notice a pattern? And then there are the humanoid aliens in the fabulous Body Snatchers movies and The Man that Fell to Earth. The computer programmes in The Matrix , the monster from It Follows. It’s taken me five minutes to come up with this list. There must be hundreds. MORE: Heroes & Monsters
5) Character, Character, Character
The best science fiction follows the same rules as any genre and that means character is key. Give the audience believable characters that act like they belong in the world you’ve created and you’ll soon find success. The audience won’t care that the large green lizard monster that is destroying Colchester as our young lovers flee from their overbearing parents, seems to be forever just off screen. They will be willing our young lovers to escape, frightened for their survival. Emotional charge and viewer engagement is everything. Characters make stories not SFX. MORE: 9 Ways To Write Great Characters
6) Be bold and original
You are writing your sci-fi screenplay because you have something to say, something original. Don’t be afraid to be different. Be bold with your vision of the future, your understanding of how technology is affecting us, your vision of how the world is changing, your insight. In the science fiction short film I have co-written – The Way Back – a physicist, played by Daisy Haggard, invents time travel. When was the last time you saw a female invent time travel in the cinema???
BIO: Paul Skillen has co-written a number of short films with Aaron Gray. Their project ‘The Way Back’ is in preproduction with causeAscene films and is funding raising on Kickstarter, check out the campaign HERE. Details on the project can also be accessed or via the Facebook page HERE. Follow Paul on Twitter as @reelwisdom.
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