Making a movie about people talking of the interstellar war.

Happy new year, everyone.

As stated in my recent threads, I am thinking (as always) of doing that film. One low-cost way of doing it is to have actors talking about the interstellar war, as opposed to showing the combat scenes. I have started a background fictional history of the war, with the introduction and the epilogue. The history is by the defeated Enemy General (EG), who writes it while in prison.

As I understand it, the rule of thumb is that, to adapt prose to film, one page of prose would equal one minute of film, but a history can be lengthened or shortened.

I am thinking that the film, to keep it as low as possible, should have one set of scenes where the EG talks to his counterpart, then another set of scenes where a reporter talks to survivors of the war, and so on. And, to splurge a bit, we can always have a dance scene.

The regulars here know film better than me, but many good movies have been done with inexpensive sets - examples are "Same Time, Next Year", and Hitchcock's "Rear Window".
 
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I am thinking that the film, to keep it as low as possible, should have one set of scenes where the EG talks to his counterpart, then another set of scenes where a reporter talks to survivors of the war, and so on.

Then you have to write it that way. Check out both the novels and mini-series "The Winds Of War" and "War And Remembrance." General Armin von Roon is a fictional German general who, in the novels, writes books about the German view of WWII while serving his prison sentence for war crimes; in the miniseries he's more "active" as a character.

The regulars here know film better than me, but many good movies have been done with inexpensive sets - examples are "Same Time, Next Year", and Hitchcock's "Rear Window".

There's also Hitchcock's "Rope" (one room) and "Lifeboat" (but tough to shoot on the water) as 'contained' films. "Twelve Angry Men" (based on a play) is another small set film - 95% is in the jury room; the rest is in the bathroom or outside the courthouse. "127 Hours" is another contained film.
 
Happy New years!

I have to second alcove's "12 Angry Men" reference. You'd have a hard time finding a better example of a dialogue focused film that achieved such an exceptional result. A masterclass in the dramatists side of the directing spectrum. Also one of the best films I've ever seen period.

I absolutely understand the thinking that would lead to an all exposition movie, but personally, I'd advise against it. A far more effective approach would be to film a very limited scenario. A good recent example that worked was "7500" where the entire film took place on a plane, and the majority of the runtime within just the cockpit. They weren't telling the story of the movie, it was going on around them, and the conversation drove the plot as it happened.

1. Value in art is based in rarity to a large degree, and because this course of action is so logical, about a million people have tried it. It's a cost saving approach, and has become unintentionally synonymous with low quality productions.

2. I had this same idea in the early years, and had to have a more veteran filmmaker explain it to me. It's complicated, but basically you need to have viewers constantly engaged, and if your film is all talk, you are going to need riveting actors. They will cost a lot more, and there goes your savings. I'd recommend "The King's Speech" as a film that relies on dialogue, and has about the minimum caliber of actors that were needed to pull it off flawlessly. It ran about 30 million if memory serves. They were excellent actors, but that's my point. Tom Sizemore and Bruce Willis would not have been able to pull off that movie.

3. Attention spans are notably shorter these days. Talking about action, and long exposition sequences, are transparent to modern viewers, and visual storytelling is considered the vastly superior approach to the forum. I think Sean's comments across these threads are right on the money. Remember, Elvis made "a little less talk, a little more action" before I was born, and Twitter decided that people probably didn't want to ingest more than 3 sentences at a time about a decade ago. Personally, I like 1000 page novels, but the public at large is going to strongly favor a "show don't tell" approach. I'd also note that a novel would really be the better format for anyone that wanted to tell a story in words, or perhaps a stage play in some instances.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
The one recent highly regarded indie movie that's primarily talk is I'm Thinking of Ending Things
And much of it is a conversation that takes place in a car, which is even more of a challenge.

@Nate North said you'd need "riveting actors" and I agree 100%. Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley are two of the best that I've seen in the past few years (although how they handled the homonyms of Jesse & Jessie on set I can't even imagine).
 
I've been re-reading this thread, so I'd like to get back to it.

I'm liking this more and more, but I am concerned about hiring those riveting actors. If they're too expensive, it may be out of my budget. Maybe I should just hire local actors, try a test run, and go on from there. A film professional and I did it a few years ago, when I was at the AFM, and I found it a powerful experience.
 
@sfoster, that is correct, but, of course, without the combat footage. In a related vein, I'm thinking of reading stories like "Stalingrad" and "All Quiet on the Western Front" to get into the mood. I've read "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman, and my focus will be military science fiction.
 
I'm getting back to this thread because, the more I think about it, the more I would like to do it as my first (micro?) feature. Part of the reason is, of course, the cost, but I see this thread talking of how, to get that quality, all the cost savings would be gone.

That said, I'm still attracted to it.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
Your biggest obstacle is not showing the science fiction. You want to make a film about people talking about things that don't exist/a war that never happened in space. So you will need to show that. If you were talking about tanks or horses, that would be different. Perhaps get with @Nate North for some FX collab etc.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
Perhaps I should do a test video, to see if it works and, more importantly, if film is really my artistic medium, as opposed to writing.
Could be that it works, could be that the concept is doomed to failure.
If the concept is bad, or if your first film turns out bad, it doesn't mean its not your medium because the truth is pretty much everyones first film fails and turns out bad. Its part of the learning process.
 
@Alcove Audio, 12 O'clock High was referred to me last year, when I discussed this, so I watched it. And, yes, it is about people talking during the war.

@mlesemann, I'm not sure yet, but here are some scenes buzzing around in my head.

1) The enemy general, in prison, receives a visit from his professor, who encourages him to tell his story.
2) The general on the Alliance side receives a report from his aide and says that, for now, the region between Alpha Centauri and Earth remains an Alliance lake. I got the inspiration for this scene, actually, from a mini-series in the 1980's (yes, I'm that old) about Napoleon, where there were some scenes with Admiral Nelson and his aide, and Nelson says that the Mediterranean remains an English lake.

The story is about the First Interstellar War. The New Prussians, who believe in the discipline of the martial way of life, set out to form their own nation. But the issue is if they would be bound by the interstellar protocol, and they say they shouldn't be. I'm not sure exactly what the legal issue is, but they did not commit war crimes - they just felt that their laws were sufficient, and they didn't want to be bound by what other people said.

One reason why they set off on their own was that they felt they were needed to protect humanity from the first contact with an alien species, whoever that species was. And, to do that, they had to have a rigorous lifestyle, for all inhabitants, not just them. The enemy general, at the end, says that they won the larger battle, because, when the rest of humanity fought them, they had to reject the indulgent lifestyle and engage in proper living, so the New Prussians were right after all.

This general, by the way, is a New Prussian, but he is of African descent - in the 22nd century, that should not be surprising.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
In my opinion, if it's going to be all talk (to avoid the expense of action), the focus should be on the emotion (anger, love, hate, fear) on both sides.

Worry less about the facts and legal arguments, and more about the why, as well as the mental and emotional damage done to combatants and civilians.
 
@Nate North said you'd need "riveting actors" and I agree 100%. Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley are two of the best that I've seen in the past few years (although how they handled the homonyms of Jesse & Jessie on set I can't even imagine).

My office has two Jennifer's, so we call one Jennifer and the other Jenny. The film makers probably used a similar protocol for their J's.
 
I feel like the core idea has issues, when viewed in the larger context of what's going on in the market. Here's how I see the indie film market. There's this huge number of people, and we're all dealing with this same puzzle, to which there are obvious solutions. Here's the crux of the issue. In art like many other things, value is determined by rarity. So Indie films as a whole are approaching or at zero dollars default valuation. Anything common, derivative, predictable, or in short, anything that looks like a copy of what the last 10,000 people did is going to have no value.

So let's go back to that finance/creative puzzle that everyone identifies in their first few years as a filmmaker. What's the biggest problem? You don't have funding. That causes cascading failures in almost every single aspect of the filmmaking process. I could give examples all day, but the point is, this is where we are faced with "solving the puzzle"

Here are the top 10 most common attempts to solve low financing

1. Use local actors
2. limit the settings to places you own, or local locations such as bars or parks
3. Talk about things you are expected to show as an alternative to SFX work
4. Try to market your product organically
5. "Decide" that only the parts of the film you're focused on actually matter, in spite of the fact that the audience is widely known to favor a more balanced approach.
6. Imagining sound design and music choice as a minor part of the film
7. Having expensive things happen off screen, with characters reacting to them as though they had seen the thing.
8. Not producing a trailer, or producing a weak trailer as an afterthought rather than an integral part.
9. Making a short film, while imagining some ladder of talent scouts leading to a feature as a result of the short
10. Developing mental bias toward available talent, and vastly overestimating their draw (local band with a lot of posters up in your town is going to draw in a netflix audience, Uncle who guest starred on Dallas once as a box cover draw) You see this all the time on indie film sets. "He was the guy standing behind Willow in the 28th shot, and Lucas Directed that, so we're basically using the same caliber of actors that were in Star Wars"

So you'll notice that some of these ideas are good ideas, and they make perfect sense. Ironically, that's exactly why a vast majority of films following this type of logic fail completely. Since these are the obvious paths, millions take them, and inadvertently produce ten thousand nearly identical outputs per year, devaluing films based around these strategies similar to how currency can be devalued by dilution.

When an indie film does make it, it's often due to a fluke aspect, and money, such as Napoleon Dynamite, Borat, or Jackass. They aren't actually good films, they just contain something people want to see, such as a comedian's brand of humor.

The main thing to remember is that less than a fraction of a percent are winning at this game, and that if you want to be 1 in 1000, you absolutely cannot repeat the same ideas everyone else is using, it doesn't matter if they are good ideas. It's a counter intuitive situation, where if you're on a paved road, you're already going the wrong direction. The goal is to stand out from the pack, and that can't be achieved by repeating the same steps we've seen people take thousands of times. Think outside the Box. A expertly shot nature film about a beehive might produce better results than a Bruce Willis action film where it all takes place in your Garage.

Ultimately, times have changed, and fortune will likely favor those that can best adapt to the rapidly changing technology, market, and saturation of content.

Lastly, I think a key aspect of film is that it feel unrestrained, unlimited. You should never see restrictions, or it's wrong. Never try to do something that you can't actually accomplish, and then accept a degraded version of that, just so you can say you did the thing you imagined, because you didn't. If I thought It would really impress people if I could jump 10 feet in the air, I'd probably be right about that, and it would feel right. When I discovered that I could realistically only jump 3 feet, I wouldn't plow ahead with the "Amazing Jump Tour", or build a box to stand on. I'd find another way to entertain the crowd, something that I could execute without having to visibly cut corners. Bottom line, the last thing you want to do is compromise. The film "City in the Sky: Anatomy of a Beehive" wouldn't require anywhere near the compromise that the 1 million dollar action film would.

This movie was successful and well respected - the guy made it in his back yard basically, but no compromise. It's a good movie.


This movie had a much higher budget, but was about 85% compromise by volume, it became a laughingstock, at 10x the budget of Microcosmos. Team 1 made a humble and inventive film perfectly, Team 2 made a much more ambitious film very badly, which team to you think people remember favorably?

 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
@Nate North, so what do you suggest? A science fiction movie, along with the superhero movie, would be the most expensive type of film to make.
I like ITs suggestion.

Do like i posted in that video above, where its a guy talking and thats 90% of your movie. and then you include some clips of the action alongside the news broadcast. Sure it inflates your budget but not nearly as much as a movie thats only about the actual war.

Instead of being so extreme and not showing any war, try to take a more balanced approach and give the audience a little something cool!
it's not a radio broadcast

This is a situation where planning and clever solutions can go a long way.
For example you can do some of the footage from a damaged camera in a dusty in a warzone and suddenly amateur VFX look convincing bc its hard to see anything or you don't show it for more than a couple seconds so they cant find the faults.

You could show a really cool looking massive war machine, but the soldiers are standing next to it.
Real easy bc the effects arist doesn't have to animate it! no moving, no physics, just showing a big scary machine and letting the audience imagination wander a bit. thats a cheap thing to do.

Add a bunch of smoke and now you can't see the background! they do that in batlte scenes a lot to reduce the budget and number of extras, just add a background layer of haze and smoke

If I really put my mind to it I have a feeling i could come up with better ideas but this is just off the top of my head.
soldiers dressed in uniforms on an alien planet is a staple of sci-fi, and theres lot of directors that could film something like that on a low budget.
 
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Thanks, @sfoster.

My writing will come before filming, because, as I now realize, my creative passion is writing, not filmmaking. That said, I am thinking of doing a simple shoot with two or more people talking - I have never done this before, so perhaps start with something simple and go on from there.
 
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