I really want to see more professional quality, crowdfunded films and web series released online, especially in the sci-fi genre I love, and ideally under CreativeCommons or some other libre license. This has been achieved in some cases with video games, like the crowdfunded development of Wasteland 2, documented in the excellent documentary Capital C. But for fan-funded independent development to become a common way of creating sci-fi films and series, we need the work being made this way to deliver the goods, not just competent special effects, but an entertaining story about interesting characters going through challenging and exciting adventures.

Which brings me to the latest sci-fi short I’ve seen online. Exit Plan has an interesting premise, and the digital animation of the robots and environments is good enough to allow the audience to suspend disbelief and focus on the story and the characters. Sadly, like so many of the indie sci-fi shorts I’ve  seen online, capable camera work, editing, and visual effects, are let down by weak writing and acting. We get a premise told to us through narration, rather than shown to us through establishing shots and character interaction; no establishment of characters to get us invested in their success or failure; lengthy exposition delivered as dialogue, and a range of other classic screenplay sins. Each of the actors pull off some good moments in Exit Plan, so I’m inclined to blame the patchy acting on the poor dialogue they have to work with, and perhaps inexperienced directing. The fact remains that I’ve seen much more convincing performances, even in indie sci-fi.

This problem of poor writing and acting afflicts even some semi-professional, fan-funded efforts like Star Trek Renegades. Although being able to build on an established story universe and familiar characters, and starting with the promising scenario of a Macquis-style crew rather than the usual formula of following the adventures of a Federation ship, Renegades has such cringe-worthy dialogue and performances that I couldn’t bring myself to finish watching the pilot. I find all this rather ironic, since good writing and acting are not the expensive parts of making a sci-fi film, at least in theory.They are the part that a committed group of film-makers should be able to get right, even working on a shoe-string budget.

Give us an exciting and unpredictable story, characters we care about (whether we like them or despise them), believable dialogue, and convincing acting, and follow the film-making golden rule of “don’t tell us, show us”, and most sci-fi fans will forgive the most budget of special effects. If you can’t get those basics right, even a bazillion dollar special effects budget still can’t deliver a quality film experience, as both the Star Wars prequals and the Hobbit films demonstrated.

 


Filed January 14th, 2016 under Uncategorized

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