How to make a sci-fi epic

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Simon DaVison, proud director of sci-fi B-pic ’Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth‘, offers his five tips for the low-budget film director

1. Film in Card-o-scope
Otherwise known as ‘Cardboard and Gum Imagery’. In the months leading up to principal photography on the film, you’ll need to accumulate as many cereal packets and toilet roll inners as you can. These are excellent for making space rocks, planet backdrops and even alien plants complete with space foliage.

Bonus Tip:
As we learnt on ‘Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth; cardboard sets are prone to wobbling or even falling over. If this happens, make it clear to the actors that they must carry on as if nothing has happened.

2. Write your script
Yes of course you need a finished script… or do you?! Nobody will say it but everybody knows it; the moment you start filming, the script goes out of the window. It certainly did on this film. The editor happily deletes expensive scenes, characters get sidelined, and sometimes the ending completely changes. So save yourself time and money by finishing the script after filming.

Bonus Tip:
Try and include some kind of speaking machine in your story; a robot for example. This can be re-voiced in post-production to explain any gaping plot holes that will undoubtedly appear after filming. In ‘Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth’ we have the Expositionite which explains large chunks of otherwise unintelligible plot.

3. Pick your actors wisely
You can skimp on cardboard sets but you cannot skimp with actors. I was very lucky to have the sensational Tamsin Greig, Mark Heap, Rick Leaf and many others. As for James Vaughan; how many actors can bring you to tears whilst kneeling in front of cardboard gravestones?

Bonus Tip: Have a big musical number somewhere in the film. Everyone likes to see people jiggling about to a snappy beat.

4. Use animals
In ‘Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth’ we have Scamp the Rocket Dog, a brave and loyal sidekick pooch. This was an excellent low-budget saver – how many actors are happy to be paid with tins of dog food? As we later found out, not that many.

Bonus Tip: Animals do have limitations. Scamp the Rocket Dog for example was not particularly adept at flying with a rocket pack and managed to destroy quite a lot of cardboard set before we caught up with him.

5. Scrimp on sound
For some reason many producers waste a lot of money in expensive Soho facilities making noises they could easily achieve in their kitchen. Careful manipulation of a sink plunger, for example, will create a thrilling sucky monster attack. Also, pushing a small piece of bread through jelly can sound remarkably like an alien dictator putting his helmet on.

Extra Special Bonus Tip!
Yes I go further than this: Why even use expensive jelly at all when you have your very own human sound generating apparatus – the mouth. Footsteps, screeches, tractors parking; these can all be accomplished with very little difficulty. My two sons are expert at space weaponry of all kinds and their astonishingly realistic ray beams and explosions are used throughout ‘Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth’. Cost? Two sherbet fountains.


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