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Deliberately low-budget SF movies

The fewer resources used the better
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I'm very open indeed to the idea that this is advocacy.

Science Fiction is a genre based on ideas rather than characters or visual spectacle. This can be seen, for example, with Asimov, whose Foundation Trilogy (and there are only three books in that series so far as i'm concerned) is substantially about blokes having conversations in smoky rooms rather than massive space battles, though of course there are some of those too. Looking at it the other way round, the likes of Cube, Happy Accidents and Primer are good SF, partly helped by the fact that they're made on a small budget and therefore had no choice but to resist the temptation to include flashy special effects or employ big-name actors.

So that's one aspect - SF is a high-concept thing and not about special effects. The other aspect is that large film budgets are often spent on the salaries of well-known actors. This is a mistake in SF, as can be seen most of all in the example of 'Judge Dredd', which shows the character's face almost from the beginning, thereby ruining the film completely. It's about ideas, not characters, as i said. Therefore, the actors should be unknown. Good, convincing and so on, but unknown.

Throwing money at SF ruins it. There are exceptions of course, but on the whole the less money spent on it, the better the film in this respect. You can still use nice lenses, expensive film stock, good lighting and so on, but don't waste money on ruining the film.

nineteenthly, Jun 01 2011

do zombies count? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colin_(film)
[po, Jun 01 2011]

David Cronenberg http://en.wikipedia...ki/David_Cronenberg
Thinking persons cinema SF. [DrBob, Jun 01 2011]

'Quintet' by Robert Altman http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079770/
Stars Paul Newman, directed by Robert Altman but deliberately down-beat & low budget. [DrBob, Jun 01 2011]

Sparse production values a bit like Sparse ideas? http://en.wikipedia...ane_science_fiction
Kinda boring though [Wobblestar, Jun 01 2011]

Piston Rocket Piston_20Rocket
the author had a great homemade video here in the style of a 1960s filmstrip, which since vanished. [bungston, Jun 01 2011]

Paranormal Activity http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1179904/
Very few "special effects". And still really scary. [8th of 7, Jun 01 2011]

The Call of Cthulhu (2005) http://en.wikipedia..._Cthulhu_%28film%29
Audio track? Color? Wastes of money. [Laughs Last, Jun 02 2011]

The Asylum http://www.theasylum.cc/
Intentional low budget, with... dramatic results. [ye_river_xiv, Jun 02 2011]

The hunt for gollum http://www.thehuntf...lum.com/updates.htm
[not_morrison_rm, Apr 17 2013]


       //only three books in that series as far as I'm concerned// heheh, so there's at least one person other than myself that got annoyed by the constant repetitive "have you heard about the robots ?" from the prequel serieses.
FlyingToaster, Jun 01 2011

       Creating fiction is the expensive part. Cheaper movies could be science fact. For example a movie about a scientist who tries to build an over unity machine, but fails and eventually comes to terms with its impossibility while simultaneously forging a life-long friendship with a young schoolboy who never gave up faith in him despite his unfruitful endeavor, and when they make it to the national highschool science fair the scientist falls in love with the boy's down to earth gradeschool teacher who soon realizes he was the reason for the positive change she had observed in the boy, after having become his adoptive mother since the mysterious disappearance of his parents in a terrible storm exactly six months before the day of the science fair. Together they uncover clues using science to solve the mystery of their disappearance with the aid of a trusty stray golden retriever who is revealed to be the story's narrator.
rcarty, Jun 01 2011

       Yes indeed, [FT]. I wasn't at all keen on his attempt to bind together a whole load of stuff which didn't belong together, and the fact that Gaal Dornick refers to robots really didn't help. I wonder if his publisher prevailed upon him to make people buy all the books or something.   

       [Rcarty], i like the idea of SF asymptotically becoming so realistic it ends up being true. But that's an interesting take on a fictional tale which is less SF-y. It also sounds a bit like Meet The Robinsons.
nineteenthly, Jun 01 2011

       I haven't seen that movie.
rcarty, Jun 01 2011

       [19thly] have you seen Tarkovsky's classic _Stalker_?
mouseposture, Jun 01 2011

       That reminds me -   

       Reading the remaining two books of the "foundation" series by Asimov was something I had marked for some time when I had time.   

       Have to look around and see if it is available for download.
neelandan, Jun 01 2011

       // 'Judge Dredd', which shows the character's face almost from the beginning, thereby ruining the film completely //   

       Agreed. After all, they managed to keep Darth Vader masked right to the end of the 6th movie.   

       Interesting concept [+] but in danger of transgressing into the B-movie genre, like The Giant Spider Invasion and Night of the Lepus.   

       Although a docudrama rather than a sci-fi movie, Apollo 13 is more about personal realtionships, particulalrly the three astronauts trapped in the claustrophobic environment of the Command module/LEM, which isn't a very big "set".
8th of 7, Jun 01 2011

       Doctor Who has deliberately used little-known actors; hence Peter Davison's heavily disguised appearance in the Hitchhikers TV series while he was playing the doctor.   

       It was also low-budget, but that may have been less deliberate.
spidermother, Jun 01 2011

       I think Doctor Who's in a different category. I enjoy it and it can be brilliant in its own way but it isn't SF as such so much as a sort of distant descendant of pulp fiction. It can be science fiction from time to time provided the continuity can be ignored, but the whole thing isn't. On that subject, i thought the 'Sarah Jane Adventures' benefited from a low budget.   

       No, i haven't seen Stalker, [mouseposture], i'll look out for it.   

       The B movie thing is a risk. For that reason i think production values should be kept high, though 'Primer' made low production values work there - turning poor white balance which i think was probably accidental into a virtue.   

       [Po], as you may have noticed some of my friends and my daughter have just made a zero-budget zombie film which has been shown in cinemas and is in HMV on DVD.
nineteenthly, Jun 01 2011

       missed that! zero?
po, Jun 01 2011

DrBob, Jun 01 2011

       There were few ways one could make 'Judge Dredd' good as a movie, imho.
RayfordSteele, Jun 01 2011

       I was thinking the 1960s filmstrip would be a great medium for this sort of lowbudget SF scheme. Then I wanted to watch doctorremulacs great homemade video demonstrating his piston rocket. As with the last time I went looking for it, it was gone. It has been a while since the author was halfbaking around here as well.
bungston, Jun 01 2011

8th of 7, Jun 01 2011

       Both 'V For Vendetta' and 'Watchmen' were done well, though clearly very expensively, so in principle there's no reason 'Judge Dredd' couldn't. Comics are ready-made storyboards.   

       [Bungston], sounds good. In fact i think there are examples of SF done exactly that way but i can't remember what they are. Possibly 'The Sound Of Thunder'. It really comes to something when something like that does it better than that train crash of an adaptation which came out recently.   

       A propos mundane science fiction, as it happens both [grayure] and i have had a go at writing that and i'm in the midst of writing a story about a bloke who loses his job at an opticians because LASIK goes on the NHS as i speak, but i have the impression that it's maybe one or two people's desperate attempt to make an idea work which hasn't really got legs, though in fact I think it's a really good one.
nineteenthly, Jun 02 2011

       Not to be the turd in the punchbowl here, but this isn't really much of an "idea". It's easy to say "they should make more low budget sci-fi movies"; it's harder to describe how to actually go about making one, and it's harder still to figure out how to make a good one.   

       Also, I think your premise is flawed. Budget does not directly correlate with the quality of the finished product, either positively or negatively. Countless sci-fi movies have been produced on shoestring budgets that have turned out spectacularly awful— witness, e.g., the oeuvre of Ed Wood. And there have likewise been many big budget sci-fi films that are generally regarded to be quite good—you may have heard of the films /Star Wars/ and /2001: A Space Odyssey/.   

       Consider that the only sci-fi films you are likely to see or hear about are either small budget films that are good enough to have gained notoriety or films that have budgets large enough to buy notoriety regardless of their quality. That might easily give one the mistaken perception that "throwing money at SF ruins it".   

       But it's not really the money per se that causes the problems—more often than not, it's the people who control the money. As someone involved in the business of making movies, I can tell you that there are a lot of people in positions of power in the film industry who have absolutely no idea how to tell a good story, but nevertheless labor under the delusion that they are creative geniuses. Unfortunately, it's largely these people who control the funding, and nowhere more than in Hollywood does the Golden Rule apply: He who has the gold, makes the rules.   

       One might go even further and speculate that sci-fi as a genre is particularly prone to this effect. Making a movie is, by and large, an unbelievably expensive undertaking. And if you're not paying in cash, it most likely involves calling in personal favors, sidestepping the law, and taking obscene risks with the health, safety, and personal relationships of those involved. I know because I've been there, and done all of those things. And the fact is that sci-fi /does/ mean effects, robots, fancy sets, costumes, and makeup, or at least something "sciencey" on the screen—without that, it's just, well, "fi". And all of these things cost money. So given the choice between struggling with no budget to make a sci-fi film that may or may not ultimately turn out as hoped — or, for that matter, even be completed — and making a Faustian bargain with some rich egomaniac, the sci-fi filmmaker is presented with a much weightier dilemma than, say, the producer of a one set drama that's essentially a filmed stage play. There's rarely any good choice in that situation—and quite often, it's not even clear what the least bad choice is.
ytk, Jun 02 2011

       // Not to be the turd in the punchbowl here, but this isn't really much of an "idea". //   

       I effectively said that myself.   

       // It's easy to say "they should make more low budget sci-fi movies"; it's harder to describe how to actually go about making one, and it's harder still to figure out how to make a good one. //   

       Indeed, but that's not what i'm saying. I have a camera, i have a YouTube account. Problem addressed. Not solved of course, but my daughter and son are right now doing a cinematography course.   

       // Countless sci-fi movies have been produced on shoestring budgets that have turned out spectacularly awful— witness, e.g., the oeuvre of Ed Wood. //   

       Commonly considered to be so bad he's good, but the problem there is that special effects are being attempted at all. My suggestion is that special effects are the bane of SF. Maybe something really minimal but nothing as high tech as a paper plate being thrown through the air.   

       // And there have likewise been many big budget sci-fi films that are generally regarded to be quite good—you may have heard of the films /Star Wars/ and /2001: A Space Odyssey/. //   

       Space Odyssey yes, Star Wars no, because that's not SF. In SF the plot depends necessarily on the setting - a necessary but insufficient condition incidentally. Also, what about Dark Star?   

       // sci-fi /does/ mean effects, robots, fancy sets, costumes, and makeup, or at least something "sciencey" on the screen—without that, it's just, well, "fi". //   

       Kudos for the quip!   

       No, that's space opera or something similar. Also, not sure how showing a series of stills with a voiceover is going to violate regulations if the artists get paid the going rate. Examples of where that wouldn't apply: Bradbury's 'The Man', and 'The Pedestrian', Asimov's 'Time Pussy' and 'The Fun They Had' (TIPUET).   

       I think we may be talking about two different things.
nineteenthly, Jun 02 2011

       Sci fi should have a plot motivated by science rather than using it as an excuse. Robots and aliens are nearly always used as an excuse, but a film without them can still be high budget. Think what A Space Odyssey would be like without the fantastic sets and special effects.
mitxela, Jun 02 2011

       About ninety minutes shorter ?
8th of 7, Jun 02 2011

       Clarke's 'Lost Worlds' book describes several scenarios he considered for the Ultimate Trip which were considered unfilmable at the time and what was eventually chosen was seen as the most filmable option, so it influences what's on the screen. A version with those bits in would be about the same length but constitute harder SF than what Kubrick ended up putting in the film. That makes it a better film but softer SF. Then again, soft needn't mean bad, so i don't really know.   

       [Mitxela], 'Happy Accidents' and 'Primer' are probably little-known but both are fairly hard and neither have robots or aliens. I agree with you wholeheartedly in that respect.   

       Thinking about it, i'm pretty sure i could make a go at filming a zero-budget version of 'The Fun They Had' and sticking it on YouTube. In fact, i'm going to propose doing just that to the home ed children.
nineteenthly, Jun 02 2011

       I just never really cared for the Dredd universe; too many attempts to define and paint the world with too hurried and broad of a brush, combined with simplistic and absurd setup mascaraded as interesting profundity. It offends my sensibilities in much the same way as Dune. What do the worms eat, anyways?
RayfordSteele, Jun 02 2011

       Meh - I'm pleased to hear that the family n'thly is reaching out into cinema, but other than that, I don't really see any idea other than a call to movie makers to "make better films please."   

       There are some disastorously crappy high-budget films, and there is an equally crappy population of low-budget films - I just don't think there's a useful correlation between budget and crappyness.   

       But I do think there's a point to be made about hi-concept and low-concept. Lots of what you might call the Golden Era of 1960's sci-fi was either short-stories with a twist, or Twighlight-zone style reductum de absurdos on some commonly misunderstood belief (of which there were many - it was the 60s!) or convention. These days we're just all too post modern for all that. Now we all *live* in the future, we've come to realise that despite having more technology than star-trek, life is just as mundane and unextraordinary as it was previously, perhaps more-so. No amount of sci-fi is going to change that fact, not without being hideously self-concious anyway. By the way, have you seen Gentlemen Broncos? It's almost the ideal movie to use as a backdrop for the idea.
zen_tom, Jun 02 2011

       // What do the worms eat, anyways? //   

       I can answer that straight away! There's a book, non-canon, called the Dune Encyclopedia, and according to that they're autotrophs. I think they photosynthesise. But yes, i can't see much of the appeal of Dune either.   

       [Zen_tom], i suppose the point is that i'm not asking anyone outside my immediate social circle to make better films. We (using the term loosely) have already made a film which has appeared in cinemas and available on DVD on the High Street - though i can't pretend i had any involvement in that at all, it was my family and friends. Another film in the pipeline too, all very good. I'm more saying that this approach would bear fruit and that there are people around me upon whom i might even be able to prevail to manage to make such films. Trouble is, they haven't done SF and i can't tell them what to do.   

       Concerning Gentlemen Broncos, no, i'll IMDB it and thanks.   

       The 'sixties? I think you might be thinking more of the 'fifties because i associate 'sixties SF more with the New Wave.
nineteenthly, Jun 02 2011

       /autotrophs// don't think so!
po, Jun 02 2011

       [Po], non-canon but supposedly the adults are autotrophs. Motion through the sand induces an electrostatic charge which reduces a compound including copper and cyanide with silica as an electron donor. The details are "not known", but the process produces oxygen. There are ions on the worm's skin which dissolve in water, which is why water kills them. The process is completed by heat generated by friction from movement through the sand. This produces aliphatic hydrocarbons and carboxylic acids, the former of which are ignited by the heat. This heat increases the rate of the reactions. As it says in the article, this seems to violate thermodynamics, there's no explanation either of how the pH is buffered and no explanation of where the hydrogen comes from, though those problems are mentioned. The larvae are heterotrophs.   

       That's wot it sez 'ere anyway. But aren't they the only organisms native to Arrakis?
nineteenthly, Jun 02 2011

       Expecting the sandworms of Dune to obey the laws of physics is about like expecting "LOST" to all make sense at the end. Its just a story about a fictional planet. Enjoy it or don't.
CyberCod, Jun 02 2011

       Well i don't, as it happens. However, it would be nice if it made some kind of sense. I think New Wave stuff is OK because it's clearly sort of arty and emphasises style over content, and is also rather obviously written while stoned or tripping some of the time, but i can't really get into soft SF unless Doctor Who counts.   

       Well, one exception: PKD is clearly an insane genius and i don't care if his stuff makes sense or not.
nineteenthly, Jun 02 2011

       Its all "soft" sci-fi. Even Primer, which has been mentioned a few times on this page, doesn't even attempt to really explain how they're doing what they're doing. It also doesn't give any basis for why they bleed from the ears or why their handwriting skills diminish. Or why they don't explode when coming into contact with themselves or any of the other paradoxial things shown in that film. Its got a more "hard sci-fi" feel to it, but really its no more truly scientific than Harry Potter. Perhaps thats what you're trying to get at though, that you want these films to have a grittier and more realistic feel to them. Less outlandish-ness, and more realistic sounding pseudo-science.   

       Personally, I can deal with the softness of sci-fi films. Its when they make stupid editing mistakes where something gets broken, and then a scene later it is in the background completely whole and safe that messes it up for me. I find I can easily accept the loose rule-sets that these films come up with, for the duration of the film, but when a computer password screen is shown, and it takes up three-quarters of the screen, and the dots representing letters entered are in a 40 pt. font, that irks me. Its when they get the basic accepted things that are available around us today wrong, thats when I get upset and start throwing stuff at the screen. Oh, and that in the world of television and movies, every computer is a Macintosh, and women never experience menstrual cycles. Not ever. But that's a conversation better left for tvtropes.org.
CyberCod, Jun 02 2011

       I want them to be grittier, yes. I also think there may be problems with depicting something realistically in CGI for a number of reasons - a physical object obeys physical laws automatically (though it may be the wrong size or stuff) but a computer-generated one doesn't, and an actor's job is harder if they're having to act as if a green ping pong ball is a massive great alien rather than actually having at least an animatronic model in front of them. Besides that, the money is in the wrong place. It's very like the idea of radio having better pictures.
nineteenthly, Jun 02 2011

       I think everyone needs to check out "Man from earth" - no big stars, it cost about $300,000 to make and its just talking in a wooden cabin... but its nicely clever. Just shows what great writing can do. Also, "Another Earth" is a simple but effective SF film. I agree that in many SF films, the idea is the focus.
noblea, Apr 16 2013

       The first ingredient in a great movie is a great, well- written story. After that you need a great director, good actors, and a producer who can make things happen.   

       Miss any of the above and you have a mediocre movie, regardless of the size of the budget.
whlanteigne, Apr 17 2013

       In that case it comes down to how close a match money is to value, and i generally think that there is some correlation but it's far from perfect. There's also the question of ingenuity and resourcefulness, for instance a film without actors is possible and a genius might make it well. I think you make the most of what you've got. I have a friend who's successfully got a film screened in cinemas and as a mass-market DVD on literally no budget - not even loans or grants, without even significant social capital, and while working fulltime in a normal job - and is working on his second such film now, and this is with professional actors, equipment and the like. It can be done if there's no option but to do it that way. We do generally work against huge odds here.
nineteenthly, Apr 17 2013

       Can be done, see the hunt for Gollum, £30,000 by repute. C link.
not_morrison_rm, Apr 17 2013


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