Advertisement

Writing the Science Fiction Film

3 October 2013 | Tom Hunter

Filmmaker, screenwriter and critic, Robert Grant, talks to London Calling about how to make the perfect science fiction film.

London Calling: Why a book specifically about Science Fiction film making over film making in general? Are there specifics that mark SF out from other film genres that need special attention?

Robert Grant: Most people think that science fiction is all about robots and spaceships and alien creatures on distant planets, and that science fiction films are slaves to CGI and mega-budget special effects. But while there is a lot of that sort of film about, there's a lot more to science fiction than these obvious tropes. It's important to understand that there's a reason why science-fiction is known as 'the genre of ideas', and that's because great science fiction asks big "What if..?" questions, that allow us to play with and explore the day-to-day realities of our own world, by exploring new and different realities in worlds we can create. Science fiction lets us examine big social and societal issues and ask difficult and searching questions about subjects that concern all of us - pollution, reliance on technology, globalisation, genetic engineering, personal data, pandemic, overpopulation - and we can do it without pointing directly at any individual or group, any particular religion or country, any specific corporation or government. Science fiction allows us to shine a spotlight on something, bring it to the attention of the world and say "Look at this! Look what is happening! Look what they've done!" and this is especially true if that something is out of our control or something we cannot easily change.

LC: How did you first come to be involved with the SCI-FI-LONDON film festival, and what are some of your favourite moments from the event?

RG: I've been friends with Louis Savy, the Festival Director for more than 30 years so when he decided he was going to start a science fiction film festival in Central London "Because there isn't one.." it was only a matter of time before I became involved, and 13 years later the festival has gone from strength-to-strength and I'm still involved. I've got lots of fond memories over that time, loads of great films, lots of great people - famous and not-so-much - Dean Haglund doing X-Files-based stand-up, the 'Life in 2050' art exhibition, the infamous SFL pub-quiz, Gareth Edwards (currently directing Godzilla) winning our 48hr film challenge, the SFL film schools, the incredible short film programs, and of course hosting the Arthur C Clarke literary awards. Come to the Oktoberfest in a couple of weeks for a taster!

LC: Is there one Sci-Fi fil over all others where you'd happily event time travel just to go back in time and burn the script before it ever got made?

RG: I shall be very diplomatic here and say, there's plenty, but I won't single out any particular one. You see I don't believe that anyone sets out to make a bad film, and honestly, it's a marathon task getting any film made so hats-off to those who manage it - BUT - any film is only as good as the script it's based on. You can make an average film out of a good script but you cannot make a good film from a bad script, so any film that doesn't quite hit the mark could usually have been fixed if they'd spent a bit more time on the story and a bit less time rushing out to start shooting.

LC: Given the vast number of dollars the genre makes every year, and thus vast numbers of people who must be going to see the stuff, why are so many people in denial about being SF fans?

RG: I'm not sure they are anymore. There used to be a pointy-headed, tin-foil-hat perception of sci-fi and it's fans but those days are well and truly over. Science fiction and fantasy fans are well and truly out-and-proud and you only have to look at the slate of films and TV shows as well as books, graphic novels and 'transmedia' projects that are filling all of our screens to see that science fiction is about as mainstream as you can get these days. Certainly I get more and more people happy to 'geek out' about SF in all its forms when I chat to them and there's no sense of shame or ridicule about it.

LC: Fundraising for films on Kickstarter: Good, bad or uglier than a fat Klingon in a Wonder Woman costume?

RG: I think it's a great thing and I'm actually a regular backer of all kinds of projects. I'm happy for anyone of any stripe to use crowd-funding to raise the cash to make their magnum opus if they can't raise the money any other way. After all, it's a fabulous way for filmmakers to make a direct connection to an audience and for a lot of them the only way they're going to be able to fulfil their ambitions. What I don't like is seeing people like David Fincher or Spike Lee - people who could clearly get funding for their projects through traditional means - abusing the system, and the goodwill of fans, just because they can. The way I see it is that every dollar that gets sunk into one of those big-name projects, is a dollar that cannot be used to fund someone a bit more needy or deserving and ultimately acts as a block to that persons burgeoning career.

LC: Is there one top tip to rule them all when it comes to starting a good Sci-Fi script?

RG: Unless you're in the top 10 of Hollywood screenwriters, if you're really interested in writing science fiction, write something that has a chance of being made. It's very easy to let your imagination go wild, and I'd encourage everybody to do that, but interstellar space travel and huge space stations require vast battalions of special effects people and budgets in the multi-millions to realise, and unless you're JJ Abrams or best mates with Will Smith, it's unlikely you'll ever see a green light. Do yourself a favour and look for the small stories, the ones in single locations, with few actors, no special effects and write those. Explore social issues here on Earth, extrapolate from current technologies in medicine and genetics and find stories there. Explore the big-impact issues that effect all of us, often they're the stories that are the most interesting, and more importantly, more likely to get made, and isn't that why we write screenplays in the first place?

LC: And finally, what films are you looking forward to seeing next?

RG: I'm really looking forward to a new British web series called 'Infinite' (youtube.com/infinitewebseries/) partly because I've written a couple of episodes but also because it's got a huge budget for a web series and the production quality is looking incredible. A bit further from home I'm looking forward to 'Gravity' the Alfonso Cuaron film with Sandra Bullock, I'm curious to see what they've done with 'Ender's Game' and I want to see How I live Now, Catching Fire, and of course, Snowpiercer.


Bio:
Robert Grant is a filmmaker, screenwriter, critic, and script consultant based in London, and one of the core team behind The London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film. You can catch his class at this year’s London Screenwriters Festival, and Robert's first book, Writing The Science Fiction Film, (Pub MWP), is out now. You can also find him @justplot
        

Advertisement

Most popular

What to See at The Cinema
What to See at The Cinema
Advertisement
Top Theatre of the Week in London
Top Theatre of the Week in London
Advertisement
The Best Exhibitions in London Right Now
The Best Exhibitions in London Right Now
Advertisement
Top Gigs of the Week in London
Top Gigs of the Week in London
The Best Street Food Markets in London
The Best Street Food Markets in London
Spotlight on: Gay’s the Word
Spotlight on: Gay’s the Word

Your inbox deserves a little culture! Get our monthly newsletter

Advertisement