How Science Fiction Can Make Your Career

How Science Fiction Can Make Your Career

How Science Fiction Can Make Your Career

Marc Zicree
Marc Zicree
5 years ago

If you're a writer, director, actor or producer, I have good news for you. Science fiction can put you on the map!

First off, a definition. By science fiction, I'm also including fantasy and a certain kind of horror, that with a magical or mystical element. And here's my definition of science fiction vs. fantasy: science fiction is any fantasy story where the fantastic element is given a technological or pseudo-technological reason.

Of course, there are many other possible definitions. My favorite is from my old teacher Damon Knight, a writer whose short story 'To Serve Man' was turned into a famous Twilight Zone episode. He said, "Science fiction is what I'm pointing at when I say science fiction."�

How Science Fiction Can Make Your Career

Science fiction has been very good to me. I was a sci-fi geek for as long as I can remember, so much so that when Star Trek first aired when I was a kid I recorded each episode on reel-to-reel audiotape, just in case it never showed again.

Since then, I've become a writer-producer-director, with books including The Twilight Zone Companion, Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities and the Magic Time series of novels, and TV credits including Star Trek - The Next Generation, Babylon 5, Deep Space Nine, Sliders and many others.

Beyond that, I was recently able to reach out directly to my fan base to raise nearly a million dollars to shoot Space Command, the two-hour pilot for a science fiction show I want to do, starring many stars from hit TV shows and movies.

Here's the great thing about this genre: the fans are hugely enthusiastic. They have conventions pretty much every week of the year, and they're online posting about their passions twenty-four seven.

For many networks and studios, science fiction and fantasy shows are what help to establish or boost them to a higher level of success. The X-Files for the Fox Network, Buffy for the CW, the Star Trek franchise for Paramount and CBS, Handmaid's Tale for Hulu, Man in the High Castle for Amazon, Stranger Things for Netflix, Star Wars for Disney and Fox, The Walking Dead for AMC, Game of Thrones and Westworld for HBO, and on and on.

How Science Fiction Can Make Your Career

Now maybe you're not into science fiction or fantasy, but the genre can cover a lot of ground. Think about what you love or what really riles you. Extrapolate that to an extreme - such as women being really put down or the Nazis winning World War II - and you've got science fiction.

So rather than waiting for some big studio or network to buy your script, hire you as a director or cast you in the role you feel you really deserve, decide now that you are going to create that opportunity.

Shoot a short, a web series, a feature, anything. Making it science fiction or fantasy will guarantee that people around the world will watch it (as opposed to shooting something about your personal angst that only your mother will watch - maybe).

So first things first - what story do you want to shoot? Well, if you're a writer you can either create something original or adapt something that's already well known and successful.

"But I'm not rich,"� I hear you cry. "How can I do that?"�

Simple. Some famous stories are in the public domain. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, and many more (including some that are far more recent). A little research on the web will uncover many gems.

Or you can shoot a fan film of an established franchise. Star Wars fan films have had annual contests since 2002 and draw millions of views. Star Trek fan films have been popular for many years, but be cautious in that case - Paramount just issued strict new guidelines regarding running time, content and cast.

How Science Fiction Can Make Your Career

With other franchises, do your homework - some studios and networks are very proprietary about their IP and don't want anyone not sanctioned by them utilizing their characters, while others view it as free publicity and growing the audience base.

Finally, you can option a story from a famous science fiction writer. The trick to that is meeting them in person. A great place to do so is at science fiction conventions, especially the World Science Fiction Convention, which is held annually around Labor Day, and the World Fantasy Convention, which happens around Halloween. Both are held in a different city each year.

A novel may be expensive to acquire, but a short story might be anywhere from ten bucks (to make it legal) to a few hundred. Most authors are film buffs and would love to see good adaptations of their work. (But don't try to reach out to their agents instead - they just want to see the big bucks.)

The advantage to adapting something that's already successful is obvious - it has a built-in fan base and folks who are going to want to watch it.

On the other hand, if you write an original piece not based on pre-existing material, make sure it has some fresh element to it; in other words, don't just rehash stories that have gone before. Additionally, there should be a 'cool'� factor to it, an exciting visual, design aesthetic, action sequence, intellectual notion and/or character interaction - something that will have people talking about it and sending it to their friends.

How Science Fiction Can Make Your Career

If you're an actor, think of what kind of role would best showcase your talents and abilities. Science fiction is an ideal genre for this - you can play an alien, a robot, a genetically engineered human, anything! (And makeup and costuming can make you look really cool.)

Start paying attention to what young writers and directors are winning awards for their short films at science fiction conventions and festivals, and which web series are particularly well executed. Reach out to these artists, meet in them in person. Build teams.

And if you can become a hyphenate, do so. Actor-director, actor-producer, actor-writer, or all of it put together. The more you can do the heavy lifting to make something happen, the better. Be the catalyst.

And of course, if you're already a director or producer, all of the above applies. Seek out talented writers and actors. Collect people.

We've mentioned teaming with famous writers. How about famous actors? Well, that's not as hard as it might seem, either.

"But I don't know any famous actors",� you cry.

Not a problem. Unlike most films and TV shows, where the actors are unreachable except through their representatives, many famous science fiction, fantasy and horror stars regularly attend conventions, where they sign photos for anywhere from twenty to forty dollars or more.

How Science Fiction Can Make Your Career

Get into the habit of attending these conventions. If you don't live in a major city, discount online airfares and Airbnb make this very affordable. Buy photos from the actors whose work you love, strike up conversations (particularly during slow parts of the day when their lines aren't long). Show them a sample of your work that's impressive, a minute or two from a short you've shot or a trailer or sizzle reel. Tell them about the role you have in mind for them. Be passionate and genuine. Speak from the heart.

Now, these won't be top movie stars - you're not going to get Harrison Ford or Brad Pitt. But many well-known actors from Star Wars and other popular franchises very much want to work, and if they like you and your project they'll say yes.

And more often than not, they'll work for what you can afford, whatever that might be (as long as it doesn't violate SAG rules; but the new media rules and contract make this very manageable).

You can build an ensemble of well-known actors this way. They're not bankable to the studios or networks, but they are to the audience, who love them and want to see them in more roles.

And because of that, you can attach them to a crowdfunding campaign - with their permission, of course - and raise the money to make your project. This won't be millions of dollars, but it can readily be thousands.

At the same time, check out websites that showcase science fiction artwork and visual effects. Reach out to talented beginners looking for a project to showcase their talents. You can also find them at the conventions. Make sure the design elements and visual effects of your project look terrific.

And you're off and running. The best part is that when you've done all of this superlatively, thousands if not millions of people will pay sit up and pay attention.

And inevitably, some of them will work at studios and networks, so with luck and hard work, your next project will have a considerably bigger pay check.

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About the Author

Marc Zicree

Marc Zicree

Screenwriter

Marc Scott Zicree has written and produced hundreds of hours of TV for most of the major studios and networks, including Paramount, Universal, Disney, Sony/Columbia Tri-Star, MGM, New Line, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, WB, UPN, Showtime, PBS, Turner, USA Networks, Syfy, Discovery, Nickelodeon, the BBC, Marve...

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