Movies to Study (For Budget to Special Effects)

So I’ve started putting together a list of movies with two criteria. One, the movie must have special effects and great settings, preferably in a fantasy setting. And two, the budget on the movie must be cheap. I would drag out these movies and watch the “making of” to gather ideas and some know-how. Although there are other movies I’d want to pull my inspirations from, these movies are crucial to look at from a financial light.

Because the new one was not as amazing...

Because the new one was not as amazing…

Here is the list thus far, not adjusted for inflation.
Conan the Barbarian: $20,000,000.
Conan the Destroyer: $18,000,000 (est).
Following: $6,000 (est).
Rocky: $1,000,000.
Night of the Living Dead: $4,200,000.
Excalibur: $11,000,000.
The Blair Witch Project: $750,000 (max est).
Paranormal Activity: $15,000.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: $17,000,000.
Halloween: $320,000.
Of the movies listed, you maybe wondering about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Conan movies. Compared to the average fan film makers budget, these price tags are still quite high. However, they are a degree of mentionable quality that can be achieved at a decent enough price.
Let’s discuss what each of the films brings to the table and why. The first thing of mention is that the horror films are among the cheapest. Halloween, The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity all have price tags well below a million.
Yet these horror movies bring a few mentionable qualities to them: TBWP brought strong use of the setting to it. Halloween manages its bloody special effects while Paranormal Activity uses a few clever illusions with their camera work. While Night of the Living Dead is critical for its application of makeup.
There are three that really stand out for different reasons.
The first is Following, one of Nolan’s earliest films. The Wikipedia article on it currently mentions that the most expensive aspect of the movie was the film that Nolan used, jacking up the price to approximately $6,000 which is a maximum estimate at best. I’ve yet to see this but it’s on my to do list.
Rocky is a critical reminder of the importance of an interesting, central character. A movie can be defined by only a strong central character, and frequently is. This means that a well design, well prepared and well acted main character can be a tremendous deciding factor if all else fails.
The last movie is Excalibur. While $11,000,000 is still high of a price tag, it was a movie filled with tremendous props and setting. Amazing costumes, splended settings and violent, glorious battles. And yet it maybe filled with more battles and bloodshed than even Conan the Barbarian and yet almost half the price.
Unfortunately, only the Conan movies are in my collection. I’ll have to rectify this…

Brink and Writing

Safety cop says wear your kevlar, or I'll pistol whip you for your own good!

Safety cop says wear your kevlar, or I'll pistol whip you for your own good!

So a lightning sale put Brink and all the DLC for it onto my Steam cloud.

I’ve coveted Brink since its release, but held back because I purchased Fallout: New Vegas about the time it became available. Mindful of my budget, I decided to wait. Now it’s mine for less than $7.

Of course, I don’t even know if people still play it. The servers could very well be dead.

For those of you who don’t know, Brink is a game set on the Ark, a futuristic city in the ocean that was made to be totally self sustaining. However, the theory of climate change rings true and the sea levels rises, damaging much of the rest of the world. The Ark soon swells with refugees, overburdening the system. Frustrated and angry with their living conditions, a resistance faction brews within the Ark’s slums. The security forces cannot allow cannot allow this resistance to inflict harm on the public. The rest of the game is about that conflict, told on both sides.

I only played a few moments on a single player challenge before I had to head out. The controls weren’t as intuitive as I thought they’d be. I switched crouching/sliding from the C key to left-shift and am still deciding how I’d like to change a few other buttons. I also want to switch the iron-sights to another key and put melee on the mouse-2.

However, I really like the S.M.A.R.T. system, a feature that makes the environment highly interactive. I spent some time running towards boxes and letting my character parkour his way up. A lot of games just don’t make the environment as useful as this, and when they do it’s only for the sake of cover. Although the game isn’t as amazing as this, here’s a video of some of the action so you can at least see the developer’s vision.

But playing the game is only half the reason I wanted Brink.

In truth, ever since I watched the back story to Brink, I saw huge potential for writing. Despite the relatively small scale of Brink‘s world, what struck me was its very fertile background. The setting is in the future, but there are still a lot of modern urban-cultural roots there, even if they’ve blended somewhat. I look at this and say, “I can make a great story with this.”

As I parsed through the customization options for my character, I noticed something. A guy in a creepy, sack cloth mask like the Scarecrow from Batman Begins probably isn’t fighting for justice and freedom. When a character wears tattoos and face paint of skulls, they’re probably looking for a fight. The so called good guys and bad guys aren’t necessarily all on just one side.

On the outside, the Resistance and Security forces probably look like idealistically driven factions with some semblance of honor to their objectives. But on the inside, there has to be tons of infighting and self-absorbed characters, ranging from gangs and posses who are looking out for their own, conflict-strained family relations perhaps caught on both sides, and psychopaths (on both sides) who really just enjoy hurting people.

History might paint civil wars as romantic struggles between opposing philosophies. Reality reminds us that revolutions are the fruits of unhappy people unimpressed with their government, and with a lot of bad blood to spill. But of course, the victors write history.

Brink is, on many levels, ahead of its time. It maybe speculative sci-fi, but it draws its roots from urban culture and struggle, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s S.M.A.R.T. system can revolutionize the FPS genre with more work. And there are fertile grounds for more story to develop. I think it would be great to write a comic series or novel about Brink someday.

Someday soon.

World Building

I want to take a minute to talk about the concept of world building.

Let me tell you of the days of high adventure...

Let me tell you of the days of high adventure...

The term was thrown around a while back in the Bolthole shout box. It’s an interesting term that means many things to many people.

It implies the physical world, the geography, the cities and towns, the settings. It can apply to the politics, the views, culture and philosophies of a person or group of people.

It can apply to the people themselves, or the flora and fauna. And the world makes a powerful mark on the characters and events that occur in a story.

Behind every quest or conflict are the forces of the world you created causing it. You may not realize it. It may not be obvious at an initial glance, but closer examination of the details often reveals a reaction to events and situations in the setting which the characters react to, which in turn result in a new event or change in the landscape.

It is this weave back and forth between the actions of the characters and the effects of their actions on a world that is the basis that drives… everything.

So with all this down, what do I feel is the best example of world building? Well, there are plenty of well known examples to mention, such as Middle Earth or the Imperium of Man or Hyboria. But I think the best is that of Hideyuki Kikuchi’s Vampire Hunter D series.

If you want an amazing world, step into this book series.

If you want an amazing world, step into this book series.

I’m not going to gush over everything in explanation, but Kikuchi does an amazing job of building a fantastic and horrorifying world of intrigue. In 1999, a nuclear war broke out that nearly destroyed mankind. So the vampires took control of the world, making humans their slaves. A combination of psychological power and manipulation of the DNA put a tremendous fear of vampires into the hearts of humans. Between then and 12,090 A.D., the vampires (now dubbed the Nobility), recreated all kinds of mythical monsters through their advanced technology, genetic engineering and superhuman powers. The landscape of the planet was changed forever.

But at some point, the Nobility lost power. Many of them died, others left and disappeared. Although not yet extinct, humanity reasserted itself as the master of its own destiny and built a centralized government, taking the reins of the Nobility’s technology for their own benefit.

But on the frontier, various beasts and creatures threaten the pioneers trying to master the outlands. Hunters of many trades are established to counter them, such as Werewolf Hunters and Dragon Hunters. But none are as feared as the Vampire Hunter D.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many little nuisances. Like gigantic grapes or weather control towers. Details about monsters and life on the frontier. How people survive, how they thrive. Life working alongside the government as well as against the wilds. That’s the kind of depth that you don’t find in a lot of fiction these days.

It is not just a story that takes place in an alternate world. It is an alternate world, and the story is the byproduct of it.