My problem with SF on TV and film today.

Discussion in 'General TV Discussion' started by Scifi fan, Apr 20, 2010.

  1.  
    Scifi fan

    Scifi fan New Member

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    It's nothing new. All I see are the stale ideas of time travel, alternate realities, altered time lines, hostile aliens, benevolent god-like allies, half-naked female models, and, of course, the shoot-em-ups.

    I know there are allegedly no new stories, but I'm wondering if there's any way to revive our beloved genre.
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    Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    I think the answer is yes, but if I could come up with the ideas myself then I wouldn't be writing this, I'd be a scriptwriter and attending the premier of my latest blockbuster.

    I do feel your pain - Daleks in child-friendly bright colours are still just the same old Daleks.

    They should look to established book and short story authors to write. That is where the more wacky ideas come from. I think that the development time for films prevents them ever being way out there, but independent films like 'District 9' can still get made. An established weekly TV series can begin to take risks - a series like 'Star Trek' could do it on occasions - maybe they could bring back something like 'The Outer Limits' or 'The Twilight Zone'. TV series are usually so worried about being cancelled that it precludes anything that isn't mainstream.
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    J-WO

    J-WO Pretentious Avatar Alert.

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    I think there is a real disconnect--a canyon, even, sometimes-- between what I'm seeing on contemporary telly and what I'm reading in contemporary books. SF/ fantasy has moved on with the likes of Iain Banks' Culture and China Mieville's Bas Lag but TV never reflects any of that.

    Dave, what you say about established authors I heartily agree with (and I'm not usually one for hearting)- afterall, The Wire had some novelists as scriptwriters. At least that's what I heard on Radio 4.

    As for The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone... I fear we'll never see their like again, what with modern marketing's need for an identifiable series hero etc. Shame if that's the case.
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    Quokka

    Quokka wandering

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    I'd agree with TV which is pretty dire imo, although never having watched the 90's outer limits I'm actually enjoying seeing that on late night tele :).

    But I don't think we do too bad with movies, take the last 10 years:

    Star Trek (one of the better reboots at least), The Matrix (ok that's 1999), Avatar (Huge blockbuster eye candy but we gotta have em :)), District 9, Children of Men, Moon, The Butterfly Effect, Equilibrium, Pitch Black, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy... and there's got to be a lot I'm forgetting or just haven't seen.

    and go back to the 90's and there's quite a few that make my all time favourites list. I'm not saying these are all great movies and as always there's some good ones in a whole pile of.... less than wonderful cinema... but on the whole I think there's as much variety in SF as there is in any genre at the movies and at least there still is some good ones coming out now and again.
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    Moonbat

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    There has definitely been a lack of TV sci-fi that has a large scope of differing stories. I used to enjoy TNG and some of the different episodes were my favorites, also X files did have a few very interesting different episodes, they kind of leant towards the big alien abduction conspiracy stuff but the smaller one off ideas were always more interesting. I think there is a market for a well made TV series with different stories that allow lots of the enw ideas from Sci-fi to be explored. Even something great with BSG was one long story without the real variety that something like Twilight Zone had. Maybe there's a real space in the market out there for something different. Lots of smaller stories based on powerful and new Sci-fi ideas.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    The thing is, this isn't exactly a new trend. SFF in the visual media of film and television has almost always lagged quite a bit behind what is going on literarily. (Yes, there have been exceptions; but that's exactly what they are: exceptions.) Even Star Trek and Star Wars were things which had been long-since done in the literary sf market; good grief, Star Wars harks all the way back to the sf of the '20s and '30s! How about some things that at least touch on the type of tales being told in the '60s and '70s... a little New Wave wouldn't hurt, nor would some of the "classic" sf tales of the period, whether it be adaptations of existing stories or things in the manner of. I mean, I can't even imagine them tackling something as relatively simple and space-opera-ish as Harlan Ellison's The Man with Nine Lives (a.k.a. The Sound of a Scythe; 1960)... yet it could be a visually stunning piece with a fair amount of intelligence and a moral compass to it, as well... and many of the issues it revolves around are very much relevant today!

    Or, if that's too recent, how about a film adaptation of a Canticle for Leibowitz? Difficult, yes, but by no means impossible.... Or Bester's The Stars My Destination? Or, as I mentioned, at least getting some writers who are familiar enough with these and other offerings of the field to actually broaden the spectrum a good deal. Think of the sheer volume of sf which hasn't even been touched thematically, let alone in the sense of actual adaptations. It isn't as if we haven't had writers in the field who haven't written screenplays (and some damn' fine ones, at that).

    But as long as people continue to settle for the eye candy and mindless explosions and chases; the unnecessary violation of physics of even a high-school level; the complete abrogation of thought-provoking, well-developed tales wherein the sort of thinking which the best science fiction and fantasy is evoked; cardboard or stereotypical characterization; rehashes/remakes/"re-imaginings"/regurgitations of old movies, television series, comic books, ad infinitum, ad nauseam... then we'll generally keep getting the sort of tripe which has too often been handed to us on a gilted paper platter.....
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    Scifi fan

    Scifi fan New Member

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    District 9 was very good, and it shows the potential for independents to provide meaningful entertainment.
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    J-WO

    J-WO Pretentious Avatar Alert.

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    I'd like to see the BBC (Probably utilizing the Doctor Who crew or the Life On Mars people) take TSMD on as a 3-6 part series. Bit of a daydream of mine.

    And what about Brunner? The Sheep Look Up and Stand On Zanzibar- in terms of structure- are almost templates for shows like BSG and Lost with their ensemble casts and many intertwining threads.
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    Moonbat

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    What would be the new ideas permeating literary Sci-fi?
    I'm very interested in the concept of creating a twilight zone-esque TVv series with different stories every week. I have been reading a lot of new Sci fi short stories and most of them would be pretty hard to pull off visually (without a lot of SFX) but I was looking at the 75 word story competition and I thought a few of those ideas could be transfered to the screen without too much fuss.
    Maybe a series of very short 10 minute productions that utilise the creative ideas of the Chrons wouldn't be impossible.
  10.  
    Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    The Chronicles You Tube Challenge?
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    Scifi fan

    Scifi fan New Member

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    How about a TV series based on Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon and modelled after Cheers?
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    That would save SF in tv medium. Having rated writers who know how to write SF ideas that are new,characters,worlds. Much better than it would be than watching Stargate Universe by a tv writer hack....

    The Wire worked because many writers was kind of experts. David Simon a journalist/novelist from Baltimore/Washinhton Area,many rated crime writers that was famous for urban crime stories. Ed Burns a Baltimore cop....

    Thats is what is needed for SF tv shows. People from SF backround and not come from writing Beverly Hills or something.
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    ctg

    ctg weaver of the unseen

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    What qualifies these people over the normal screen-writers? Is a best-selling series or does someone with few short stories under the belt does the trick?
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    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

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    Today's TV can even lag behind TV shows of decades ago.

    I say this after having seen the first episode of the remake** of The Prisoner.




    ** - If that's the right word.
  15.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    It isn't. What the right word is would probably get me banned from the site....:rolleyes:

    ctg: I'm not Connavar, but I'll take it upon myself to answer the question ... or what I think your question is. If I am correct, you were asking what makes people from the sff field more qualified than normal screen writers (correct me if I'm wrong). Well, there are a few things:

    A.) Many people who have dealt with sff in the visual media have told the same story, whether it be J. Michael Straczynski, Harlan Ellison, Herb Solow, D. C. Fontana, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson... pick a name. But the essence of it is that the idea of most producers/directors/screen writers who aren't from the field have an attitude which can be summed up in one line (which, as I recall, was a direct quote from one such producer): "It's sci-fi; it doesn't have to make sense". (Yet another reason I hate and despise the term "sci-fi" -- or "skiffy", as it has been pronounced: the very terminology degrades the field from something with intellectual integrity to a tasteless, tacky melange of stereotyped imbecilities.)

    B.) Science fiction -- at least good science fiction -- requires that you be at least reasonably scientifically literate in order to tell the story. You may tell that story in such a fashion that even a nit who knows next to nothing about science can understand and enjoy it (even the science), but the writer has to be aware of what is going on in the various branches of science, and be at least reasonably familiar with much of the history of science; and the more they are up on the "cutting edge" of what is going on in the various fields, and have a fairly good grounding of the theory and some of its ramifications, the better the science fiction they write is going to be. The bulk of screen writers (like the bulk of most people in any profession except, perhaps, science) are woefully ignorant of such; and even where they are aware, it is generally in the fields of medicine or forensics, where the things they are dealing with are also the sorts of things which make the daily papers.

    C.) Most writers within the field are at least reasonably aware of the sorts of stories which have been told already, and tend to steer away from recovering the same ground... or at very least of plagiarizing others ideas. Such is by no means true of the usual screen writers, who deal in little else but rehashings of stories which have been done to death, and still see science fiction as it was 30, 40, or 50 years (or even longer)ago. It tends to be on the level of a screen writer coming to a producer and saying: "I've got this really great idea for a TV movie! Y'see, there's this medical student, and he has this idea of making a man...."

    (There is actually a story that someone -- Ellison, if I remember correctly -- tells that isn't all that far from such a scenario. It appears that this head-of-development had one of her writers come to her in a white heat of excitement about this dynamite idea he had, something which was sure to pull 'em in and keep 'em glued to the screen, etc., etc., etc. Excited, she asked him what the idea was. His response: "We do The Wiz... white!")

    At any rate, these are some of the things which make writers from the sff field more qualified. The things which keep them from being qualified largely center around an ignorance of the proper way to write scripts or how to judge what in a script takes how much time onscreen (something very important to know), and how to deal with the visual media... but no few writers in the field have managed the transition, and often quite well. The resulting scripts from such, if you'll compare them to their contemporaries who were not from the field, tend to stand head-and-shoulders (hell, all the way down to the knees!) above their competitors....
  16.  
    Urien

    Urien New Member

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    TV and movies suffer from the same problem, and that's making money. Spend a fortune on something shiny and new, say an adaptation of The Culture or Bas-Lag novels, and your career is suddenly flapping in the wind. If you build it they will come... unfortunately that's rarely the case.

    The counter to this is the randomness of TV and audiences, sometimes something different takes off and becomes a big money spinner. Sometimes you win the TV lottery, but you've got to be in it to win it.

    So the logical response to staying in business and in career is to put out the big fat same as, same as guaranteed pseudo-soap speculative fiction, and leaven the schedule with the odd, odd show, which might garner a following and become the next X-Files. If it doesn't take off then kill it quickly and spin the wheel again, (see Firefly).
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    Moonbat

    Moonbat Luna tick

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    This is a very interesting discussion and due to recent changes in my employment situation I am considering producing a Sci-Fi (skiffy) TV program. :)

    I am a bit worried after Jd's post about having to know science, as I only have a layman's understanding of even the most basic of scientific principles, but I have a love of everything sci-fi and really love writing and creating stuff.
    So in order for my Sci-fi Tv project to have any chance of getting off the ground

    (without the use of the word anti-gravity) I feel I need to embrace new sci-fi concepts and attempt to write some episodes relating to them. That's where you lot come in. ;)
    What are the best recent Sci-fi developments in literature?

    I am looking to write ten episodes (maybe not write them all myself if anyone is interested) that are unrelated to each other, each one focusing on a recent (not 50 years old) development in the field of Sci-Fi.
    I think (as JD mentioned) that it is the handling of thse ideas that is most delicate, it's one thing to write a story about the use of MRI scans to detect lies, but its another to write it in such a way that it truly explores man's need to lie and his desire to be lied to, or should that be man's desire to lie and his need to be lied to? ;)

    I may open another thread in workshop to address this idea more fully. (so no need to move it moderators) :)
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    Rodders

    Rodders |-O-| (-O-) |-O-|

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    I don't have a problem with any Sci-fi on either TV or film. i don't fancy it, i won't watch it. I do miss SF set in space though. The last genuine one we had was BSG and that's been off our screen for a while now.

    Where are the B5's, the Farscapes and the ST: TNG's?
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    B and C is the most important thing. It has to feel like a SF story where you create the human drama around a SF idea or element. The setting or an actual science real or not. SF are failing on tv these days because they are soap opera dramas in the disguise of SF too often.

    C is the reason i want to see SF writers writing tv shows, they know what has been written before and what new ideas might grap us as the old ones. Right now it feels like its the same old SF story over and over again on TV.
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    J Riff

    J Riff The Ants are my friends..

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    What J.D. said.
    Plus - It's ..irritating to watch some of the newer sciFi because of the effects. They have this amazing effects now.. even by the time of the Starship Troopers movie I noticed how they could really do a lot of things, and attempt sciFi stories which were previously considered unmakeable - as Starship Troopers was thought to be ... but NO. Ten million on effects and ten bucks on the script.
    Why they don't utilize classic SciFi stories, or hire genuine SciFi writers, I can't imagine.

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