Independent science fiction

Independent science fiction is the shape of things to come.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way bagging writers that have agents, editors and publishers, as they help refine the quality and presentation of a novel/movie, but independent science fiction has a raw, gritty value that shouldn’t be underestimated.

As an example, recently, someone sent me a link to a podcast about the dire state of Hollywood, and why the only movies coming out at the moment are:

  • Blockbusters (or blockbuster wannabes like The Lone Ranger)
  • Franchises (Fast & the Furious 64)
  • Token art-house films as candidates for the Oscars

Hollywood has been backed into a corner. Costs are so high, the risk of failure so great, that no studio can afford to take a chance on a novel, unique concept. Safe movies are the only winners. And it’s a vicious cycle, Hollywood is trapped in a self-fulfilled prophecy, that no other movies can succeed. They’re wrong, of course, as demonstrated by independent movie producers.

Essentially, the movie industry has been out-played. All forms of entertainment are in the throes of going virtual: The music industry was overhauled by Napster and iTunes, while the publishing industry is in the process of being transformed by Amazon and the popularity of eBooks. Hollywood has held onto its cinema empire, but the advent of VOD (video on demand), which bypasses theatrical releases altogether, means the writing is on the wall: The End is Nigh.

Europa Report

Hugh Howey and Matthew Mather have both sold movie rights to their books, and I hope their books are made into movies as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both Wool and CyberStorm, but given that the slow torturous process of transforming a novel into a screenplay and producing a film can take a decade, I wonder how much the Hollywood landscape will have changed by then.

In the same way indies are taking the publishing market by storm, I wonder if we’re going to see Hollywood undermined by independent movies. The term “low budget” no longer describes cheap B-grade movies but rather slick, lean, high-quality productions without any of the Hollywood bloat we’ve seen in movies like Battleships.

Already, movies like Monsters and Europa Report are blitzing Hollywood in terms of story depth and suspension of disbelief. We’re at a tipping point. Going forward, Hollywood is going to become more and more alienated in much the same way as music stores and bookstores have staggered under pressure from iTunes and Amazon. Hollywood is going to have to adapt to survive.

From a writer’s perspective, competition is good, it drives innovation and resourcefulness.

In some regards, books struggle to compete against movies, TV, games, social media, etc, as these other mediums are more directly engaging, but the strength of books is their ability to immerse you in an entirely different world.

The level of immersion in a book is beyond what can be achieved by these other mediums. As an example, I’m currently working with scifi-publishing to convert my dystopian novel Monsters into an audio-book. Initial estimates suggest it will come in around 10 hours in length, and having listened to two samples I’m already blown away by how the narration captures the subtleties a movie would be hard pressed to match.

The other advantage writers have is they’re not constrained by budget. My CGI budget is a bazillion dollars. I can do anything I want, ANYTHING, and I often do. In my latest novel, Xenophobia, there’s tens of thousands of grotesque alien creatures floating through Earth’s atmosphere, bizarre spiky aliens that can shred a man in seconds, and a mothership the size of Connecticut. As exciting as it would be to see one of my novels turned into a movie, books are an awesome medium and not to be underestimated because they tap directly into the imagination of the reader.

Maybe one day Monsters or Xenophobia will be available as independent movies, but even then I doubt they’ll ever compete with the books and audio-books for depth.


3 thoughts on “Independent science fiction

  1. I am thoroughly sick of Hollywood blockbusterism and have been for quite a few years. Given the types of movies I like to watch (which are rarely blockbusters), Hollywood completely fails to satisfy the minimum requirement of believability and depth that many other movie producers achieve. Actual quality has become so rare in Hollywood since the 90’s and early 00’s that I’ve given up looking for it.

    I’ve seen French horror movies that would have the toughest die-hard leave the light on at night, German romances and comedies that have you deeply moved, Russian war movies with a level of realistic horror and gore that would make you question if anything in this world is that worthy to send thousands to die for, and I’ve seen Japanese movies about family values and urban heroism that make anything Hollywood came up with look like a parody.

    Independent movie makers are certainly on the edge of movie-making, but they’re not alone. Other countries are fresh, daring and novel, in ways that Hollywood has entirely forgotten how to even approach.

    As to books vs. movies… yes, I agree that books achieve a depth of immersion which movies can’t, if only because of the time it takes to finish reading a book vs. watching a movie. Good computer games, on the other hand, can definitely draw you in and keep you there for days. But computer games have their own limitations. Indeed, nothing can ever beat human imagination. 🙂

    • That’s a really good point. If filmmaking can be likened to a trapeze act or a tightrope, then foreign films go out on the wire without a safety net. Hollywood (and US TV for that matter) is too formulaic, following a well-worn path that once had merit but is now so utterly predictable as to be boring (NCIS, I’m looking at you).

      • Oh I loved NCIS and then it got… meh. And let’s not even get started on the many good sci-fi series that got cancelled in favor of deplorable “commercial” series. *head-desk*

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