More on Movies

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)This is a followup to Nancy Jane Moore’s well-said blog post about movie budgets, about sf movies in general, and about The Day the Earth Stood Still in particular.

The original The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of my favorite movies, without respect to genre. (I have no opinion of the remake, as I haven’t seen it; its trailers didn’t make me want to rush right out to the theater, alas.)

It is possible to make a good SF movie without a huge budget.

Another of the best SF movies around is Brother from Another Planet, by John Sayles. If you ever get to hear him speak, don’t pass it up; he’s terrific. When he premiered the movie at the Seattle Film Festival he talked about the budget, wThe Brother from Another Planet at Powell's Bookstorehich was about $1.98. (Industrial Light & Magic wanted some huge exponential multiple of their entire budget to shoot the opening sequence, so instead the Sayles SFX department [which I suspect consists of Sayles and his producer Maggie Renzi poked holes in a piece of black construction paper and shined lights through it for the starfield.)

In my opinion the only place that could have been improved by some more SFX money was when you see the bottom of Joe Morton’s feet. (“Baby, you gotta cut your toenails…”) And that includes the eyeball sequence.

It really is a wonderful movie, inventive and creative, with wit and intelligence and heart instead of a huge SFX budget and a lot of explosions.

Nancy’s post got me to thinking about my infrequent encounters with Hollywood and the film business and how and why recent SF movies usually turn out to be gigantic shoot-em-ups.

I can think of a couple of reasons.

When I was in the Writers’ Film Project workshop at Amblin, anytime I suggested a change that would make a screenplay conform to real world experience, the laws of physics, or basic rationality (and in my opinion make the story more believable and more interesting), somebody would say, “Vonda, it’s just a movie.”

My first WFP screenplay was called “Illegal Alien” and it was written so it could be filmed in Gasworks Park and up the hill by the Aurora Bridge Troll (what else would live under the Aurora Bridge?!). It was about a skeptic (and guerrilla artist and recovering alcoholic) who meets a space alien… and can’t tell anybody.

When I turned it in to my Universal mentor, he read it and allowed as how he quite liked it. “But,” he said, “its budget is only about $300,000 so no studio would ever pick it up.”

— Vonda

Vonda N. McIntyre is the author of the Nebula-winning novel The Moon and the Sun, which is being offered at Book View Café in electronic form for the first time.

The Natural History and Extinction of the People of the Sea,” the faux-encyclopedia article that inspired the novel, written by Vonda N. McIntyre and illustrated by Ursula K. Le Guin, appears as a Book View Café Bonus story.

Other fiction by Vonda N. McIntyre, including cell-phone-friendly formats of The Moon and the Sun, can be found in the fiction section of her website, as can mint copies of her published books. To celebrate the debut of Book View Café, book prices are temporarily lowered.

Books make great gifts!



More on Movies — 4 Comments

  1. This fascinates me. I’ve never understood how movie budgets came to be so huge. To hear that $300,000 can be said to be ‘only’ $300,000 still boggles me. I know that ‘major motion pictures’ go up into the millions, even the ones without special effects. But somehow it’s hard to imagine paying out that much to create a piece of entertainment that lasts a couple of hours.

    Must be very expensive caterers!

    Did anything ever come of ‘Illegal Alien’?


  2. Hi Megan,

    Not only millions, but tens or hundreds of millions. The first estimates for Moon & Sun were in the fifty million range. These days the special effects would be cheaper, but I expect a lot of other things would be more expensive.

    Never really got a serious nibble on “Illegal Alien.” I think it would but a cute movie.