Category: DIY Sci-Fi

Our view stats on Vimeo during our busiest week to-date

Thousands of eyes on us

Our sci-fi short film NEW debuted online November 2, and the response has been very gratifying indeed. As I write this post, we’re coming up on our 15,000th view. For a three-day period in early November, we were clocking around 3000 views per day! Those might not be spectacular numbers for, say, a 30-second kitten video, but for a quiet, 17-minute drama it’s pretty damn great. Even better: the smart comments the film has received. More about that in a moment.

Vidsee postThe film has been featured at sites like Film Shortage and Alltop. And I particularly enjoyed the generous selection of screen caps and long, English-as-a-second-language plot summary over at Singaporean short film site VidSee. Fun… but don’t read it if you haven’t seen the film yet!

Last week, I did an interview for a TV station in Switzerland called BeCurious TV – they’ll be airing that interview soon, along with NEW and two of my other shorts.

Best of all, we’ve been covered at, the go-to site for all things science fiction. I’ve been trying to get them to write about NEW for over two years! They were my white whale. Back when we were crowdfunding the budget, I sent the editors emails brimming over with all the charm I could muster, detailing the sci-fi epic being cooked up in their very own backyard (the site is based in San Francisco). All to no response… until now. Fair enough. I imagine they wanted to have a finished film to show people before writing about us.

But write abOur review at io9out us they did, last month, with a nice review that declared NEW “pretty heartbreaking.” When their story was published, it shot our view count through the roof for a couple of days. A month later it’s still a major driver of traffic to the film. Thank you, io9.

Click the image to read the review, and then take the time to savor the hardcore sci-fi discussions happening in the comments. You can see the viewers digging in, debating story points and extrapolating on the future glimpsed in NEW. No one is discussing whether the film is any good or not – that bar has been met for them. Following what was a just-okay festival run, it’s immensely satisfying for me to see NEW really finding its audience like this.


checking the USA Projects campaign total while on location shooting NEW

Pausing to check on incoming donations while on location shooting NEW. Oh, modern life. Photo by Skot Christopherson.

Yesterday, around noon, we hit our fundraising goal for our film, NEW.

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone who has donated and helped spread the word. Because of you, we’ll now be able to make a film we’ve been burning to do for a year now! We plan to be shooting soon, and have a movie for you all to see before the end of the year.

USA Projects has extended our campaign through May 24, so if you’ve not yet supported us with a donation, you still have time! The $22K goal represented the minimum budget need to make the project – any additional funds will be put to good use. That’s a promise!

Our deepest appreciation, from me, Sheila Harden, Don R. Lewis, Skot Christopherson and the entire NEW crew.

John Harden
Writer/Director, NEW

The End is Near

A poodle shills for a desperate filmmaker. It's sad, really.

This photo may serve as damning evidence that 7 weeks of crowd-funding has taken its toll. Then again, people DO like puppies.

These are the end times, friends: the campaign for our sci-fi film NEW concludes Wednesday night, May 15, at one minute to midnight, PST. If we fail to reach our goal of $22,000 by then, all shall be for naught. Everyone will have their donations refunded. And We. Get. Nothing!

That would be, as they say, a bummer.

To sweeten the pot and (for some reason) reward the procrastinators out there, we are now offering a choice of two BRAND NEW PERKS to anyone who can donate $200 or more! Please view the video above to learn more about how donating to the NEW campaign will bring total fulfillment to your life.

Once again, thank you for your support! Now, please share the link to this project with someone today. No, really, like, right now. Here’s your cut and paste:

And check back for more updates soon!

: : :


Many people have stepped up in many ways, to give of their time and money and effort to support our cinematic aspirations. Here are just some of them:

The Arts Council of Sonoma County
We would not be here on USA Projects at all, if not for the seminal support of our local arts organization. Thanks to John Moran and Jennifer Sloan and everyone at the council.

USA Projects, and Rose Kuo from the Film Society of Lincoln Center
It’s a honor to be invited to use the USA Projects platform to promote and fundraise for my work. USA Projects has supported us in many ways, notably by choosing NEW to receive April’s Creative Vision Award: $5,000 in matching funds that have helped us immensely in approaching our goal. The guest judge who selected us to receive the award was Rose Kuo, so our deep appreciation goes to Rose as well.

Armstrong Creates
My boss, Tom Armstrong has been generous with his time, money, and resources to help me realize my dream of making NEW. It’s all really quite counter-productive, because he knows if this project takes off in a big way I might have to quit working for him to go make the feature film version of NEW. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

The American Cryonics Society
Is cryonic preservation right for you? If you’ve been thinking it over, these are the folks you want to talk to. Edgar Swank, president of the society, has read the script for NEW and ACS has been a supporter of our efforts from early on. An article about NEW will be forthcoming in the next issue of their magazine, Long Life.

David Brin
Deep appreciation to this friend of NEW, the noted futurist and Hugo-award winning science fiction author, for great endorsements on his Facebook page and his blog, Contrary Brin. You should totally buy all his books. In hardcover!


I’m floating on air

Concept art for science fiction film NEW

The fabulous world of tomorrow: concept art from my film NEW

As you may or may not know, I’m making a sci-fi movie called NEW, set a couple of hundred years in the future. The particular future that you’ll see in my film is not perfect — because nothing is — but it’s darned close. All the big problems have been solved, and the whole human race has pretty much checked into the Hilton, metaphorically speaking. They’re all just basically chillin’.

There are no post-apocalyptic wars over food or fuel. No bullet-time kung-fu battles against evil robot overlords. My future is gentle. This allows me to tell the story I want to tell, challenging my main characters (thawed-out cryonics patients from the present day) with softer, more internal conflicts. Like culture shock. And identity crisis. You know, the kind you might suffer when you suddenly find yourself to be a healthy 20-year old rather than a cancer-ridden 70-year-old.

Riot scene from Soylent Green

The monochrome set: Soylent Green is… green!

Depicting a utopia also suits me because I’m just so utterly bored with dystopia. It’s become the stock solution for Hollywood sci-fi movies. Over and over, we are presented with bleak, dreary, and interchangeable futures. It’s always crowded, everything’s dirty, and everything’s blue. (Or sometimes, olive drab.) And often, for some reason, everybody lives in what looks like a big factory. Why does everyone live in a fucking factory?!

Not in my future! In my future, people will live in gleaming white buildings, under bright blue skies, surrounded by gardens and trees. And furthermore, there will be airships. Yes, I definitely want airships in my future. Not preposterous Victorian steampunk zeppelins. No: we must have something hi-tech, something plausible. And I’ve recently figured out the technology-slash-justification for having them.

WARNING: The remainder of this blog post will be completely devoted to a discussion of sci-fi airships. The proceedings have been pretty geeky thus far, but from this point forward we are ratcheting things up exponentially to unprecedented levels of dorkitude. Buckle in.

OK: we know the design for your standard blimp or dirigible is about 95% big bag of gas, all for lifting that wee payload underneath. My airships will keep the ratio, but the big airtight lifty spheroid part isn’t full of gas: it’s completely solid, filled with some futuristic nano-fiber foam stuff – like styrofoam, but way stronger and waaaaay lighter. See, it’s a lattice, composed mostly of empty space – but unlike styrofoam, where the empty space is filled with air, this is vacuum. It’s a solid that’s mostly nothing. So per-cubic-foot, the stuff has way more lift than hydrogen, the lightest element. It’s a super energy-efficient way to travel. You expend zero fuel for lift, and unlike helium, you don’t have to use power to compress and store and ship the nano-fiber. And, unlike helium, it never need replenishing. Once it’s manufactured it lasts pretty much forever. You just chain it to the ground until you need it, so it doesn’t float away.

A super-light aerogel, developed by NASA

A super-light aerogel, developed by NASA

Superlight materials already exist, and they are pretty cool. Check out this recent article on, touting the latest-and-lightest development, a carbon nanofiber called graphene.

The idea of using a confined vacuum for lift is hardly new, either. My good friend and sometimes writing partner Skot Christopherson pointed this out in an email to me:

“The idea of a vacuum lifted vehicle is over 300 years old! It would take some powerful sci-fi materials to solve the pressure barrier problem, but it’s conceptually sound.”

He sent along the wikipedia link to 17th-century plans for a “vacuum airship,” as first proposed by Italian monk Francesco Lana de Terzi. In this craft, lift would be provided by hollow spheres of thin copper, evacuated of air. The flaw in the design is one of material strength. A metal “vacuum balloon” thin and light enough to be buoyant would also be crushed flat by external air pressure.

I responded to Skots email: I had known of Lana-Terzi’s design. I’d seen that drawing somewhere when I was a kid, and thought of it again when thinking about my airships. Yes, my super-foam would have to be super-duper-strong to resist being crushed by the air outside it, and of course, sealed somehow, since it would be by nature porous.

Francesco Lana de Terzi's flying boat concept, c.1670

Francesco Lana de Terzi’s flying boat concept, c.1670

As often happens in these exchanges, Skot got the final word:

“As long as we’re running this gedanken* experiment, we’re making a foamed substance with vacuum in the voids. You’d want to make it in outer space (lots of free vacuum there, no gravity making the foam settle) and out of a very light alloy, like lithium or beryllium. The PROBLEM here is you need to inject something to make this alloy “foam.” You’d probably end up using very low-pressure helium (it lifts all by itself, is inert) unless the alloy is so radical it makes vacuum voids as it cools or something.”

“The fun part is getting the large vacuum lifting body you made it back down to Earth. De-orbit it, and in vacuum it will fall FAST– then it will gently skip on the upper atmosphere and settle at it’s own buoyancy level like a cork in water. Somebody will need to grab it and tie weights on.”

Cool! Kudos to Skot, for some good gedanken.

*If you, like I, tried to suss the definition of gedanken from Skot’s context, you might very well have decided it to be some kind of German epithet. As it turns out, it actually means “thought.” A classic example of a gedanken experiment, in physics, is the one that has us imagine a man in an elevator accelerating through space in order to explain relativity theory.

DIY Sci-Fi



Sci-fi fans! Hollywood got you down? Are you drowning in the mainstream? Weary of TRANSFORMERS transforming? Of mugging movie stars dressed as superheroes? Do you despair at what passes for science fiction on the big screen?

Hell, maybe I’m projecting. Maybe you think all that stuff is awesome. It takes all kinds to make a world. That’s why they make more than one flavor of ice cream.

Love or hate it, or love it and hate it, you can be more than a passive consumer of sci-fi film. Do what these guys did, and make some of your own!

Some of these films are unabashedly inspired by the mainstream aesthetic of Hollywood and Lucasfilm. Others serve as reactionary rebuttals. All substitute sweat and ingenuity for blockbuster budgets. Some are charmingly home-made in their look, others are polished productions that give Lucas a run for his money. This is DIY sci-fi.

These are labors of love: no studios and no investors. Budgets are shoestring, and often crowdfunded. Labor is often volunteer.

This article isn’t a comprehensive list of DIY sci-fi, not by a long shot – just some interesting projects I happen to know of. I’d like to know about yours, too. My intention is to append this list over time. Feel free to add your links in the comments.

All I Think Of Is You (Short, 2012)
In this stylish and moody short, a widow is hounded by a stranger claiming to be her dead husband. It’s currently doing well on the festival circuit, but you can see the first two minutes at writer/director Shad Clark’s website. Poke around and you’ll find some of his other videos, including an unsettling little diversion involving misuse of a safety razor. Shudder.

The American Astronaut (Feature, 2001)
Director Cory McAbee (lead singer of San Francisco cult musical act The Billy Nayer Show) cast himself as the lead in what described as “ERASERHEAD meets BUCK ROGERS by way of an MGM musical.” See the trailer here. McAbee’s singular vision took him to the Sundance Film Festival. Although, like McAbee, I live in the Bay Area, I’ve managed to miss every chance to see his film. What can I say? It’s in the Netflix queue. [Update, April 4, 2014: It’s also now available online for free from online distributor SnagFilms. Search the SnagFilms site or watch it here in this article on Indiewire.]

Bellflower (Feature, 2011)
This hallucinatory bromance depicts two guys preparing for an apocalypse they seem convinced is coming. How? By building a souped-up super car and a fucking FLAMETHROWER of course. It’s broken hearts and brain injuries, it’s geek culture meets machismo, and it will get under your skin. This debut feature played Sundance, is distributed by Oscilloscope and is probably a bit high-profile for this list. But the DIY aesthetic on display is undeniable, both in front of the camera and inside it: the filmmakers shot Bellflower on a home-made digital camera pieced together from vintage camera parts and Russian lenses.

La vie d’un chien (The Life of a Dog) (Short, 2005)
Would I be blogging about DIY sci-fi if I wasn’t making some of my own? My story of a scientist and the serum that turns him into a canine is told in a montage of black-and-white stills. This technique allowed me to depict biological transformation and societal upheaval for a pittance, while serving as homage to Chris Marker’s masterpiece La Jetée (DIY sci-fi from 1962!).

Microgravity (Short, 2006)
A tense, surreal thriller about an astronaut alone in orbit. Loneliness and boredom turn on a dime into claustrophobia, panic and fear of that cold, hard vacuum just outside the bulkhead. Beautifully, expressively shot. Great set design too. Watch the entire film, below:

Pig (Feature, 2011)
Pig begins with a somewhat familiar movie premise: amnesia. As the lead character tries to unravel the mystery of his own identity writer/director Henry Barrial demonstrates that sometimes it’s less about premise and more about execution. Strong performances from the leads keep this slow-burner absorbing, right through to the revelatory final scenes. [Update, April 4, 2014: PIG is now available via many outlets including iTunes and Amazon. Or cut out the middleman and get it from the filmmakers.]

Primer (Feature, 2004)
Shane Carruth’s debut feature marked the first time a science fiction film took the top prize at Sundance. It’s very self-assured filmmaking. What begins as a low-key, brainy story of engineers who accidently invent a time machine becomes increasingly strange and confusing as the plot begins to loop back on itself. I have yet to meet anyone who claims to fully understand it. Rent it. Or go to Carruth’s website for a digital download, and a preview of his second film, which looks to be even more disorienting.

Project Arbiter (Short, 2013)
It’s World War II. The Nazis have invented an invisibility suit, and the Allies have to steal it! Who wouldn’t want to see that movie? They just wrapped post, so you might be able to, very soon. Meanwhile, here’s the trailer and the website.



Project London  (Feature, 2013)
It doesn’t get more DIY than this! Chockablock with cool vehicles and giant robots, this futuristic feature out of Seattle, Washington was birthed by an all-volunteer crew using Blender, a free, open-source 3D software. Currently in post. Will it be any good?! Check out the trailer and Project London website and see what you think.

The Third Letter (Short, 2010)
Both director Grzegorz Jonkajtys and producer Bastiann Koch are SFX pros with serious industry credentials. It bleeds from every frame of this tale of futuristic dystopia.

Radio Free Steve (Feature, 2000)
This “1980s vision of the future” is like BELLFLOWER’s idiot trailer-trash cousin. It’s your basic post-apocalyptic road comedy, with nods to DAMNATION ALLEY and containing a crazy “lost film” backstory about the supposed director, one “Lars Von Biers.” Loose, profane and occasionally quite funny. The producer somehow managed to secure songs for a soundtrack that includes tracks by Luna and Boards of Canada. Watch the NSFW trailer here.

Radio Free Albemuth (Feature, 2010)
This indie feature based on one Philip K. Dick novel which is apparently so weird Hollywood hasn’t found a way to make an action movie out of it. I have yet to see it but it should be noted RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH has earned the approval of hardcore Dick fans and the Dick family estate.

They’re Made Out Of Meat (Short, 2005)
After an extensive survey of planet Earth’s dominant species, an alien reports his astonishing findings. A clever staging of the clever (and much-circulated) short story by author Terry Bisson. Watch it!