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How to make a NO BUDGET Award Winning Sci-Fi Short Film

14,000 hours.  87 weeks. 611 days. 20 months… or almost 2 years to make one 6 minute short film. 

That film is our retro sci-fi short, Midnight Television.  With aesthetics inspired by the 80s and 90s we tell the age old tale about the dangers of living life for the algorithm. But why the hell did it take us so long to finish?

Let’s rewind…

2020 was set to be my best year ever. That was of course until Covid hit. 

Without client work, all of a sudden I had more time.  And Like a lot of us I was lost, confused and leaned in on the nostalgia of the good times from my childhood during the 80s and 90s. 

I felt that even though the outside world was falling apart around me that this nostalgia kept me somehow protected, like some sort of coping mechanism that held onto the way that things were supposed to be… but never truly were. 

Which is literally the definition of this music genre called VAPORWAVE.

During the first shut down I listened to a lot of vaporwave… And I mean A lot.  And after a few days I was smacked in the face by my creative muse.  

So, with no video production going on I decided to start writing a “feature film” based on this world  … I even applied for this Adobe grant I heard about, because it was 2020… why the hell not?

And after a few weeks of writing, I learned that I had in fact been awarded a grant through the Adobe Creative Residency Community Fund and I was able to bring my project to life. Thank you so much to the Adobe team for the support and resources to finish this project. 

So After finding out we had some funds. My first call was to my best friend /  Director of Photography / partner in crime Alex Rodriguez… He was in. 

And of course his first question was – How the hell are we going to pull this off?  With a limited budget, a huge ambition and a global pandemic at our heels we had our work cut out for us. 

First, I had to turn this 90 page feature into a 7 minute short film… and that took some time.  

Then we created a shooting plan based on our primary location… but we also have numerous vignettes that take place through the TV.  On paper we were already out of budget…

Until an idea hit.  What if we used an old Tv technique of rear projection for the numerous TV locations and shoot them all in one day? 

That’s when I called up Austin at CypherBlu…  It’s a small studio in LA,  but has everything you need.  I use it all the time and the owner is just amazing.  

At this point it had been about four months since receiving the Adobe grant and after a few virtual rehearsals with the talent, we were ready for our first day of production. 

Production Day 1

For this production day we decided to use Alex’s Panasonic S1H camera and Titan tubes for all the lights. Next, we used a large Projector and Screen to create the backdrop for our various locations. 


With day one in the can, we could begin prepping for our second shoot day that was scheduled a few weeks later.  The location was a standing set, but we needed props.  Lot’s and lot’s of retro props.   

We used the 4 month down time to edit the TV vignette scenes, created  Pre-Visualization tests for “PC” and put together the opening TV sequence and “Broadcast you” commercial.  Basically anything we could do to get ahead.  

We decided to bring out the big guns and use the RED Komodo to make sure the film looked as cinematic as possible. With an extremely small crew,  lighting and set design took longer than expected, but it had to be done. This was our big filming day and we needed it to be awesome.

Post Production

With 70 Effect shots, over 500 passes and a 6k workflow I had my work cut out for me.  

The initial story edit did not take too terribly long, but for every day that there was some sort of great story breakthrough, the next was filled with doubt.  But still I pushed on with the edit

That is of course until real life kicked in…

As Covid surged on, our priorities changed and we chose to sell our home.  We  moved to a new city, I had a serious health scare and like the rest of us, we had to raise our kids among all of this Chaos.  So after the craziest two months of my life,  I was finally able to jump back into the edit and finally start on the visual fx.  

This was all going great until the world of video production opened up again. My clients were ready to work and I was, thankfully, really busy again.

And just like any endurance race, when the momentum stops it’s extremely difficult to get the pace going again.  I was burnt out and creatively stuck.  If my days were filled with client work and my nights with family, then when the hell was I going to get this project done?

Mornings… the Beautiful, quiet, email and people free mornings.  

So I would wake up at 3am and edit until the kids were up – just focusing on finishing one gfx shot per day, Brick by Brick, until Midnight Television was finally complete. 

You see, this is the production triangle.  There are three overarching elements to produce any product. Cost, Speed to market and product quality… or in our case: Fast, cheap and good…  

For instance, you could make something really fast and cheap, but it’s probably not going to be very good.  Or you could make something really good and fast, but it ain’t going to be cheap.  And as we did with Midnight Television, you can choose cheap and good, but it isn’t going to be fast to produce.   

Ultimately, I’m grateful for everyone who helped make this film happen. This experience let me build up a resiliency that carries over to my client work and let me unlock some editing and visual fx skills I never had before.  

If you haven’t yet watched Midnight Television yet you can do so by clicking the video here.