Surprisingly few people have told me I was crazy for trying to make a sci-fi movie for almost no money and without industry connections or experience. Maybe they're just being polite. To me, it seemed at the beginning like an idea that was, yes, crazy, but also just might be possible. I'm a bit too cynical for phrases like "shoot for the moon because you'll still land among the stars if you miss," but I guess that's what we did, if by "shoot for" you mean "dive from the ramparts with an almighty WAAUUUGGHH!!!" Speaking of crazy, did I mention we have a completed script for Chimera Part II?
I know, I know, I said I had a script last January, why am I crowing about this more than a year later? Well, the script we had last year was an episode script. At the time, I was staring down the barrel of our troubled first release of the pilot as 7 shorter episodes and beginning to realize my mistake in putting it out in that form. Within weeks of finishing the episode two script, I'd already made the decision to pull the series and rerelease it in the form of a feature film. This changed everything, including the original 8 episode series plan. For a while, I considered keeping each "episode" at 50 minutes or so and just calling them features, but this made even less sense -- I would be producing short, disconnected movies and would have to rely on creative titling to indicate that they were meant to be watched in order. It seemed awkward at best. At the same time, the prospect of creating 7 more episodes was beginning to seem not just crazy, but just plain impractical since no one was banging down my door to throw money at me. Since the pilot was being rebranded as a feature, it seemed natural to continue the series as such. I could aim to produce two more and call it a trilogy. This is probably still crazy, but it's within the realm of possibility. A lot will depend on how much money we can raise, but it always did.
Releasing the pilot as a film took a lot of work on its own. Instead of just submitting the original cut from our September 2020 premiere screening, I took 5 more months to improve it in my off time: snipping a hokey line here, lopping out an unneeded scene there, and in some cases even re-editing a scene or creating a new shot or two. I was brought on full-time at my day job in late 2020, which severely limited the time I could put into Chimera, but I've still managed to carve out periods where I can work on my hobby that isn't really a hobby. The feature version of Voyage of the Chimera was released in May of 2021. I've spent the last year or so attempting to advertise the film, trying to learn on the job as the movie lurched into the marketplace. I'll write another post at some point about my marketing foibles, but suffice to say marketing is hard.
SO, ABOUT THAT SCRIPT...
Right, thank you, I knew there was a point to this. We finally have a script not for episode two, but movie two. I took the finished episode II script last June and began expanding it. Subplots and ideas from the 8 episode series were jettisoned, streamlined, and otherwise reworked to fit the new format. While Part II remains a continuation of the story that began in Part I, it is written specifically as a feature, not as an episode. The finished film will be designed to be able to be watched on its own, in the same way The Empire Strikes Back, or The Dark Knight can be watched and enjoyed without seeing the first films, but the experience is far better if you do.
Streamlining the series meant narrowing the focus specifically to Marcus' journey. I think Part II gives most of the characters a moment to shine, but the emphasis has definitely shifted to the young captain, who I see as a variation of the classic sea story hero: a boy goes down to the sea, learns the trade and becomes a man, ultimately returning home changed forever. The twist here is that circumstances have placed the boy in the captain's chair. The big challenge in writing the movies has been to portray this in a way that seems realistic. He couldn't be a Wesley Crusher who knew everything, and he couldn't be an incompetent fool -- the latter being the mistake I made in my first draft of Part I.
Marcus is in a very different spot as we begin Part II. He's managed to prove he can run a ship, but his inexperience, plus being pulled in different directions by those around him, has left his ship crippled to the point that returning home is uncertain at best. What he thought was the White Ship was something else -- evidently one of many unknown pirate ships skulking about the galaxy. Part II will show Marcus' growth from this harrowing experience, and put him into new conflicts. He will be presented with hard choices and unexpected situations, and we will see how this shapes his command and his character. We'll also get to meet his mentor, or, at least, the commander who took him under her wing when he was first given his commission as a Lieutenant Commander. We'll learn more about why he's on this mission, and what's driving him. We'll glimpse his relationship with the woman he was almost pushed into marrying (and harbors some confused feelings for), as well as his only remaining relative: his father. We'll also discover more about the White Ship and why Chimera was sent on her mission in the first place.
Part I was focused on character and worldbuilding, perhaps, in hindsight, to the detriment of the story. Part II is far more plot focussed, and the characters are weaved in and out of it far more efficiently. The challenges Marcus and his crew face will bring out new facets of their characters as they deal with unexpectedly difficult choices and provocative situations. There will also be a layer of mystery and danger to Part II that I don't feel I quite accomplished in Part I.
Sadly, quite a few plot and character elements we'd planned for the series simply had to go. It's sad to put things aside, but the result is a much tighter, more intentional story that hopefully never wastes a moment of screen time. I feel like the first film was way too indulgent on a writing level and narratively undisciplined. This all goes to my own inexperience as I continue to learn myself -- in many ways, Marcus' journey parallels my own. Character will remain front and center over action, but character and plot will be far better integrated.
I would love to talk more specifics, but I don't want to spoil the plot before we've even had a chance to do a table read. Speaking of which, that's the next step. I've been reaching out to the cast this week to see if we can schedule one. With so many characters it may be tough to get us all together, even though I plan to do it virtually using Zoom or the like. On Part I, I recorded myself reading the entire script and used that to build a prototype storyboard version of the movie -- maybe I can record the table read and use it the same way!
I was looking at my Google Analytics today with my typical confusion, and I noticed that the top search item that leads people to our web page is "voyage of the chimera sequel." This shouldn't have surprised me, we did promise one in the end credits after all, but actually seeing that people were searching for it was an unexpected encouragement during the ongoing up and down struggles to market the first film. People are trying to find out when the sequel is coming! Will it be enough people? Impossible to say, yet. The whole journey of Chimera has been like that; after the rollercoaster of writing, casting, shooting, editing, and finishing the film, the process of actually putting it in front of people was like if the moment after the ride ends and you're still blinking from the flash of that camera that catches you all bug-eyed, the thing suddenly starts right up again and sends you through a second time, on an even more turbulent adventure than before.