Recombined Shoot

DGA director Regina Ainsworth on the set of Recombined.

As I described in my post Movie to Books to Movie to TV, I’ve been working with director Regina Ainsworth with an eye toward pitching my young adult sci-fi novels, the Tankborn trilogy, as a television series. Regina suggested we needed a visual expression of Tankborn‘s world as part of our pitch. To that end, I wrote the short script, Recombined, while Regina built relationships, raised funds, and gathered cast and crew who were as passionate about the project as we were. We shot the film December 1st, 2018 on one long (and very cold) day in Burbank.

I’ve written a number short scripts and have seen three of them made into films, but other than one SAG actor in one of those films, cast and crew were amateurs. The cast of Recombined were all SAG-AFTRA, and we had a professional union crew.

The Warner Bros. signature logo

The shoot took place at Warner Bros. Ranch, just down the road from Warner Bros. main studio. It’s where the iconic Friends was shot, and it’s currently the home of Veronica Mars.

It was an unusual arrangement allowing us to shoot a short film on the Warner Bros. Ranch lot (one of the security guards said “That never happens”), and we were all so grateful for the opportunity. The cast and crew blew me away with their performances and dedication to the film.

As screenwriter, my main role was to consult on the script as needed. I also volunteered to be amateur stills photographer (we also had a pro, Molly White, taking stills). I entertained myself by getting pictures of the action between shots.

Most gratifying for me as the author of the Tankborn novels was seeing my characters come alive. The lead actor, Naïma Hebrail Kidjo, did an amazing job breathing life into my main character, the GEN (Genetically Engineered Non-Human), Kayla. I loved how the makeup/hair artist, Alexandra Bayless, created the GEN tattoo on the GENs’ cheeks and how she did Naïma’s hair for her role as Kayla.

Naïma Hebrail Kidjo (Kayla) in the makeup chair getting her hair braided and standing for a shot in front of the blue screen.

The script is loosely based on a “wedding” scene that I’d originally written for Tankborn which never made it into the final published book. With several modifications, the scene became the script for Recombined. Since I started from my own source material, I had the freedom to add any necessary characters, including the GENs Gaddiel and the Intercessor who officiates the wedding (joining).

Left photo, Glenn Stanton (Gaddiel), right photo, from left to right, Dane William, Jessie Hendricks (Alia), and Leilani Smith (Intercessor)

Recombined is now in post-production, Regina working hard on putting together in a cohesive way the jigsaw puzzle of the shots we got that day. I can’t wait to see the final product.

A picture, or it never happened. Here’s me hanging out with actors Shay Ali (Ved) and Patrick McCarthy (Captain Ansgar) before the first shot of the day. Photo credit: Molly White

Posted in Books, Diverse Books, diversity, film, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie to Books to Movie to TV

What starts as a movie script, morphs into a trilogy of books, segues briefly into a short story, rises again as a movie script, and aspires to be a TV series? The Tankborn Trilogy.

First came the movie script, Icer. I’ve been a science geek most of my life. I studied math, physics, and computer science in college and grew up reading and watching science fiction. During a UCLA Extension course on screenwriting I started my first feature length script, Icer, an SF story that revolved around genetic engineering.

After I finished Icer, I wrote other scripts and the occasional novel. But screenwriting is a tough business, so I decided to focus just on novels, and I published my first book in 1998. I wrote mainly romance novels, ten of them for Harlequin. After 16 books, I hit the wall with romance and decided to switch to young adult.

But what to write? I still loved sci-fi. And I had this great sci-fi story in Icer. What if I adapted it as a book for teens? I jumped into the project feet first, moving the Earth-based story from Icer to the planet Loka and changing my main characters from adults to teens. The result was Tankborn, which became a launch book for Lee and Low’s brand new Tu Books imprint.

Over the ensuing years, I completed the trilogy: TankbornAwakening, and Rebellion. The three books didn’t follow the original movie script exactly. A feature script is usually only 100-120 pages and the trilogy ended up comprising more than 1100 pages. I had to expand far beyond the story of the script. But each of the books contains bits and pieces of Icer’s story. Step 1 was complete: movie script  book trilogy.

Then in September 2016, I had an opportunity to attend an event sponsored jointly by the Alliance of Women Directors and the Writers Guild of America. At the time, I had a number of polished feature scripts I wanted to pitch to the women directors I’d be meeting. Of course, one of those scripts was Icer.

With every intention of pitching Icer, I also brought along a copy of Tankborn. I had no feature film credits to my name, having only had a few short scripts produced. I thought showing the directors a published book might impress them.

It worked, although not necessarily the way I thought it would. Several of the directors I pitched were more interested in the three books of the Tankborn Trilogy than they were in Icer. They kept referring to the trilogy as “IP” (which I eventually figured out was “intellectual property”) and peppered me with questions about them. Three requested copies of the books.

One of those three was director Regina Ainsworth. She’d requested autographed physical copies (I’d sent the others ebooks), and a few months later she contacted me to let me know she wanted to chat with me about my work. We spoke in January 2017 by phone. Regina proposed a feature film (maybe a trilogy), but by then I’d had a real vision of the Tankborn Trilogy as a television series. I made my case, and Regina agreed.

So how was I going to adapt the big, complex plot of Tankborn to the visual medium of television? Especially when I admittedly have a love affair with internal dialogue and tight POV. Being in a character’s head, thinking their thoughts and seeing the world through their eyes, might work in a novel but it’s a non-starter for film or television. An actor has to be able to act out (make visual) everything a character does.

I could have cut all those internal dialogue/tight POV scenes. But sometimes there’s important information in the character’s head that the audience needs to know.

Having written both scripts and books, the challenge was an intriguing one. It was reminiscent of when I was a software engineer and had to modify and debug computer code. Maybe more like translating a program from one computer language to another.

To demonstrate how I translated some of the internal dialogue into a visual scene, I’m including a couple of examples from the novel & pilot below. But first, here’s a thumbnail sketch of Tankborn to give you some story context:

Genetically Engineered Non-humans (GENs) are created in a gen-tank, programmed with a particular ability or skill called a sket, and enslaved from birth. As part of GENs’ gestation in the tank, gene-splicers install circuitry in their bodies and brains. This includes an interface on their cheek that allows “trueborns” to upload or download new programming, or to erase GEN identities entirely during a reset.

On to the examples. Here’s some text from Page 1 of the first book, Tankborn.

An actor could show Kayla hunched on the river bank with a disagreeable look on her face showing that she’s unhappy to be there. I could have written some dialogue between Kayla and her nurture-brother Jal to reveal what Kayla’s plans had been for the day. But there was more subtext that needed to be included besides just Kayla’s grumpiness. I really needed to rethink this scene to make it work for a visual medium.

So I created a new scene that hadn’t been in the book. I placed Kayla and her nurture-mother, Tala, at a worship service. Kayla’s and Tala’s argument about why Kayla has to go to the river with Jal is woven in with the worship prayers.

This bit of dialogue serves three purposes. 1) Introduces the GEN faith which is based on servitude. 2) Sets up Kayla having to go to the river with Jal. 3) Teases Kayla’s “sket,” the special ability that the gene-splicers programmed into her while she was in the tank. Her sket will be revealed in the river scene.

In another new scene that follows the worship service, I include the subtext of Tala’s real reason for sending Kayla to the river to accompany Jal.

Once I finished the pilot and outlined the entire first season of the Tankborn series, I felt I was close to getting the pieces of a “series bible” together. Then Regina introduced a new wrinkle: we needed a short film, set in Tankborn’s world, to be part of our pitch. We needed a “visual” to sell our concept.

I proposed we base the short film on an “outtake” scene from Tankborn that didn’t make it into the final version of the book. Regina loved the idea, and I went to work on the script. While the pilot was 50 pages, the short film had to be only 5-7 pages. Writing short is tough, but after some back and forth, we locked down the script. We nailed down a title too: Recombined. Step 2 was complete: book trilogy (a fragment of it anyway)  movie script.

We’re now on to the next phase of our short film, crowdfunding. That’s where we’ve asked our friends, and friends of friends, and people who don’t even know us if they can pitch in a little bit to help us make Recombined. Click the picture below to check out our campaign.Regina and I are very passionate about this project (as is Neobe Velis, our producer). We’re especially excited that Recombined will be a inclusive production, with a diverse cast and crew. With a particular commitment to gender parity in front of and behind the camera.

But we can’t get it done without help from others. And by “help,” I mean donations. If that’s something that inspires you, check out our campaign page. Any amount from $1 on up will be greatly appreciated. Even better, donations are tax deductible. And every one will help us complete Step 3: Movie script  TV series.

Want to share about the campaign on Facebook or Twitter? Also very much appreciated. Here’s a sample post:

I found this fantastic campaign to support – written, directed & produced by women. Join me in amplifying an awesome story! Donate here: #diversity  #inclusion #femalepower #scifimovie

And going back to the beginning of this blog post, you might remember I mentioned that Tankborn segued briefly into a short story. That story is “Sacrifice,” set in Tankborn’s world and featuring new characters. “Sacrifice” is for sale on Amazon, but if you donate any amount to the Recombined campaign from $1 on up, forward me the receipt at karen at karensandler dot net and I will send you a free copy of “Sacrifice” as a thank you.

This post originally appeared on Fantasy Cafe.

Posted in Books, Cool Science, Diverse Books, diversity, Tankborn Origins, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Exciting News About Tankborn

In previous posts, I’ve talked about how I’ve lived a double life as a writer. At the same time that I’ve written my 22 novels, I’ve been writing screenplays. Screenplays for full-length movies, for TV shows, and short scripts. I’ve had a few of my short scripts produced, including my horror comedy, SWEET TOOTH.

In late 2016, I met a director and pitched my Tankborn Trilogy to her, thinking it would make a pretty good TV show. She read the books and loved them, and since then we’ve been working together on a series bible and a pitch for studios.

A key part of that pitch will be a short film called Recombined which is based on a scene from Tankborn that was edited out of the final book. Once it’s completed, we can show Recombined to studios to help them imagine Tankborn’s world. We can also use the short film to create “buzz” for a Tankborn TV show. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I wrote the script, Regina Ainsworth will direct it, and Neobi Velis will produce. We’ll have more crew coming on when the film is funded.

That’s where you come in. We want to produce a high quality film that we can take to film festivals and eventually release online. That takes a good-sized budget, even for a short film. So Regina, Neobe, and I are running a crowdfunding campaign for Recombined using a site called Hatchfund.

There are donation levels for everyone who wants to contribute to seeing Tankborn become a television series. You can give $1, $10, $25, $50 or more, and every level has a great perk. Just check out the campaign page.

I am very passionate about Recombined, and so anxious to see it get made. The film will touch on the same social justice issues as the Tankborn Trilogy did, and the cast and crew will be diverse and inclusive. It’s everything I would want in a project that I’m involved in.

Can you help? Chip in $1 or $10 or more? Or if you’d like to help in another way, please share the link to the Recombined campaign page on social media. The more word gets out, the greater the chance that Recombined will become a reality.

Thank you,

Karen Sandler


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The Attack of the Turkey People

Okay, no actual attack was involved. It was more of an invasion in my back yard.

A momma turkey and her three babies either flew over the 6-ft fence or wriggled under it. A bit of a surprise before my morning coffee.

Turkeys qualify as wildlife here in my corner of California, but they’re apparently not native. They were introduced to the state in the 1870s for hunting.

Other wildlife I’ve encountered in my yard:


I can vouch for the mule deer being native to my area, but apparently the fox is only a member of that club if he (she?) is a Sierra Nevada red fox. The squirrel is probably a red squirrel–not native, and sufficiently more aggressive than the gray squirrel (which I think is native, but it could be an interloper too) that the red has overpowered the gray. I like the grays, they have fluffier tails.

Then we have a few critters in the neighborhood that are clearly not native:

The zebra is a stud used for zebra crosses like zorses and zonkeys. No idea why there are peacocks strutting around our county (rumor has it they scare rattlesnakes away). And you know the Canada geese are transients from out of town–and they apparently have an astonishing number of babies.

Any interesting critters where you live?





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Brilliant, Brilliant I Tell You

This has been a creative morning. As I struggled to drag myself into wakefulness, hitting the snooze button for the second time, an absolutely brilliant, foolproof idea burst full flower in my mind. I’m sure I can trust all of you not to steal it for yourselves and make gazillions of dollars from this lucrative concept before I can.

So here it is: when you hit the snooze button on a clock (any clock–old school clock-radios, fancy watches, smartphones), you not only get 10 extra minutes of sleep, but time moves backward that same amount. In other words, you don’t lose time by sleeping in. In fact, “sleeping in” will no longer be a thing. We’ll call it “time restoration” or “time recycling” or some such. You’ll never be late for work again.

Now that I’ve come up with the idea, I’m sure physicists, mechanical engineers, and Time Lords alike will want in. They’ll pay me generous royalties once they figure out the trivial details of how to make this work. The big bucks will start rolling in.

I’m thinking there might be other applications for this idea. How about a reset of unpleasant experiences? Download the app “Time Restoration” onto your phone and select from a list of options like Bad Blind Date or Disastrous Election Result. You’ll never have to say “Well, there’s four years I’ll never get back” again.

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Greatness in Diversity

A while back, President-Elect Trump’s staff posted a page requesting feedback on how we Americans thought we could “Make America Great.” I took the opportunity to respond. My response is below, with some minor editing.

you-belong-here-11x17What makes America great is its people. All its people. We are a nation of immigrants, and we must respect the rights of all–those who arrived in the last few months, few years, few centuries. After all, no one but those indigenous to this nation are native here. We all came from somewhere else.

So first, acts like this must stop.  You, President-Elect Trump, have a powerful pulpit. While all Americans must speak out forcefully against racist, sexist, homophobic attacks, your voice in particular must be heard loud and clear.

Some of your supporters seem to think your election has freed them from human decorum and kindness, allowing them to say or do whatever hateful thing they wish. It has not. We still must be respectful of one another. Kind to one another. Hateful acts worsen and coarsen our country. They bleed away our greatness, making us LESS THAN the magnificent country we can be.

Once you’ve done your part to restore civility and kindness to our nation, then you can begin to put in place the policies you think will make this country greater. But please keep in mind you are not just president of the ones who voted for you. You are president of the ones who didn’t vote for you and the ones who didn’t vote at all. Not all of us will agree that your policies are what’s best for our country and its people. We may speak out against them. That’s our right as Americans.

So do your best, Mr. Trump, for all Americans. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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Solace in Cats

dsc_2680cssI’m one of those who’s still dealing emotionally with the election last month. I’ve been reeling from horror story to horror story, my stomach in knots. I can’t say things are looking any brighter close to a month afterwards.

I’m finding a modicum of comfort in my cats. Yes, I’m an admitted Cat Lady, even though I only own two. With our empty nest and my grandkids living so far away, pressing my ear to the side of a purring cat and petting their soft fur can be a welcome distraction.

tenka-bedI’ve been doing a terrible job as a blogger and sometimes would just as soon shut it down. Especially now when things are looking dark for our country. But I’m taking another stab at it. Not sure where I’m going from here, and I hope it won’t be nothing but cats. But for now, here are a couple of contented felines that make my world a little brighter.

Posted in Cats Horses and Other Pets, Strongly Held Beliefs | 2 Comments