Tag Archives: aliens

A character of mine is routinely tracked by agents of various organizations (think Area 51 kind of deal, not the police or the army). What kind of signs would she look for when she’s assessing whether someone is a threat to her? How to spot an agent in disguise?

Here’s the thing. If you’re going with the whole alien hunter thing, then you’re probably looking at the police and military. Remember, Groom Lake was an Air Force Base, and that is military.

The short answer is anyone that singles her out and she catches paying attention to her, and that’s about as good as it’s going to get. Unless she knows specific tells with the agents hunting her, like, say, that they’re all aliens themselves, and have some distinguishing characteristic, then there’s that, but otherwise, she’s just going to have to rely on her own paranoia.

As I understand it (and keep in mind, this is a little out of my forte); the basic advice with protective details is to scan the area, and if anyone sticks out in your mind, keep an eye on them. But, as simple as that is, it’s hardly foolproof. Over time, more details of what you’re looking for specifically will get filled in, This is just the old “one of these things doesn’t belong” game with assassins and attempted murder.

Also, “disguise” makes me think of Groucho Marx glasses. Realistically, in a situation like this, a disguise would probably be something as simple as jeans and a t-shirt, with maybe a jacket or work shirt if it’s appropriate.

This is also going to get into a protagonist/antagonist bent, so, I’m going to start with the assumption that your conspiracy agents are the bad guys.

In order to be effective, they need to be able to escalate. They need to have the ability to act openly if the situation really warrants it. Otherwise it will just be too easy to outmaneuver them. In the real world, hunting and killing anything bipedal is generally frowned upon by the police, and any antagonist that can be completely neutralized by dialing 911 is a poor foe (at least in this context.) This means, setting them up like the fake emergency call in the Bourne films would be an amazingly fast way to get rid of them, and it would work reliably.

So, your antagonists need to actually be affiliated with either the police, military, or both. If it’s a conspiracy outside of the government, they need to have pull inside the police. These need to be people that really can call the cops for backup, and possibly (depending on what they’re hunting) the national guard or marines.

If it is a conspiracy, then their front line agents will probably be ex-law enforcement or ex-military. These are the kinds of people that have the necessary skills, the background, and the outlook for the job. This also means, they’ll be very hard to spot, because you’re not looking a specific set of characteristics, you’re having to look for a lot of possible tells.

If the group is actually your protagonists, and the situation is a little different. In this case, your agents will look a lot more like resistance fighters. Ex-law enforcement and military are still preferred, but they might have to take whatever they can get.

They’re also going to need to be very careful. One slip up could mean their entire operation is in jeopardy, and the police are a serious treat to their ability to function.

In a case like this, agents could be potentially impossible to spot. The easiest way would be to look for the same faces popping up. These guys don’t have a large staff to pull from, so they can’t afford to rotate their surveillance. They also probably couldn’t afford to track someone “just because they might be a problem later”, again, they don’t have the numbers to do that. So if they’re stalking your character, it’s because they’re planning to neutralize her, soon.

You can run groups like this as antagonists, but it’s not easy. Hunter: The Reckoning is written from the perspective of the rag-tag monster hunters being the protagonists, but the books could give you some ideas for using them as antagonists. While we’re on the subject, Hunter: First Contact is specifically built around running these two types of groups against each other, and it does offer some good suggestions, even if it is geared for a world where Vampires control the police, and the werewolves are ecoterrorists.

First Wave was a… let’s call it quirky series about a lone alien hunter trying to save the world. Cade Foster wouldn’t make for a good antagonist, but if you can track the show down, it might give you some ideas. Also, the aliens in the setting are interesting, and Roger Cross’ work as an enforcer for the aliens is very memorable. Fair warning, the first season DVD set is obscenely expensive, and I don’t think SyFy’s released the others, so this might not be an example you can actually use.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention V. Either the original series from the early 80s or the reboot a couple years ago. I’m not a fan of the former, and I haven’t seen the remake. But, it is the urexample of a resistance cell fighting against an alien invasion. This is pretty much the opposite of what you’re wanting to do, but it might help.

By the same token, I’m not a fan of Earth: Final Conflict, but the show was about resistance fighters hiding inside, and working to subvert aliens who came to earth openly. It’s at its best when the aliens are ethically ambiguous, but that gets lost in later seasons, as the aliens become more overtly evil. It probably isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, but for anyone else in the general vicinity.

You can run conspiracies as protagonists, but it’s tricky. Stargate: SG1 is a good example, and The X-Files plays this for both the FBI agents and the conspiracy. The British miniseries Ultraviolet plays a lot like this as well, though they’re hunting vampires, not aliens. If you’re going for more of a comedy bent, the MIB films might not be a bad place to look. The first film in particular, has a wonderfully surreal quality.

This one might not be possible to track down, but The Visitor (1997) was a really interesting series where an alien abductee returns to earth, and is trying to save the world. It’s notable for having two separate groups, a slightly deranged military commander tasked with covering up alien activity, and a cadre of FBI agents. If you can find a copy, this was a really good series.

-Starke

What are some movies or tv shows that do an excellent job at fight (and gun) scenes? I wanted to know what you think, so that I can use them as a reference — be it for drawing or writing a story.

Okay, there’s an easy way to do this and a useful way, let’s start with the useful route. Find names. Not actors, and not usually directors. You’re looking for stunt choreographers, sword masters, or fight choreographers. Unfortunately the name for the positions vary. They will usually be credited in the stunts section on IMDB, if you’re using it. These are the people that actually train the actors and stunt performers. I’ll be honest, these guys can be a pain to track down. If you’re looking for excellent swordplay, the late Bob Anderson is probably the place to start. If you want hand to hand choreography, you’ve got more options, find someone who’s style looks good, and see if you can find other entries in their career where they’re actually coordinating the stunts.

Also, shows will trade off stunt coordinators, sometimes on an episode by episode basis, 24 had at least four different coordinators over the years. Films will sometimes trade off stunt coordinators when they shoot in different cities. So, if you’re looking at a specific fight, make sure you find the stunt coordinator from that episode or scene.

Everyone in stunts are criminally under-appreciated. These are often, very talented martial artists whose names you’ll never know. Tracking down a specific stunt fighter can be tricky, following their career can be even harder, but it is more likely to be useful than a loose list of random films and shows.

So, here’s the random list of films and shows that can get you started:

The Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films have absolutely fantastic swordplay. Some of it is a bit over the top, Tolkien’s races of men aren’t really human, like the setting’s Elves and Dwarves, they’re a mythical race of super beings, so keep in mind that normal people can’t actually fight while being turned into an arrow pincushion.

Heat and Collateral. Both are focused on highly trained professional criminals with military backgrounds. Heat climaxes around the halfway mark with a North Hollywood shooting style bloodbath. Michael Mann’s work also deserves special mention for his commentaries. After you’ve watched Heat and Collateral, go back and rewatch them with the director’s commentary. Some of this is simple cinematography, or story development (which should still be useful for you), but some of it gets into his observations on criminology, and operations. The remake of Miami Vice also has a standout commentary from Mann (as I recall).

Spartan is focused on a semi-anonymous government operative. It’s treatment of violence is instructional. Also, if you’re writing characters with military hand to hand training, this is what they will do to people.

Strange Days. This is one of the rare films where the violence is really unsettling. It hammers home a lot of things we say on a regular basis, like how going up against multiple combatants is a losing game. (Also, one of the antagonists is a rapist who kills his victims, so a Trigger Warning: Rape is in full effect.)

Burn Notice, sometimes. The early seasons are better about this, but the narrator does offer some pretty solid advice, from talking about how to stage an ambush to explaining why you can’t just burst in shooting, this will give you a lot of the “why”, that controls what your characters do.

24. The writing’s hit or miss, and some of the seasons don’t really coalesce into a single story. You’ll probably learn more about staging and executing cliffhangers from the series (that is it’s forte), but it keeps the violence brief and explosive. It also goes through characters like kleenex, so it’s worth watching for that. The torture scenes waffle, and you’re going to have to use your own judgment on what you’ll accept. If you want to use torture, this is a good primer, then watch Burn Notice to remember why torture just doesn’t work.

If you’re dealing with a setting where some of your characters (particularly your villains) have superpowers, Blade Runner. Most of the combat in the film is unusually slow, as the replicants try to subdue their foes with their strength alone. It does show why the whole “stronger = better fighters” is crap. It’s also a fairly solid presentation of a character who is effectively a hired killer, going up against foes that can literally rip him limb from limb.

Highlander: The Series. Adrian Paul’s hand to hand form is a little unusual, but he is pretty good. The show alternates between actors someone tried to train in martial arts, and good martial artists turned actors. Still, there’s a lot of good swordplay, and writing that’s far better than it has any business being. If you’re wanting to write immortals of any streak (including especially vampires), this is a must see. The sword work in the first two seasons were choreographed by Bob Anderson, so, if you’re using swords, keep this one in mind.

If you’ve never seen it, watch Aliens. The first film is good, but not really relevant for this list. The important thing going in is that Aliens is a Vietnam war film set in space. Disciplined, well equipped soldiers up against a guerrilla force.

The film adaptation of Starship Troopers takes some of the same themes and pulls it clean into uncomfortable territory. I’m not going to recommend it for its combat, (though, that is well presented), but I would say it’s worth watching for the insight into military jingoism. Then realize you’ve been basically cheering for Nazis and now want to go vomit blood.

For reference: the film of Starship Troopers is a subversive parody, and the critical cue is seeing Paul Verhoeven’s name as the director. Similarly, Robocop (1987) is a pretty brutal take down of using violence to solve problems. Though, again, this is played straight.

Man on Fire (2004). I keep wanting to skip this one, but the fact is, it’s actually pretty good for what it’s doing. It also manages to convey, in a visceral sense how unexpected violence in the real world can feel. Though, I’ve probably spoiled that sensation by listing it on here. Forget that you read this here, forget the title, forget the fiery image on the cover and go watch it.

Sandbaggers is probably the most realistic presentation of violence in the espionage genre. Which is to say, avoiding it at all costs.

The only Tarantino film I’d actually recommend is Reservoir Dogs. The violence is self contained, and the bulk of the writing is the characters responding to the violence. This is actually some pretty smart writing, and you can probably learn something from it. (For the record, I like most of his work, but, it’s just not as applicable here.)

Mortal Combat (1995) is a goofy movie. But, as we’ve said before, the martial arts are technically good, and slow enough you can follow.

I almost never recommend video games, but, Spec Ops: The Line is an exception. (You can ignore the prior games in the franchise, they’re completely unrelated.) At first glance it looks like a conventional cover-based modern military shooter, it isn’t. The game isn’t particularly realistic, at least the combat isn’t, it’s also not conventionally “fun.” But, it is a very solid study of combat fatigue as well as the burdens and responsibilities of command.

This is a game that will make you do really horrible things, wear you down, and leave you numb and exhausted. If you want to tell the story of an action hero presented with real combat, you really need to play this. No, you need to play this. Nothing will cure a casual violence addiction faster.

Watching LP videos won’t carry the same effect, this is one of those times where you really need to be the one responsible for your actions, to get the full effect.

This is a Heart of Darkness homage (it’s not really an adaptation), if you want a hint of where it’s going thematically.

(Also, TW: Violence, because Spec Ops gets really messed up in a way nothing else on the list approaches.)

-Starke