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Interview de Philip Cook

Si nous aimons rire d'un certain cinéma déviant, nous sommes très loin de mépriser les hommes et les femmes qui s'y sont impliqués ou compromis. Il nous a ainsi paru enrichissant de faire raconter le nanar et son univers par les gens qui l'ont vécu de l'intérieur. La diversité des intervenants et de leurs réponses nous a rendu encore plus proches du cinéma que nous aimons : vous découvrirez, au fil des entretiens que ces différentes vedettes ont bien voulu nous accorder, des informations précieuses pour le cinéphile et le cinéphage, des anecdotes cocasses et, en esquisse, le portrait attachant de personnages souvent hauts en couleur.
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Philip Cook

Philip J. Cook is a producer/director/writer/director of photography/FX specialist who has been involved for 25 years in the field of the American B-movies. After working for such luminaries a Menahem Golan and Godfrey Ho, he created his independent company to carry out his own personal science fiction movies like "Despiser", released lately on DVD in France. Here is the interview of a passionate man, who tells us about the good and hard times of low-budget exploitation cinema.

For better knowledge of the man and his work, you may see his company's website, which includes several of his films' trailers.

For some of the illustrations, we used 2 FX specialists' websites: (John Ellis' website, a close friend of Phil Cook)

Interview menée par Rico

Since we know little about you in France, could you please give us some basic information about yourself and your beginnings in the film industry?

In the 80s, I started out as an animation cinematographer and worked on many of the early MTV IDs. Back then we created everything with miniatures, stop motion and matte paintings – “old-school EFX technology.” At twenty-four, I directed my first sci-fi feature film OUTERWORLD aka STAR QUEST. OUTERWORLD debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and was sold all over the world. I then wrote and directed my second sci-fi feature INVADER -- Menahem Golan was the executive producer. He was so impressed with INVADER, that he commissioned me to write a screenplay called COVERT STRIKE that I was going to direct in Israel starring Michael Pare' and Billy Drago. Unfortunately Menahem's company, 21st Century Films bankrupted and the picture never got made. I then wrote another screenplay called STAR CRUSHERS for Vision Arts--a visual effects/production company in L.A. They also went out of business before the picture got made.

At this point the visual effects industry was moving more and more towards computer animation. Not wanting to be left out, I started teaching myself 3D animation. I wrote the script for NIGHT FLYERS--a story of American women army pilots during World War II that find themselves in the middle of a fantastic adventure. I produced the first ten minutes of the film myself with hopes that the intro could help raise money from distributors. We later developed the concept into a TV series and pitched it to several international distributors in the 90s. It generated a lot interest, but no one was willing to commit to first monies. So NIGHT FLYERS fell by the wayside. It was then that I decided to produce DESPISER—the story of an artist to travels to purgatory to rescue his wife from despotic forces. DESPISER was designed specifically for the new digital technologies of independent filmmaking. The goal was to make a fantastic film as inexpensively as possible.

You wrote screenplays for your own movies in the 80's, like “Invader” or “Star Quest”, before being an FX technician and a director. Was writing your first career choice?

I enjoy writing and it's easier to stay in control of your film when you're the author. With my knowledge of visual effects, I knew how to write for a small budget but achieve a big look on screen. I always knew the best EFX films were first and foremost about the characters and story. The EFX are there to serve the story and not the other way around. Although as I look back, I can certainly see I've grown as a writer -- at least I like to think so.

Let's start with your work for other directors. You worked as a director of photography and visual FX creator on several very low budget movies like “Nightbeast” or “The Galaxy Invaders” directed by a passionate sci-fi magazines publisher: Don Dohler. What were exactly your work on those films, and memories do you keep of them?

Wow, you know about those pictures? I was in college when I heard about Don Dohler. He had made the independent low budget feature ALIEN FACTOR. He had shot it in 16mm and actually got it on TV. We were all really impressed. When I learned he was doing NIGHT BEAST, John Ellis, Kent Burton and I jumped at the chance to work on the project. We built miniatures. Kent Burton did a clay animated Night Beast. We shot the whole thing in John Ellis's living room. We created thirty some shots for the opening. It was quite a learning experience. In the end, not all the shots ended up in the film, which was a little disappointing. But from Don's point of view I understand how they may not have matched the style of what he was trying to achieve.

" Metamorphosis, the Alien Factor " was the sequel to a popular low budget movie in the early 80's called " The Deadly Spawn ". Despite its lack of money, the movie is generous on creatures and visual effects, and involves a large FX team. What was your part in it? How were the work and the ambiance on the set?

I had known of Ted Bohus for a few years because of DEADLY SPAWN. And Ted knew Dan Taylor who owned the animation company Taylor Made Images in Maryland. Ted and his partners raised quite a bit of money for a low budget film - I believe a million dollars. They shot 35mm; built some pretty amazing sets in a warehouse and had some great prosthetic creatures built by Ron Cole and other talented young guys in New Jersey. Dan Taylor, Alan Hoyt and John Ellis also built one the sets at the end of the film and shipped it to New Jersey for the finale - the big regeneration room. On the live action production, I shot some 2nd unit photography -- inserts of monsters, bloody bits and the like. After the film wrapped, I was Director of Photography on most of the stop motion animation shots. Dan Taylor's crew built beautiful miniature versions of the sets and monsters and Kent Burton and Dan Taylor animated them. Many of the shots still hold up really well. It was a very ambitious effort for the time.

We read that the movie has got some legal problems with its production and distribution. In its end credits, we can read this mysterious line: ”I haven't got paid enough for this shit.” Could you tell us more about it?

I don't know much about the financing side of METAMORPHOSIS. I know Ted had a lot of partners. I never really understood who put up the money or how that worked. There was a big falling out between the producers by the time the production finished. They had made a deal with Intercontinental Releasing, which didn't go well. In this business no one ever gives you a straight answer about how the deals are structured so I don't know the details. Everyone seems to be afraid you're going to learn the truth or steal his or her mojo. It wouldn't surprise me that they have rights problems. That's not unusual. I've got rights problems with INVADER.

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