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Interview with Philip Cook
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INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP COOK
Image Philip Cook wrote and directed Invader, along with "Despiser" and "Outerworld." His films are made by small groups of people who have a passion for what they do. They might have modest budgets, but the results are expansive efforts that are far more entertaining than many films that cost ten times as much to make. Watching them makes me wish that the Sci Fi Channel would ask Philip to make a film for cable, because I would like to see him make some more movies.

Interview Date: 31 January 2009

Andrew: Where did the idea for "Invader" come from?
Philip Cook: After OUTERWORLD nobody was throwing money at us to make another movie. So we decided to do another cheapie -- something easier this time. I liked the idea of having something fantastic in the film, so why not UFOs? And I knew we wanted some sort of stop motion robot in the picture, so I threw that into the soup. Plus I was reading about military procurement in the 90s, Bush senior had just come into office and just sort of pulled this story together. I wrote it in two weeks. Since my first film was serious and kinda arty, I wanted INVADER to be just fun -- a romp with an edge of satire. Kinda like THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING except with aliens!

Image "I wanted INVADER to be just fun -- a romp with an edge of satire. Kinda like THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING except with aliens!"

Andrew: If you could make one movie and were given what you really needed to make it, what kind would it be? Would you make a Godzilla-style giant monster on a rampage? A military space opera like "Battlestar Galactica?" Something more industrial sci-fi in the vein of "Blade Runner," or perhaps an apocalyptic story?
Philip Cook: I'd love to make a historic fantasy in the vein of LORD OF THE RINGS - a script I wrote right after DESPISER. It's set in Celtic England at the time the Romans were withdrawing. You learn the "real" reasons why they left. It's epic in scale -- armies clashing on the battlefield sort of thing -- very atmospheric - supernatural - old world Gods clashing. At its heart is a very human story about this guy trying to keep his family in the middle of the fantastic adventure. But right now the market scares me so I haven't pursued it. It's very ambitious.

Image "I love building these places; caverns, aircraft, spacecraft, tunnels, robots, all this stuff."

Andrew: There is a tabloid reporter, his sleazy editor, a gruff General, and even a Colonel whose dreams of military success resulted in a towering right-wing-nutjob robot. Tell us about the cast who actually played the characters; what were they like?
Philip Cook: I actually wrote the parts with specific actors in mind. Hans Bachmann (Frank McCall) and Rick Foucheux (Col. Faraday) were both in my first film. The part of Harry Anders was also written for an actor from my first film, but he had a falling out with the producer so we had to find a replacement -- A. Thomas Smith. Then Rick Foucheux introduced me to John Cooke (General Anheiser). I went to see him perform on stage and thought he was brilliant. All of these guys came from the Washington theatre scene - a funny boisterous lot. And all of them were dedicated to getting this ridiculously cheap movie done under sometimes-harsh circumstances.

Image "I actually wrote the parts with specific actors in mind."

Andrew: Frank McCall is my favorite character in "Invader," because he gets paid to write about Bigfoot, but he is so obviously unhappy with his job. However, who is your favorite character, and what was it that made you create them? Did the script need them, or did they help write the script because of who they were?
Philip Cook: I enjoyed all of the characters for different reasons. And I've known aspects of all them from people I've encountered in my life. Honestly, the script practically wrote itself...once I knew who all the players were.

Image "Honestly, the script practically wrote itself...once I knew who all the players were."

Andrew: Have you been able to keep in touch with the cast and crew from "Invader?" How are they doing? What are they doing?
Philip Cook: I do. Christmas cards and such. Several of the actors are still very active in theatre. I read about their performances in the Washington Post. Sometimes we chat at length on the phone about film financing or new production technologies.

Andrew: The budget for "Invader" was about $225,000, which is not a lot of money in terms of making a feature film. You used a warehouse vice a sound stage to keep down some of the costs, but what else helped?
Philip Cook: The "five Ps" - "proper planning prevents poor performance instead of the "six Ps" - "piss poor planning precipitates preposterous predicaments." Essentially, I designed the picture very carefully and knew what we could get away with. Most days we ran a skeleton crew -- me as the director and cinematographer. I had a camera assistant; a sound recordist; and my producer John Ellis filled in the gaps. We built the sets, miniatures. We did almost everything with just a handful of people. I edited the film. Built the soundtrack. John Ellis blew things up. I mean … our motto was - spend nothing until you had no choice. But with the exception of a few volunteers, everyone got paid. Everyone got fed. It was a fun set and people really threw themselves into the picture and gave a 150%. We all had a good time making it.

Image "John Ellis blew things up."

Andrew: You have described "Invader" as a fun popcorn movie. That's a good description, and something I enjoy as well. Sometimes we watch movies just to be entertained. Why do you make movies?
Philip Cook: I love to make movies for a few reasons. One is because I must be a masochist because they're incredibly difficult to do at this level and take years to complete. The main reason is I simply love telling stories. And I love taking the journey with the characters. I love seeing the worlds come to life. And they're all fairly exotic worlds. On the artist side, I love building these places; caverns, aircraft, spacecraft, tunnels, robots, all this stuff. I enjoy lighting it, trying to make it look believable and then adding the sound in post. Styrofoam becomes rock. Wooden plugs become steel rivets. That's the magic of it. I love the family that grows out of the production crew. You get thrown into these intense creative endeavors working for weeks under a lot of pressure and you make a lot of really strong friendships. My best crewmembers were ex-military - love that get the job done under any circumstance attitude. The motto on INVADER was "learn to love the pain" because we were moving mountains for a buck ninety-eight.

And lastly, I love editing the picture. That's where the real magic happens. Where characters become real and worlds start to come together. Where the pacing and story arc start to really work. It's fun. Painful. And frustrating. And a damned expensive hobby!

Image "I enjoy lighting it, trying to make it look believable and then adding the sound in post. Styrofoam becomes rock. Wooden plugs become steel rivets. That's the magic of it."

Andrew: I just have to ask this next question. Where did the cover art for "Invader" come from? The silhouetted science fiction soldiers in the futuristic hallway definitely make the case stand out on the rental shelf. They just do not appear in the film.
Philip Cook: I remember you mentioned that puzzle in your review. Yeah, you're completely right. The key art has absolutely nothing to do with the picture. It was created by Trimark (now Lionsgate) art-department back in the early 90s and we had no say in it. When we saw it, we thought...what the f**k is this? But then we said...but it's kinda cool. Maybe it will move a lot of videotapes. You guys are the experts...run with this b***h! What is even more annoying is how they botched the description of the movie on the case. This is the s**t that infuriates me as well. I had little control over INVADER because Menehem Golan's company put up the finishing money for it. They basically did what ever they wanted to it. But, hey...it did sell a lot of cassettes. You should see the poster. When Lionsgate did the DVD release, they used the same cover -- I guess for 90s nostalgia reasons? But at this point, it is what it is. You'd be surprised how many people do remember it. It was kinda iconic even though it has nothing to do with the picture. There! Mystery revealed!

Image "The key art has absolutely nothing to do with the picture. It was created by Trimark (now Lionsgate) art-department back in the early 90s."

Andrew: Over the years, have there been any projects you wanted to work on, maybe even sketched out, but had to set aside?
Philip Cook: God yes. I've written over ten screenplays and none of them are technically simple. Some of them I've walked away from because they scared me from a production standpoint as low no-budget films. Some scripts I sold but never got produced. Others I've come close to getting financed, but for various reasons the deals never went all the way through. So you sort of circle the wagons and decide what can I get away with, make, and actually market. It's almost impossible now to recover your costs.

Andrew: You do build a lot of sets and models, and include quite a few effects in your films. If you had to pick out one of them as being your favorite, which would it be?
Philip Cook: I'm proud of the spaceship battles in OUTERWORLD and the fantastic miniature work. I still love Big-Harvey, my rampaging foul-mouthed-stop-motion robot from INVADER. And I like some of the stylized car chases in DESPISER and general otherworldly atmosphere.

Image "I still love Big-Harvey, my rampaging foul-mouthed-stop-motion robot from INVADER."

Andrew: Conversely, sometimes building a set or a model can be frustrating. The cursed thing will not stay together, or the final result is not what you had in your mind the whole time. What drove you crazy when you were trying to make one of your films?
Philip Cook: Hmm. Well...few of our effects ever achieve what I envisioned. But I'm a very practical filmmaker. There's only so much time and money you can invest in a shot before you simply have to move on. Shots aren't so much finished as abandoned because there's a dozen more still to make. Otherwise you'll never finish a film. I mean, you have to understand, we're not just effects guys. Or set guys. We make the whole film. I mean every aspect of it. Costuming. Editing. Audio mixing. Music. Color timing. Marketing. Sending out quarterly statements. There is no crew. Only me. Or a partner. Or two or three helpers at times. So...what drove me crazy? The absolute scale of these productions. They can be overwhelming. So you survive by tackling one small piece at a time. And eventually you finish. And hopefully the results are reasonably watchable.

Image "So...what drove me crazy? The absolute scale of these productions. They can be overwhelming. So you survive by tackling one small piece at a time."

Andrew: You have made a couple of films, though "Invader" and "Despiser" are the two that most people are familiar with. If you had to recommend a film of yours to someone, which would it be and why?
Philip Cook: Hmm. Tricky question. INVADER probably -- although it's a bit dated now. DESPISER works pretty well as a story, but people are so jaded by digital effects these days. It's very stylized and requires some suspension of disbelief. We made it in '98 before SKY CAPTAIN, SIN CITY, or 300, so people weren't quite sure what to make of its virtual world look. Considering we made DESPISER for $35,000, I think it works pretty well.

Image "We made it in '98 before SKY CAPTAIN, SIN CITY, or 300, so people weren't quite sure what to make of its virtual world look."

Andrew: Besides making films, what are your interests?
Philip Cook: I paint. Love to travel. Write. Photography. Generally most of my passions lead me back to filmmaking. They all get rolled into it somehow.

Andrew: Strange question, but what is the perfect food to enjoy while watching "Invader?" I am leaning toward a 1 lb hamburger, with a beer to chase it down.
Philip Cook: Funny you should ask that. We recently had a screening of INVADER at a Washington Brew Pub celebrating its DVD release. It was a perfect venue. Beer. Nachos. Burgers. People laughing. Talking at the screen. Best screening ever. A perfect bawdy atmosphere.

Image "We recently had a screening of INVADER at a Washington Brew Pub celebrating its DVD release."

Andrew: Last question, or to be more accurate, an invitation: is there anything you would like to say to the fans of "Invader," "Despiser," or "Outerworld?"
Philip Cook: Well...I hope you enjoy the films as honest, sincere attempts to tell an entertaining story...and perhaps even think of their production shortcomings as part of their charm.

Image "I hope you enjoy the films as honest, sincere attempts to tell an entertaining story."


Thanks to Mr. Cook for taking the time for the interview, and for making films like "Invader." Looking for more information? Here is his IMDb Page and the Eagle Films website. However, the best way to find out more about Philip Cook and his films is to rent or buy "Invader," "Outerworld," or "Despiser" on DVD. Each of them includes a great "Making of" short as a part of the special features.



Comments:Write CommentPages: [1]
Re: Philip Cook Interview
Reply #1. Posted on January 31, 2009, 01:50:23 PM by Ash

Great interview!   Thumbup

I haven't seen Invader or Despiser but now I may have to.
Re: Philip Cook Interview
Reply #2. Posted on February 04, 2009, 06:30:13 PM by Dustin
Wow, I have never been so interested in a filmmaker's work as a result of an interview.

 
Re: Philip Cook Interview
Reply #3. Posted on February 05, 2009, 08:37:06 AM by Bryan
I saw Despiser and thought it was pretty cheesy, but I found it to be pretty fun.  I'll have to check out Cook's other films now.  I like his attitude how he's not making Casablanca but he really would love the chance to.  Give him $10 mil off Michael Bay's next movie and see what he does.  I bet it would be worth it.

Good interview.   Smile
Re: Philip Cook Interview
Reply #4. Posted on August 19, 2009, 08:01:30 PM by DClugi
I was an extra in Invader. The Cub reporter. I remember working in the building where they were shooting and someone didn't show up so they said, "Hey kid, wanna be in a movie?" I"ve yet to see the film though.
Re: Philip Cook Interview
Reply #5. Posted on October 05, 2009, 11:48:02 AM by Stephen Carmona
Phillip Cooke....one of my favorite people.  Anyone who has worked with him knows exactly what I mean.  He could make a a great film on the craft service budget of the last TV show I worked on. Thank you for the interview.
Re: Philip Cook Interview
Reply #6. Posted on February 10, 2012, 01:15:05 PM by Pacman000
I saw Outerworld on VHS entitled "Starquest: Beyond The Rising Moon."  The box bragged about excellent cinematography.  Usually, that's a bad sign.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Smile
Pages: [1]


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