Simon Cox, the filmmaker now ready to unleash indie blockbuster Invasion Planet Earth on the world, talks to us about the 20-year journey to bring the film from script to screen, the crowdfunding campaigns and fans that made it all possible, and what it's like to bring his sci-epic to cinemas.
Hello Simon, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. You’re very near the end of what’s been a long journey to get Invasion Planet Earth from the script to the screen. So, first of all, how does it feel to have the film screening all over the UK this week?
To be honest, having a movie in UK cinemas across the UK has been a dream of mine since I was a kid. So now it's here it actually feels a bit weird. The reality though is that I haven’t had much time to reflect on it as the last month has been full-on marketing and PR.
Now let’s take it back to the beginning. What’s the film about, where did the inspiration come from and what were the first steps you took to bring it to life?
As far as what the film is about goes, I will just say this... When an alien mothership appears in the sky above London, people on Earth fear it is the end of civilization as they know it. The ultimate war for Planet Earth is about to begin... Can a grieving father save the future of mankind?
This film has taken me nearly 20 years to make, so it’s hard to really express the amount of work that has gone into it. The inspiration pretty much comes from the first time I saw the original Star Wars on the big screen (at the Basingstoke ABC cinema back in 1978). That was the cinematic experience of my life and made me want to be in films.
I also liked things like Six Million Dollar Man, Planet of the Apes, Dr Who, Battlestar Galactica (the original), Buck Rogers etc and I wanted to make a film that caught the spirit and fun of these 1970’s shows.
I got into the film industry in 1988 and trained as a film editor in children’s TV. This experience taught me how to put films together and all about the film industry and how it worked.
In 1996 I wrote and directed a supernatural thriller called Written in Blood. This was a really difficult film to make, so I decided that if I was going to go through the hell of making a feature film again, I would at least make the kind of movie that I really wanted to make: a spectacular, retro sci-fi. A sort of guilty pleasure, really. So in 1999, I started the first draft of Kaleidoscope Man, the script that would eventually become, Invasion Planet Earth.
The crowdfunding element of the production was made up of several phases. Can you tell us about your experience campaigning and what it was like to run several campaigns for the same project?
I was getting rejection after rejection from everyone I approached for finance and I was seriously beginning to wonder if I would actually be able to make another film again (this was back in the early 2000’s before we could shoot on video).
In 2012 I decided to give crowdfunding a go and tried to raise the full amount. This first campaign failed, but I realised that there were a lot of people out there who would be happy to help me. I decided to break the film down into phases and shoot it bit by bit. It then took 2 years and 7 crowdfunding campaigns which enabled me to shoot around 20 minutes of the final movie. I then found some larger investors who funded the rest of the movie, although this took a further 3 years.
I learnt a lot while crowdfunding. It's not about the numbers, it's about capturing the imaginations of the people around you and taking them on the journey with you. You have to be humble and very giving. I was blown away by how much support I was given.
With so many production phases, did the film evolve throughout that process or did you have a singular vision from the get-go to which you were able to stick?
I pretty much had a single vision throughout as the script was already written, although I did tweak each shoot as I approached them. In some ways, making this film was a bit like shooting lots of short films and then chopping them all together.
Tell us about the cast you assembled for the film.
Originally, I was after star names (Ewan Bremner, Tom Hardy and Joanne Froggit originally auditioned for the roles) but once I realised that we were going to have to shoot it in phases and on a low budget, I decided to find some fresh, exciting new talent who would be happy to go on the journey with me.
I got very lucky and casting Simon Haycock, Lucy Drive, Danny Steele, Julie Hoult and Sophie Anderson in the lead roles worked perfectly. In retrospect, this was the perfect choice and I believe the actors in this film will become big stars in the not to distant future.
Once filming was completed, extensive post-production and VFX work began. Can you tell us about this process and what was involved?
Well, being an experienced editor, I cut the film myself. I didn’t want to do a final cut until I had all the shots in place, so I assembled it as we went along (over 5 years). It was a bit like building a big jigsaw. When all the live-action was shot, I added storyboards and rough pencil sketches of the FX’s required. For the big alien invasion scene, where soldiers battle attacking alien ships, I added red circles to the background plates where I knew the ships would eventually go.
I then hired a 3D guy, Ian Whiston, who built the 3D models of the ships and he gave me each ship in various motions – flying overhead, spinning, flying past camera etc. and I then superimposed them onto the BG plates. I was hoping to have a team of animators and compositors to help with the CGI, but alas could not afford them. So, I had a couple of CGI guys who helped occasionally on some of the movie's tricky shots.
I had to learn how to composite from scratch, mainly using YouTube tutorial videos to help me. The Fx’s took around two and a half years to complete.
Now the film is complete, how did you go about navigating the waters of distribution?
This was harder than I thought, but I literally got on the phone and spoke to lots of sales agents and distributors.
There was a point when I was getting worried that I might not be able to find a distributor, but luckily, I found a small UK company called Munro Films who got what I was trying to do with the film and agreed to help with distributing the film theatrically. They then introduced me to Lightbulb Distribution who are distributing the film on DVD and digital release.
Driving such an ambitious project over such a period must have taken great mental fortitude. Were there occasions where you doubted the film would be completed, and if so, how did you overcome them?
Yes and no. I made the decision early on that I was going to finish this film come hell or high water and nothing was going to stop me. That said, there were a few wobbles, but I really did believe in the script and I could see that what we were shooting was looking really good and I just knew this would be a really good indie sci-fi movie. I just had to keep on going!
What advice would you go back and give to yourself at the start of this process?
Keep going! Don’t wait for permission from others, you know in your heart what is the right decision. Stop worrying. Don’t rely on the hollow promises of others, they may mean well but if you don’t believe they will actually help you, the chances are they won’t. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Believe in yourself. People WILL want to see this film. You WILL get there! That kind of stuff.
Invasion Planet Earth will screen at cinemas for one night only on Thursday 5th December - to find your closest screening visit the film's official website.
You can follow Simon on Twitter: @SimonCoxFilm