Alex Cox, who wrote and directed Sid and Nancy, Repo Man, and Straight to Hell, is currently teaching film at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He’s put together a real-world project for his students: producing a film version of Harry Harrison’s classic novel Bill, the Galactic Hero.
Even though he’s using college students (who don’t actually have to be paid), this independent film project is still going to suck down a pile of money. Toward that end, Cox has launched it as a Kickstarter project, trying to raise $100,000 to pay for it.
He writes “BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO is a feature-length science fiction comedy set in the far reaches of our galaxy, as humans wage war against a reptilian alien species, known as Chingers. It is extremely low budget, and relatively high concept. How is a story of space warfare between two high-technology civilizations to be achieved, doing justice to its original, on a super-low budget?
Partially because most of the work will be done by my production students at the University of Colorado (you can see samples of their extraordinary work here) — under the occasional supervision of professionals from the industry. But mainly because Harry Harrison’s original novel – his counterblast to STAR$HIP TROOPERS – has to be made this way. It’s told not from the flight deck but from the engine room: or to be more exact, the fusebays, where ranks of expendable Fusetenders Sixth Class wait to replace burned-out fuses, or die.
Harry’s story of grunts – and one grunt in particular – in the lowest echelon of the war machine – can readily be recreated in an academic environment: in this instance, the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus. ATLAS, home of the University of Colorado’s Film Studies Program, features concrete staircases and windowless basement corridors which already resemble the corridors and fusebays of the Good Ship Fanny Hill. The Visual Arts Complex features asymmetrical hallways and strange machines. Tunnels beneath the campus provide us with the bowels of Helior, the Imperial Planet. The Engineering Dept. has space suits and a mock-up Space Shuttle replacement. Bill’s one trip “above ground” to Helior’s Walled Gardens, can be recreated on our lovely campus.
Veniola, the swamp planet, where Bill is sent to a penal colony, will be shot in an appropriately green location.
Some sixty pages of BILL THE GALACTIC HERO will be shot live action, with space-suited actors, on 35mm black and white film. About ten pages will be shot on a stage using front or rear projection.
There are about ten (overlapping) pages of model shots and special effects, including glimpses of the Voids of Space. We will build our own models at CU, under the supervision of visual effects pros from Tippett Studios (ROBOCOP, STARSHIP TROOPERS, MAD GOD) and Collateral Image (who created the visual effects for REPO CHICK and STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS). My colleague Victor Jendras will supervise the creation of the medals, and the production design.
BILL THE GALACTIC HERO begins and ends as an animated cartoon. The anime department, run by my colleague Chris Pearce, will also create Eager Chinger, the tiny reptilian spy.
The live action – actors in space suits in staircases, sound stages, and swamps – can be accomplished within twenty days. But the “VFX” part of the project does not unfold quickly. This is an old-fashioned science fiction film of the technological level of ICARUS XB1: it will use real models, and matte shots.
Since we’re outputting a digital version of the film – your DVD or BluRay disc, or download – post production will involve some CGI – computer generated images. How else to achieve our ray gun blasts, or interplanetary lasers? But we aim to keep our technology rooted in the mid 1960s, when the greatest of all science fiction films (DR STRANGELOVE, ICARUS, and 2001) were made with three-dimensional analog models, and when Harry Harrison conceived and wrote BILL THE GALACTIC HERO.
The main shoot of BILL THE GALACTIC HERO will be complete before December 2013. But post-production will take longer than that! One of the things I try to teach my students is the “impossible triangle of quality”: the one whereby any manufactured item – including a film – can be made good, and fast, but not cheap; fast, and cheap, but not good; or good, and cheap, but not fast. A quality independent film aims for the last of these three. We will endeavor to post a fine cut – viewable with a unique download key – in the Summer of 2014, and to ship the more important costumes and models when we’re sure they aren’t needed. BILL THE GALACTIC HERO – its sound design and music under the supervision of Academy Award winner Richard Beggs and film composer Dan Wool – will be finished by December 2014.
To participate, see this page. At press time, more than $23,000 had been pledged toward the goal of $100,000, with 26 days to go.