Alex Cox: Bill the Galactic Hero
April 5, 2013

Alex Cox: Bill the Galactic Hero

The creator of Repo Man and Sid & Nancy directs a feature comedy based on Harry Harrison's classic anti-war science fiction novel.

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 re-created 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 that 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 re-created 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 60 pages of Bill the Galactic Hero will be shot live action, with space-suited actors, on 35mm black and white film. About 10 pages will be shot on a stage using front or rear projection.

There are about 10 (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 (which 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 20 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 - postproduction 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 postproduction 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.

Thanks for reading this - and please, if you can, support this authentically independent independent film! I shall be grateful for your backing at any level, and look forward to sharing the details of Bill's progress with you as the film unfolds. Only backers will know the true and grisly details of this production. Only with your support, can Bill be made!

Risks and challenges

The risks associated with any film project are twofold: that the film may not be completed. and that the film will be bad. The first of these risks is minimal: a filmmaker's reputation depends on his or her ability to deliver a finished film; all the features I've directed have been completed and distributed, in theaters, on television, or on DVD. The schedule we've established for Bill gives us the lengthy postproduction period which a good science fiction film needs (and which the panicked schedules of contemporary Hollywood no longer permit).

The danger of making a bad film is always there! In the project's favor is the original material - Harry Harrison's amazing book - and the screenplay, which Harry and I were working on when he died, and which is available for your perusal as a $10 Kickstarter reward. The risk-averse might also worry about the budget, which is by Hollywood standards amazingly low. But I'm used to making low-budget pictures: you might want to check out my book, X Films, which deals with ten features I directed, and goes into detail as to the budgets and how they were spent.

Raising our funding now gives us plenty of time to buy film stock, buy and doctor our costumes, and prepare for a fall shoot. I'm confident in the talents of my student crew and actors - and my confidence is reinforced because professionals I've worked with many times will also be around to keep things up to our usual exacting standards!

Could Bill the Galactic Hero run late? Given our decent post production period this seems unlikely. Will fulfillment of the rewards be delayed? Highly unlikely. Once the shoot is officially over we can release the leads' spacesuits and regalia. When the visual effects photography is done we can release the spacecraft and refreshment robots. All this will be well in advance of our delivery date, December 2014.