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SXSW '07 Interview: "Undead or Alive" Director Glasgow Phillips

by Scott Weinberg

The "Undead or Alive" Pitch: "Elmer Winslow is a soldier on the run from the Union Army, and Luke Budd is a cowboy with a broken heart. When the two misfits rob the corrupt sheriff of an old west town, they have no idea that a plague of zombies is sweeping the country, or that Geronimo's sexy niece (Rawat) may be their only hope of survival.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Zombie Western!

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you're a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
Yeah, this is my first trip to SXSW as an exhibitor. I used to live in Austin, though, so it's not my first SXSW as an attendee. It's a great festival -- the best, since it's in Austin. With my old company CRAPtv, I used to put on a festival called Lapdance up in Utah during Sundance. Not too many films, though...at least not too many festival-type films. Mostly mayhem and rock and roll, videos of puppets having sex, stuff like that.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be "When I grow up I want to be a " what?
I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I never managed the growing up part, unfortunately. But I've recently written a book on the subject (of not growing up, and also underground Hollywood and silly Internet times), so I guess I managed the writer part. The book comes out right during SXSW, on Grove Atlantic's Black Cat imprint. It's called "The Royal Nonesuch." Get yourself a copy, and you can read more of similar stuff at www.theroyalnonesuch.com!

Not including your backyard and your Dad's Handycam, how did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?
In 1997 I made a short on Super 8 called "The Sound of One Hand Clapping" in which a shaolin monk defeats attacking ninjas with devastating manipulations of his cock and balls. That closed a lot of doors for me, so I guess it was the beginning. Since 2002 I've mostly worked as a TV animation writer. I've had the good luck to work in some amazing rooms with hilarious people, which as far as I'm concerned is about all you can ask for in a job or a life.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"
Sure. I mean, I'm nervous, since it's never been screened publicly before. Austin's a really friendly town, though, so I'm hoping for the best. And it's screening at midnight, so hopefully people will be loaded and forgiving.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Who was that dude with the gold tooth and the band? Doctor something, I think. I really like that dude.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Not so much. I was having such a good time, and at the same time was so overwhelmed, that it was hard to think about much except for how we were going to get through each day. We had a pretty insane schedule -- twenty days. The cast and crew were amazing, which took a ton of heat off me...but the answer is no, and not because I'm so confident in my vision of how pretend dead guys should wear cowboy hats, but because I was just so focused on just getting it done and still keeping the mood light on set, which I think is indispensable in comedy. Hilarious answer, eh?

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
The short version is that my friend Scott Pourroy, a commercial producer, had the deformed brainchild "Zombie Western." We share the story credit. For a complete capsule history from pre-pro to post, please direct your browser (man, this is nice doing an interview for an online source!) to www.undeadoralive.blogspot.com. You will especially enjoy the "Dreamgineer Spotlight" with Head Greensman Delaney Marsh. That and "Bear Attack on Set" are my favorite entries.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
This movie is basically Butch Cassidy meets Night of the Living Dead in a hot tub with Sergio Leone and Shaun of the Dead, and then Young Frankenstein and Sam Raimi pop out from under the water while Cannibal! The Musical sings to everybody.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?

Since I make a habit of shooting myself in the mouth: I don't really get why people make so many adaptations and remakes. I understand it makes sense from a franchise standpoint, but if something was good...I love sequels, though. I've heard there's a sequel script to "Dude Where's My Car?" (great movie) called "Seriously, Dude Where's My Car?" and I would like to direct that. I want to find that car, super bad.

Name an actor in your film that's absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
I was incredibly fortunate in that all my actors are kind of big-time already. Kattan is Kattan, Denton is on "Housewives," Navi is on "Numbers," Leslie just won an Emmy for Christ's sake, Besser has his whole "Upright Citizen's Brigade" empire, Posehn has 100,000 MySpace friends (or something insane like that). So if I have to pick somebody who deserves more recognition, I guess it's Chris Coppola, who plays Cletus, the deputy. Chris works all the time, but he doesn't get accosted on the street as much as the others, and he's a major, major comedy talent. I'll bet he could be really scary, too. And what a trouper...on the first day, in a jailhouse scene, Besser smacked him pretty good in the face, he got tipped over in a chair he was tied to, a barf rig full of chili almost made him really barf, and he ate one of his socks. He definitely got MVP that day. The amazing part was how generous they all were with me. I was the least experienced person on set by a mile.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Jesus, I have no idea. I'm sure they're important in opening a movie, at least a certain kind of movie. In terms of acting as (art and literary) critics traditionally have -- that is, deciding who is important" and who isn't -- I mean, I guess they do that. But for me, the main criteria for a movie is "Did I enjoy watching that?" not "Was that an important film?" For instance, I just watched "Clerks 2" and I had a ball. I did, and I'm not some Kevin Smith freak, either. It delivered on its promise, which was: good time. So what I look for in a film is maybe different from what most film critics look for. I just want it to deliver on its promise. "Deep Blue Sea," for instance, delivers on its promise. It has sharks, they are extra big, and they are geniuses. That makes it a fucking sweet movie!

You're contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that's absolutely integral to the film or you're getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
I handle it by making a cut of the movie that meets the MPAA's retarded, geriatric, unbalanced, and bloodthirsty notion of what's okay and what's not, and then by not giving a shit. The producer has both cuts -- they can decide what to do. Two things are at work here: contractual obligations and the MPAA being a body as stupid as the America it serves. I meet my contractual obligations and try to pretend the MPAA doesn't represent America's values (even though it really does: murder OK, interesting sex scary!).

What's your take on the whole "a film by DIRECTOR" issue? Do you feel it's tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film or do you think it's cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
In my case it would be preposterous. My friends wrote all the best jokes, I have no more idea how to light a scene or operate a 35mm camera than I have how to operate a small particle accelerator (thank you DP Tom Callaway), and I have no idea how all the people who were supposed to be in a certain place at a certain time actually arrived there (thank you AD Scottie Gissel). If you have final cut, then maybe you can do the "film by" thing...I guess. You'd better have written the script, though. No, fuck it: I think it's bullshit. Now for an aside. It's just about money, money on your next film -- the more name recognition you have, the higher your fee, right? So to that extent I understand why people do it, as long as they understand they're being ridiculous in pursuit of MTV-approved goals, i.e., fame and fortune. So the rule is, you can't do it if you're serious. Shit, maybe I'll even do it someday, but I'll definitely be laughing. Because it's funny. Unless you're doing stop motion in your bedroom, in which case you deserve "a film by."

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?

If you're not sold at "Zombie Western," then I don't think you're one of our customers.

---

Glasgow Phillips' Undead or Alive: A Zombedy will premiere at the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more info! And check out BSide.com for even more info!


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2074
originally posted: 02/15/07 09:04:28
last updated: 03/07/07 09:47:01
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