Interview: Simon Cox
Two decades ago, Nuneaton based filmmaker Simon Cox had an idea for a science fiction film called Kaleidoscope Man. Filmed on a shoestring budget with limited resources at locations across the Midlands, what ultimately became Invasion Planet Earth finally screens to audiences this month. We talked to Simon about an epic twenty year journey to pay homage to the sci-fi films he loved as a child.
So when did you first have a script for what became Invasion Planet Earth?
1999 was when I had the initial idea - God, I can’t believe it was last century! But we had very young children at the time and I had to focus on paying the bills. Then in 2003 we tried some private investors, put together business plans, all that kind of thing, but it wasn’t until 2008 when it started to feel like it was actually going to happen. We had some potential Canadian investors – and then it collapsed like a house of cards. Then when I was about 46 or 47 years old, the internet was rapidly changing things in terms of websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. So that’s when we looked at crowdfunding, and that changed everything.
So why did you change the name from Kaleidoscope Man?
When I was taking it around distributors, I was getting lots of negative feedback about the title. So I had a chat with Chris Jones, who co-wrote The Guerrilla Film Makers Handbook, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come up with something bigger and more ambitious, because I think Kaleidoscope Man is a bit too mysterious’. I liked the idea of Invasion Earth, although that was already taken, but Invasion Planet Earth really appealed to me in a retro kind of way, especially as the film itself is a homage to 70s sci-fi. And speaking as a Dr Who fan, it made me think of Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD. When I changed the name, I immediately noticed a real shift in how people reacted to it. Suddenly, they were more interested.
This isn’t your first film. You made a feature called Driven in the 90s. How was that experience?
It was essentially a made for TV film, and I found it a very difficult process. There was a lot of interference with the script. The film did okay and it sold all over the world, but I didn’t see any money myself. I came away from it quite unhappy with the final film. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be. It pops up on TV occasionally under the name Written In Blood, and I got to keep the DVD rights, so I can sell it at Comic Cons and places like that. And I actually used those DVD sales to help fundraise for Invasion Planet Earth.
So how long did the filming for Invasion Planet Earth take?
It actually took around seven years in total. Although there’s one shot of the moon that’s in the movie which I filmed in 2006. But I finally finished it in February of this year.
Where did you film in the Midlands?
We shot a big battle scene in central Birmingham, around Colmore Row and Victoria Square. We also shot a big chunk at the Charterhouse in Coventry, plus at a school in Nuneaton, and we shot a bit at Leicester Space Centre. We filmed at Birmingham University too, where we did a big zombie dream sequence - it’s my Dawn Of The Dead homage!
Considering your minimal budget, did you shoot things guerrilla style, or was it all above board?
I learnt years ago that you can turn up and start shooting, but the council will just come and shut you down. Shooting somewhere like London is a nightmare, but here in Birmingham, the doors were open. I’ve got to say, Film Birmingham were fantastic. They had Steven Spielberg and Mathew Vaughn working in the city around the same time, and yet I felt they treated me at the same level and with the same respect. Any filmmaker reading this, I would tell them it’s worth speaking to the relevant people. It’s not always a no. I can’t recommend shooting in the Midlands enough.
There’s a considerable amount of SFX for such a low budget film.
The effects took two and a half years, and there are 850 SFX shots, which is more than the first Star Wars film. I had one guy in Poland that helped me on some of the really difficult stuff, which he did in between working on scenes for Star Trek: Discovery. Then I employed a guy named Ian Whiston from Swadlincote in Derbyshire, and he basically did all the spaceships. Then I went through shot by shot, adding smoke, lasers fire etc. So I didn’t have to do any 3D stuff, but I did the compositing.
Was it hard to stay positive throughout the whole process, to hope you’d eventually have a finished product?
I can’t deny it was hard. I don’t have rich parents, I have a mortgage to pay, a family to support. I’m self-employed. But somebody once said to me years ago – what’s worse than making a film? Not making a film. When it all collapsed in 2008, it left me in a bit of a mess financially. Once I got into crowdfunding though, I found this huge groundswell of support. It became a real joy, and that was very inspiring to me, to see how many people wanted to get involved. It kept me going through a lot of the darker times, and once we were out shooting, I knew we’d get to the finish line.
What next – a long lie down in a dark room?
Maybe for an hour. (laughs) What’s interesting is, I’m suddenly getting people who want to be involved with my next film. Which is heaven, because that’s always the missing link, getting that initial interest. We have a great thriller lined up set in the Midlands which has an eight month turnaround, but I just want to get another film going. Then I plan to make another sci-fi after that film, which will probably be even bigger than Invasion Planet Earth. I just hope it doesn’t take another 17 years to make. Clearly I’m a glutton for punishment!
Invasion Planet Earth screens on Dec 5th at Vue Star City and The Electric in Birmingham. For more information, head to www.invasionplanetearth.com.