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Fund This Film: Alex Cox’s Sci-Fi Comedy ‘Bill the Galactic Hero’ is the Anti-’Starship Troopers’

By  · Published on March 30th, 2013

Cover illustration from a 1975 printing of Bill, the Galactic Hero by Michael Gross.

Crowdfunding was made for guys like Alex Cox. Similar to Ralph Bakshi, whose successfully Kickstarter-ed project we profiled recently, The Sid and Nancy and Repo Man director is a cult filmmaker who doesn’t fit in Hollywood and who therefore has had a hard time getting his movies off the ground. Even when working with his old titles, as he did with the sorta-sequel Repo Chick and the re-cut release of Straight to Hell (called Straight to Hell Returns), he’s had trouble getting notice.

Hopefully he’s able to turn things around with Bill, the Galactic Hero, a low-budget sci-fi comedy adapted from the same-titled novel by Harry Harrison (who wrote the basis of Soylent Green – the novel “Make Room! Make Room!” – and co-wrote the script for Bill with Cox before his death last August). Cox has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the movie at $100,000, and after a week he’s already halfway there.

Bill, the Galactic Hero will be shot in 35mm on black and white film, and the production crew will completely consist of Cox’s students at the University of Colorado (so all unpaid). They are getting some help from big shots, however, such as RoboCop and Starship Troopers producer Jon Davison, who has come aboard as a backer and preproduction supervisor.

Additional professional supervisory assistance is coming from Oscar-winning effects genius Phil Tippett (also of RoboCop and Starship Troopers, as well as Jurassic Park, the original Star Wars trilogy and the Twilight saga), Oscar-winning sound designer Richard Beggs (Apocalypse Now; Children of Men; Ghostbusters) and cinematographers Tom Richmond (House of 1000 Corpses) and Steven Fierberg (Secretary) and effects artist Eric Leven (Starship Troopers; Armageddon).

It’s funny to see so many Starship Troopers vets involved (they worked on the sequel, too, by the way), since Bill, the Galactic Hero is literally an anti-Starship Troopers story. As Cox states in the Kickstarter video, Harrison found his friend Robert Heinlein’s novel too fascist and penned this as his own, anti-war take on the story. It’s not quite a parody, but it is a response, and apparently Heinlein was pissed.

Instead of a war with insect-like aliens, the creatures in this story are reptillian and called “Chingers.” It’s kinda like humans vs. little intelligent, outer space dinosaurs, from what I can tell from the drawings (I haven’t read the book, but I’m now thinking about doing so). This project could also be viewed as anti-Starship Troopers in the way it’s the very opposite of a $100 million studio blockbuster. Harrison did write a bunch of Bill sequels, though, so there is franchise potential.

Cox is taking advantage of locations on (and under) the CU-Boulder campus for sets and actual space suits and other NASA-related items from the engineering department for costumes and props. The film will be partly animated (beginning and ending with cartoon bookends, it seems), and its live-action effects will employ “old-fashioned” models and matte paintings with minimal computer-generated material (for ray guns and lasers), because they’re going for a 1960s sci-fi film look.

The effects and other post-production stuff will take a long time and a lot of work, so while principal shooting is set to finish this December, the movie will not be done for another year after that. However, next summer Cox will share a cut of Bill without finished sound and score to his Kickstarter supporters.

Check out the video with Cox introducing the film and requesting your help below. You can follow the production and find more info at Cox’s blog about the project.

Do you want to see this film? Enough to help fund it?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.