Sophie Cox on a science-fiction movie that brings spaceships to Birmingham.
Invasion Planet Earth is a passion project from Midlands-based writer, editor and director Simon Cox. The film is hugely inspired by 70s sci-fi TV and films including Doctor Who, Buck Rogers, Six Million Dollar Man, Battlestar Galactica, Space 1999 and UFO, with the original Star Wars trilogy at the very top of the list.
Simon came up with the idea for the film (originally called Kaleidoscope Man) back in 1999 and the film nearly went into production a few times in the early 2000s. However, Simon found it very difficult to raise the funds needed to get the film made, and despite producing a spectacular pilot, which starred Steve Moyer, he was unable to secure the relevant finance. He’d been promoting the film at many UK events such as Memorabilia and MCM Comic Con, and was clearly beginning to build a supportive fanbase. Thus, in 2012, he decided to try crowdfunding to see if his fanbase could help him raise the money needed to make the movie.
Using Kickstarter, Simon attempted to raise around £60,000 which he thought would make a good dent in getting the movie started. After two months of crowdfunding, Simon was unable to raise enough to hit that target and the campaign failed. However, a lot of people did support him during this campaign, which showed Simon that real money could be pulled together. Therefore, he decided to take another approach; instead of trying to raise money in large sums, he would raise smaller amounts and shoot the movie in phases, working through the film and building a devoted audience as he went along. Soon after, he went back to Kickstarter and pitched his idea to the audience, this time with a target of £5,000. The campaign was a huge success, raising £7,200. He used the money from this campaign to shoot a spectacular crowd scene, where alien spaceships bombard crowds of people who flee through the city streets.
Simon and his old schoolfriend and co-producer Mark Robbins set about social media, promoting the shoot which they had arranged to do in central Birmingham. To their surprise, the shoot managed to attract around 900 people, who very happily spent the night running back and forth through the city streets. Director of photography Gordon Hickie (Holby City, Inspector Lyndley Mysteries, Redcap, Leon The Pig Farmer) came in and lit the scene. The shoot was another huge success and significantly helped to increase the audience for the film.
Over the next two years, Simon and Mark ran six more campaigns and raised around a third of the money needed to make the film in its entirety. With this money, they shot around 20 minutes of the final film, including all the scenes with the film’s heroine Lucy Drive and the International Space Station scenes with Michael Bott (The Kings Speech, Darkest Hour). As interest was quickly growing about the film, investors started to come onboard, and in 2015 larger investments were drawn to the film. However, the money didn’t come in one chunk, instead it dripped in over the next three years.
To start with, Simon had little experience in film compositing (special effects), so he had to learn from scratch by watching hours and hours of YouTube tutorial videos. The effects took him a further two-and-a-half years to complete. He also had help from a CGI animator called Lucas Remis (Star Trek Discovery), who helped on the much bigger and more complex FX shots. Simon also engaged the talents of 3D model maker Ian Whiston, who created and flew the animated spaceships which appear in the film. Simon then brought on the talents of young composer Benjamin Symons to write the music for the film. Ben really found the heart of the story and created an incredible soundtrack. By a chance meeting, Simon met Alan Snelling, who worked on shows such as Sherlock and films like The Silence Of The Lambs; he agreed to dub the final soundtrack for the film. Alan brought in sound designer Keith Tinman who added all the sound effects. The film was finally graded at Pinewood Studios and completed in February 2019. 80s Pop star Toyah Willcox, who stars in the film, also came in and sang the end title song, ‘Step into the New World’, which was penned by Simon and Alan Snelling.
After a few test screenings, Simon decided to change the name of the film to Invasion Planet Earth having realised that Kaleidoscope Man was sending people mixed messages. The film was then taken up by UK distributor Munro Films, which gave the film a theatrical release in December 2019. Lightbulb Distribution released the film on DVD and across all UK digital platforms in late December 2019.
Pay It Forward
Simon now describes the journey of making Invasion Planet Earth as a life lesson, which he wants to pass onto other filmmakers. Some of his tips for other creatives are:
1. If you want to succeed in this business, the secret is to create your own work. Write the stories you want to tell; make the films you want to see. If it’s good enough, you can sell it. If it’s not good enough, you can probably still sell it.
2. Don’t wait around for others to decide your fate – I spent years waiting for the phone to ring or the letter to arrive. It doesn’t happen. See yourself as the driver of the big train. You decide where it’s going and who gets on or off – at every stage.
3. Tell great stories that come from the heart. Tap into your own personal life experiences and turn them into stories. By doing this, you create a form of truth, and truth is the magic ingredient that will make your stories moving and inspiring.
4. Choose the advice of others wisely. On your journey, a lot of people will offer up advice. This usually comes from a good place and people genuinely want to help you. However, no one really knows what’s best for you than yourself, so follow your own gut instinct always. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
5. Do what you say you’re going to do. A lot of us get caught up in what I call “the cappuccino club”. That place where we all get together and talk about films and what we’re doing and it’s all very exciting. Then, we do nothing. You need to do the work. Write that script. Make that film. Sometimes it’s daunting, but if you say you’re going to do it, commit fully to yourself and get going. Sometimes you may not hit the target, but you’ll eventually succeed if you just keep going…
6. Ask for help and be very thankful. All of us genuinely want to help others, and when people ask for help and are sincere, genuine and thankful we tend to want to help them. Apply this to your creativity and people will help you, beyond your imagination sometimes. Of course, in the same way, it’s important that you help others as much as you can in the same way. The reason I have made anything is thanks to the help of others.
Invasion Planet Earth is available to buy here.
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