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The Day the Earth Stood Still 

Jamming guns, love as a virus, and a movie that travels by foot

Wednesday, Jan 28 2004
Six million smackers may seem like plenty of dough to make a movie, especially one headed straight to DVD (following a pay-per-view broadcast). But not if it's a sci-fi flick crammed with special effects, like Phil Tippett's Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation. "Being a big fan of lower-budget horror movies and being brought up in the [Roger] Corman studio fashion, you figure out how to make things for significantly less," Tippett explains. For example, the crew devised strobe guns that simulate muzzle flashes instead of using the real weapons from the original movie. "Working with live ammunition was not only dangerous but time-consuming and costly," the director says. Guns also have a habit of jamming, he points out, and are painfully noisy in enclosed spaces.

The Berkeley native got into "the movie racket" (his phrase) in L.A., then came north to work with George Lucas on the Star Wars series. After leaving Lucas' Industrial Light + Magic, he started Tippett Studios in his hometown in 1984. Even in the effects arena, he says, "Hollywood is all about the casting, really. If there's a job that looks like your area of expertise is right for it, generally they'll hire you." Tippett's specialty is creature characters, as seen in pictures from Evolution to the first Starship Troopers to large chunks of the upcoming Hellboy and the pre-title sequence of Catwoman.

Working on mega-budget comic book blockbusters means that Tippett must deal with Hollywood micromanagers. "Things get out of hand so easily and so quickly that the way of containing these things is to look at every nickel all the time," he concedes. But, he adds with a wry laugh, "It's not as much fun as it used to be." Screen Gems releases Starship Troopers 2 on DVD this spring.

Brain Candy "It's easy for people to get in a cycle of breaking up, getting involved with somebody new on the rebound, and breaking up again after 'infecting' the new person," San Francisco filmmaker Jesse Spencer says. "You can imagine it being like a cold or a virus that goes around the workplace. The idea for the movie was imagining a set of characters getting infected by a relationship virus and watching how they deal with it and come to terms with it."

Spencer's talking about his head-spinning existential comedy Corner of Your Eye, which boasts a bounty of devious plot twists and (for a no-budget movie) intriguing visual effects. An online video editor at a local postproduction house, Spencer required just 21 days to shoot his debut feature, but took three years to finish it. Needless to say, that wasn't his plan: He was thwarted by the fiscal fallout of 9/11, the recession, and the dot-com bust, which sent his volunteer labor packing. "A lot of the people who were going to be interning for postproduction lost all their money and moved back home," he explains.

Corner of Your Eye raises all kinds of philosophical questions, but its denouement is affectionately grounded in reality. "Although I'm treating romantic love as a pathological force, I didn't want the film to have the message that love is invidious," Spencer says. "I want it to be an ironic and humorous examination, not a condemnation of romantic love." After all, he admits, "Love makes us do strange and unexpected things, perhaps even act foolishly. I think it's wildly entertaining to see people lose their normally stable footing and slip on the emotional banana peel." Corner of Your Eye has its S.F. premiere Feb. 11 and 15 in S.F. Indiefest (

Badlands It's been a decade since Dust Devil -- Richard Stanley's moody, visually arresting take on a serial killer in the South African desert -- was acquired, cut, dubbed, and desecrated by Miramax. The U.K.-based director is still frothing, and continues to hand-carry his original cut to screenings around the globe. "Some movies get limo service," he explained via phone from England. "This one travels by foot. It has taken the only surviving print of Dust Devil 10 years to reach the coast, and now the shining sea and its North American premiere are in sight. Nothing will be the same again." A bold claim, indeed. Stanley screens his chiller on Friday, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m. as part of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' "Unnatural Born Killers" series. Call 978-2787 or visit for tickets.

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Michael Fox


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