Easily one of the most strikingly bold films of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival, Phil Tippett’s Mad God feels like a journey into a realm filled with death and destruction, brimming with haunting visuals unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And for those who may not know, Tippett is one of the greatest creative minds to have ever worked in Hollywood, lending his talents to a variety of projects including the original Star Wars trilogy, Jurassic Park, RoboCop, Dragonslayer, Willow, Howard the Duck, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and so many more.
For the last 30 years, Tippett has been working independently on Mad God, an audacious stop-motion project that feels like the love child of Ray Harryhausen’s work and The City of Lost Children, and now, the film is finally being released into the world. Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Tippett about crossing the finish line with Mad God and his feelings on getting to share it with fans everywhere now. Tippett also discussed his creative approach to Mad God, why he wanted to make Mad God as a silent film, and more.
So great to speak with you again today, Phil. Because of the long journey that you've had with Mad God, how good does it feel to be able to have it out there in the world for fans to get to enjoy now?
Phil Tippett: I have had to protect myself emotionally, because I had no idea really what the reaction was going to be. I mean, a lot of my friends that I showed it to while I was building it were very supportive and confident that I was building something that was unique. I have likened this process in a way to making classical music; if you go back and look at interviews with Bach or Mozart, they're asked how they made this amazing music, and they would say, "I just transcribed it." God told them what to do. They didn't write the music, God did. And this process was very similar to that.
There's a very strong religious journey, really, that I went on, and that turned out to be the subtext of the movie that I wasn't even completely aware of. A lot of creative people will find more what their film is about years later, in terms of all the intricacies. And so that's just going to take some time. But now, I have 30 years of accumulated crap where I made this, so I'm just getting rid of all of it and just going to completely clean it out and tear out the bookcases and make a painting studio for my wife because I just need to put Mad God behind me.
Working on movies is such an involved undertaking, that I feel at the end of it like the victim of a violent crime. I just don't want to think about it or experience it anymore. Which is actually very helpful, because I just don't look back. I just look forward to the next thing. So yeah, it's very cathartic. I'm really working on putting Mad God behind me now.
You brought up something interesting that I was going to ask about. This is something that you started decades ago, and then here you are finishing it now. Can you discuss what the impetus of this project was back then and how it might've evolved over time? I'm curious what that process was like for you from a creative standpoint.
Phil Tippett: Again, it was like a vision from God where I just got these images that I can see with my mind's eye. I had to get a student deferment when I was in college, so I didn't have to go fight in Vietnam. I went to UC Irvine, and conceptual art was just becoming the thing. I was really attracted to that, to the limitless possibilities it allowed you. If you wanted to be an artist, for a long time, you had to paint or sculpt or do prints. Now, the world was your oyster, and it was ideas that were the most important thing. So I became very close to my instructors, who were in their early 30s at the time, who became very prominent conceptual artists later on, once history caught up with them. And so that was tremendously influential, and I'm really glad I did that instead of going to film school, where they just train you to be in the army, so to speak. So that's how I approached it.
There are just so many different little things that really catch your eye throughout this in these environments. The characters, of course, they're front and center and they are incredible, but these environments make this experience feel really immersive. I can't even begin to imagine the time that it took to get all these painstaking details as perfect as they are throughout this film.
Phil Tippett: I was the producer and the director, so I didn't have anybody in the way of the work that I was doing on Mad God. The secret sauce was time, just giving it time to prepare. There’s the Russian playwright Stanislavski, and when he came to the United States, he was giving a lecture to theater students. He was asked the question, which was, “How do you do this? There's so much stuff to do. How do you even begin to organize it?” And in this Russian accent, he said, "You can't do it all at once. You have to do it beat by beat." And in his Russian accent, it ended up translating to “bit by bit,” which ended up becoming part of the nomenclature in Hollywood screenwriting as the beat. But that's how I approached it; it was just one step at a time. You have the vibe of what you want and the content, and then you just have to gently push that around like dough.
For Mad God, you're not relying on dialogue to tell this story, where you’ve created this wonderful visual journey that I found myself totally enthralled by. Was that something that you always intended to do—just let the visuals do the talking and defy the traditional narrative structure?
Phil Tippett: Yeah. In my mind, conceptually Mad God was on one level, where it was as though I threw it into a ceramic pot, and then whatever is inside of that pot is what a viewer takes away from Mad God. I always imagined roughly that Mad God was a ghost world of mankind after we disappeared off the planet. And so, another thread that ran through the whole thing was related to the news. I keep up on the news, and there's all this noise out there, with all of the media and people on their phones all the time. I think we've become a schizophrenic culture primarily as a result of the genie getting out of the bottle with all this media stuff.
And I was always an admirer of silent movies, and I felt that things kind of went south after the introduction of sound. Because as much as it opened up, it also closed things off, too. Everything was contained in cultural expectations that had slowly grown over the years during the silent era, and there were a lot of good movies made during that time. But the climate and the studios needing to make money threw filmmaking into what I saw as a dungeon where it was about money. So yeah, from the very beginning, Mad God was always going to be a silent movie with sound effects and music.
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