The CV of producer Lloyd Phillips includes globetrotting Naomi Watts thriller The International, and the title provides a good summation of Phillips' career. Over three decades in the business of moviemaking, he worked from Otago to Egypt and many borders beyond — though for much of the time he was based in Hollywood.
Kiwi director Martin Campbell, who worked with him on three films and was a close friend, described Phillips as "one of the best producers I have ever worked with. His dedication and commitment were second to none". As production designer Kim Sinclair puts it in his piece directly below this profile, he was both a people-person and a provocateur.
Phillips was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1949, to English parents. But after his family moved to New Zealand he spent all his schooling down under, including at Auckland Grammar. By the early 70s Phillips was in England, his photojournalism work having helped win him a place at the National Film and Television School near London (later in his career he would compile photo journals for many movies he worked on).
Phillips made his mark with one of his earliest films as a producer: Roger Christian-directed short film The Dollar Bottom. Shot in Scotland, the boarding school comedy was nominated for a Bafta award, and won the 1981 Oscar for best live action short.
Battletruck, his first feature film, followed soon after. Phillips helped arrange a shoot in Central Otago, where he and co-producer Rob Whitehouse took the No 8 Wire stereotype to new extremes to deliver the requisite stunts and spectacle on a lowly NZ $1.5 million budget. The cast and crew of this dystopian oil wars tale were a melange of Kiwis, Americans, the odd Brit, and legendary B movie producer Roger Corman. Battletruck won healthy reviews (and later cult repute) in America, where it is sometimes known as Warlords of the 21st Century.
Further filmmaking adventures followed with the colourful Pacific/NZ shoot of 1983's Savage Islands (US title Nate and Hayes), which marked a major step upwards in budget. Based on an idea by Phillips, the roving adventure tale starred Tommy Lee Jones. Again it was financed by New Zealand investors, before being onsold to Paramount Pictures for wide international release. Both films gave vital big picture experience to Kiwi cast and especially crew; names on the credits reels included Lee Tamahori, Stuart Dryburgh, Dan Hennah and many more.
Phillips produced these first two films with fellow Kiwi Whitehouse, and they worked together again on TV mini-series Heart of the High Country, about an immigrant servant (played by Scots discovery Valerie Gogan) trapped in 1880s New Zealand. High Country marked one of Phillips' only TV projects, alongside little-seen Adrian Edmondson (The Young Ones) telemovie The Magnificent One.
By the late 80s, Phillips was producing musicals on Broadway, including an epic adaptation of James Clavell's Shogun. But Hollywood would be ground central for the remainder of his career — including stints as part of the producing team behind Terry Gilliam's sci-fi saga 12 Monkeys (starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt), Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, and Jolie/Depp star vehicle The Tourist. Weta effects supremo Richard Taylor, remarked on Phillips' move stateside:
"He really started to see that he could make a real impact and make an incredible career if he was to go to the very heart of the film industry."
Along the way he made multiple attempts to bring projects to New Zealand, and worked often with Kiwi filmmaking talent (including on Lee Tamahori's second American film, The Edge). In the late 90s Phillips won Hollywood funding to film the majority of mountaineering adventure Vertical Limit in and around the Southern Alps. The budget for the film was roughly US$75 million, making it arguably the most expensive film shot in New Zealand up until that point (the behemoth Lord of the Rings production was just finishing its main shoot when Limit was released).
Phillips would reconvene with Vertical Limit's Kiwi-born director Martin Campbell for two further big budget productions overseas: he was one of the main two producers of Angelina Jolie romance Beyond Borders, and while on 2005's The Legend of Zorro, he successfully campaigned for Weta Workshop to supply the effects for a key sequence.
Phillips was busy until the end. Among a busy slate of projects, he was one of the executive producers on big-budget Superman reboot Man of Steel, and was part of the producing team on US-Chinese project The Great Wall.
Phillips died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, on the night of 25 January 2013. He was 63.
Phil Edwards, ‘Battletruck’ - Starburst 43, April 1982, page 56 (Volume 4, Number 7)
Unknown writer, 'Mike Barnes, 'Producer Lloyd Phillips Dies at 63' - Variety, 27 January 2013
'NZ film producer Lloyd Phillips dies' Radio New Zealand website. Loaded 28 January 2013. Accessed 28 January 2013
Lloyd Phillips, remembered by Kim Sinclair
Lloyd Phillips was a provocateur.
He quickly decided whether he liked or disliked you, and was quick to provoke people to like or dislike him. He didn't suffer fools gladly! Of course he had a heart of gold and once he decided you were OK, was a good mate.
He could be a show off, and could be annoying, but it was his technique to get you to produce your best work, and he delighted in pushing people to their limits. However nobody worked harder than Lloyd himself (and his assistants).
He embraced Hollywood with all it's foibles, and to see him manipulating a roomful of studio execs was to see him in his element. But of course he was never happier than when up a mountain, in the desert or jungle with his camera strapped around his neck.
Lloyd was a people-person, always inquisitive, and fascinated by people's relationships and behaviour. He was an astute observer of people and places with his photographer's eye. He loved to travel, and collected objects and art from wherever his work took him in the world.
These momentos ended up at his beautiful house in Malibu, where he lived with his wife Beau, and was justifiably proud of his pool and garden. This was the centre around which the Kiwi expats in Hollywood would gather for hiking and barbecues.
Food was a big part of his life — and woe betide a waitress who wasn't up to his exacting standards, although he could be charming, and an entertaining raconteur.
In all though no producer could put together a complex film production spanning several continents, timezones, seasons and conditions with the same elan as Lloyd. For example Beyond Borders was shot in Montreal in the winter, Namibia in the summer, and the Golden Triangle in the monsoon. Lloyd always had such enthusiasm for solving these logistical challenges. And whatever, his base camps were always models of efficiency.
He always looked after his crew and their welfare, and you could confidently embark on an adventure with him knowing you would be in good hands.
I've known Lloyd since 1982 — first as an employee, and later as a friend. One constant condition in his life was his fierce pride of being a New Zealander.
He recently entertained myself and a group of people from around the world at dinner in Shanghai with tales of his adolescence in Epsom — involving homemade explosives, Auckland Grammar, student nurses and other strange things.
It is Lloyd's complete refusal to take no as an answer that makes his death hard to believe. He will be missed!
- Kim Sinclair, Auckland, 28 January 2013