Sunday, August 15, 2010

Exclusive Interview: Michael "Jocco" Phillips

Michael "Jocco" Phillips is a name you have probably noticed in the credits of a large number of Paul's films as well as many successful television series over the years. Upon discovering he checked in on the site, I contacted him with ten questions to get a fresh perspective on everything from Bones to Ballchewer.

C&RV: Introductions: Name, Current Project & Occupation
M"J"P: Michael "Jocco" Phillips, First Assistant Director BONES

C&RV: For those who may not know exactly what this job entails, can you sum up your daily tasks/responsibilities.
M"J"P: My job divides into two phases, prep and shoot. During prep I am responsible for breaking down the script into it's individual elements (cast, locations, props, etc) and then scheduling the filming in the most efficient way possible. On the set I run the day-to-day operations and make sure all of the elements are available at the right time so the director can maximize his/her shooting day.

C&RV: You've worked on Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love. How did you get yourself embedded into The Family?
M"J"P: John Wildermuth and Adam Druxman, the assistant directors I worked for on my first big movie in LA (THE FAN) were hired to do BOOGIE NIGHTS and called me to ask if I wanted to work on their next movie. I said "yes!" immediately and drove to the production office in Hollywood to pick up the script. 
I read it when I got home and was terrified! What have I gotten myself into? I had only been in LA a few months from Texas and come from a rather conservative family. Pornos? "Joy Juice"? So after panicking for a few hours I read it again and was able to see beyond the salaciousness of the subject matter and realized this was an amazing script. 
When I met Paul his passion and energy were so overwhelming and I knew we were in good hands. One of Paul's greatest attributes is his accessibility to the cast and crew. His love for actors is well known but I was a green Production Assistant and we could talk and joke around like I was an old friend. 
Adam was hired to do both MAGNOLIA and PDL and so I was able to work on both of those films as well. It was a very special time in my life.

C&RV: What, if any, are some of the advantages to working on a production with Paul that you don't necessarily experience on other sets. 
M"J"P: Well, I partly answered this question in my previous one but Paul knew exactly what he wanted, especially on MAGNOLIA. We would be on the Tech Scout (where all the Department Heads travel to all of the locations) and he would walk into a room and say "24mm lens here... tracking across to here. Dolly track here." Four months later we are in that room to film and sure enough there was a 24mm lens here with dolly track there. It may not seem like a big deal but after 19 years in the industry you realize that that kind of vision and decisiveness is extremely rare. Another thing about Paul that I find unique is that everything is in the script. Shots, angles, ideas, his scripts are very visual.

C&RV: Best On/Off Set Story/Experience That Won't Get You In Trouble/Blacklisted, Go:
M"J"P: BOOGIE NIGHTS - We are shooting 16mm footage for the Brock Landers movies during prep (before principle photography) and Paul decides he needs more "bad guys" for a fight sequence to be shot later in the day. Adam is going to call extras casting but I say "Hey! I could be a bad guy! We can shave my head, give me a moustache or something!" Adam tells Paul and he says "Great!" 
Later that day, with a freshly-shorn cranium and big bushy 'stache I make cinematic history fighting with Mark and John C. smashing a bottle over my head (six times!) We develop a back story for my "character". He is a low-level thug that works for Ringo and his name is... Jocco. A nickname is born.
MAGNOLIA - When we finished principle photography Paul was generous enough to hire me as a personal assistant during the post-production process. When he decided to include the Frank TJ Mackey Infomercial on the dvd he allowed me to film a "product shot" and record voice-over for an end-tag to the actual commercial you see in the film. As with my stunt work in BOOGIE NIGHTS, Paul required a level of amateurism that you just can't fake. I delivered that level of amateurism.
Footnote: Paul sent MAGNOLIA to Harry Knowles' Butt-Numb-A-Thon with a video introduction to the film. I was PTA.

C&RV: Sandler, like PTA, is well known for repeating crews and cast. After Punch-Drunk, you had a solid string of work on Adam's films. I assume this stemmed from the two of you becoming friends during Paul's production?
M"J"P: Absolutely. I spent a lot of time in Basecamp on PDL and got to know Adam and his crew very well. They are some of the friendliest, generous, down-to-earth and loyal people it has been my pleasure to meet. I got my first big DGA feature credit on Adam's film FIFTY FIRST DATES. They even named the walrus in the film after me. I didn't know whether to be flattered or insulted. (I was flattered)

C&RV: You were not involved with There Will Be Blood. Was that due to scheduling or you just weren't involved?
M"J"P: A little of both. Paul had decided early on that he wanted to work with new assistant directors (Adam Somner, Spielberg's First Assistant). Once in production I was pleased to receive a call to come fill in for the second assistant director but unfortunately I was already in production of season two of PRISON BREAK.

C:RV& Speaking about graphic design briefly, you are co-responsible for one of my favorite cover designs ever: Fiona Apple's "When The Pawn..." What was the pitch/process/story etc -- have you done any design work for others as well?
M"J"P: Again a case of being in the right place at the right time. When I was working for Paul on MAGNOLIA he and Fiona were together. She had this idea that she wanted for the album artwork. 
I simply helped her with some photo & lyric layouts on the computer. It was great and pleasant surprise when the cd came out and she had included me in the liner notes. I was just a monkey at a keyboard. It is a testament to her kindness that my name is there and it is something I will always treasure.
(C&RV Note: Michael also mentioned he was the author and cover designer of the 6 Music Videos By PTA DVD that we originally gave out on the site many years ago)

C&RV: You seem t have migrated primarily into series television. Has this format evolved into your preference over film work, or do you go where the most appealing meal is?
M"J"P: I do enjoy the stability that comes from working on episodic television. I had a nice four-year run on PRISON BREAK and I'm just starting my second year on BONES. I was able to move up much faster in television than I would have been able to in features. That being said, I still have a great love for telling one story from start to finish. We'll see what the future holds.

C&RV: After initially scanning your IMDB profile and seeing "Black & White" I knew the plan would be to close with a question about Mike Tyson. Turns out you worked on a different "Black & White." Not one to give up on a plan: Do you have any thing to say about Mike Tyson? 
M"J"P: We were watching the Tyson-Holyfield fight at a friend's apartment on a television that was nearly as big as the room. I saw him bite that ear off in way-too graphic detail.
I'm sure he's a lovely man.

C&RV: What is coming next for you sir? Continued work on Bones? Plans to venture into directing or is that not something that appeals to you?
M"J"P: Had PRISON BREAK gone another season or two I definitely would have pursued a shot a directing an episode. I had a very intimate knowledge of the show creatively and from a production standpoint. My real desire is to eventually work as a creative producer. I want to find and develop good stories and assemble the creative team necessary to bring it to the audience. Show Business is one of the few industries in which you must take a pay cut to get a promotion but I will not rest until the sign on the hill says "JOCCOWOOD". ;)

I would like to publicly thank Michael for the interesting responses to my boring questions. You saved the day, sir. Michael also mentioned he was Assistant Director on all of Paul's music videos for Fiona Apple as well as "Couch" and "Ballchewer."

We may sort out a Part Two one day in the future as there aren't really any stories around about the production of the music videos. Oh, and I missed the last two Flashback Fridays. Sorry about that.

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  1. Jocco sounds like a stand-up guy and is obviously really talented at what he does. I hope we get to see his name on some future P.T. Anderson Productions. And on some productions of his own!

  2. Terrific interview. He sounds like a great guy and it was especially a pleasure reading about his work with PTA and Fiona. Thank you for posting!

  3. Are you going to try and get in contact to PTA to get a first-hand update on The Master? Or is he pissed at you about the last time you talked?

    With so much confusion abound surrounding the condition of the film maybe PTA would like to give his fans the actual low down. It would get this site going again too, cause its kind of drowning at the moment.

  4. :( Bring back the love. I'll even take more nostalgic blogs, just give us poor saps something to chew on. Whatever you do, don't stop this site. It's 10x better than Tarantino's fan site(s). At least, less schlocky and IMO more direct and pertinent.

  5. i have had three projects for my own career the last month and there hasn't been anything relevant/worth posting. the only thing i was sitting on was a Q&A with pta and hoffman, where paul basically took questions for PSH. some dummy somewhere on a blog saying his 3rd favorite shot in film history is the opening shot of boogie nights doesnt cut it (as you mentioned/credited the site for) but when i am swamped, i will sincerely do better to try to post interesting things when i have a moment. thank you for the kind words person who didnt sign their name.

    - cj wallis