Cinema/Chicago News

Director Spotlight: Alex Phillips on All Jacked Up and Full of Worms

Published: October 14, 2022  |  Filed under: Festival News

We are beyond excited to welcome alum, Alex Phillips, back to the festival this year with his debut feature, All Jacked Up and Full of Worms. It is a surrealist and vibrantly twisted tale that follows a trio as they careen down a rabbit hole after ingesting hallucinogenic earthworms. Riveting though highly disturbing, the film is not meant to induce pleasure, but instead repulsion and even anger. It is an absolute trip. 


You wrote this film as well as directed it. What was the inspiration behind the narrative, which is just so wild and creative? 

“The movie comes from my personal experience going crazy. After I came out of the hospital I wrote a ton, obsessively. I had blown up all my personal relationships and writing was the only thing where I felt like I had any connection in the world.  

All that writing was radioactive nonsense so I started shaping it into a narrative, then centering it on the idea of “the worm,” a squiggly, wet, biological thing. The worm is death in a passive way – a part of the dark process that lives beneath our feet. The worm image was where I tried to give the script a sense of “genre.” It’s not really a horror-horror movie but I guess I tricked some people.”

You were here at the festival a few years ago, what is it like to be back with your debut feature? 

“When my short, Who’s A Good Boy, played here, that was a real milestone. I felt so fancy and established. All Jacked Up and Full of Worms isn’t as big as Jaws or something, but its level of reception is great for a no-budget film from the Midwest. I try not to think about it too much.”

Still from ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’

What were the challenges that you experienced in making this film? 

“Making a movie is an insane project, the worst and best art form, and with too many moving parts. If you don’t have financing, it’s just stupid, but we went into production operating on a potential, yet unsecured, loan. We were swiping credit cards for food and payroll. I was negotiating the terms of the loan while on set, asking somebody to get naked and gum worms at the same time I’m texting about “compound interest” to some guy in Aspen.

Covid shut down the production halfway through, and the whole thing fell apart. I remember my friends telling me to cut it into a short film. I’m not sure how we got it done, honestly. I rewrote the script entirely but managed to keep most of the scenes we shot. Our crew size got smaller. We had less equipment. I found new locations that didn’t need set dressing. I worked corporate videography gigs on the side. Somehow we stayed within mandated Covid protocols. And Georgia, Ben, and I just scrambled to pull this thing back together.

I’d say that we made it through because everyone involved is empathetic and passionate. We wanted to make something cool and believed in each other. Even when the project got hard and stressful we are good at managing each other’s shit for a common goal.”

What is it that you most want people to take away from the film? 

“I saw a review of the film that said something like, “This movie is about love, friendship, and living in your body.” And I think that’s about right. Morality is often wielded as a perfectly-calibrated measuring stick for cash value. I wanted a film that forces us to empathize with the most broken people, a film that messes with our units of measurement for self-worth.”

Still from ‘All Jacked Up and Full of Worms’

Are there any filmmakers or films who have influenced your personal path and filmmaking style? 

“I try to watch all kinds of movies, but different people were swirling around in my head at various points throughout this process – John Cassavettes, Frank Hennenlotter, William S Burroughs, Jane Campion, Ken Russell, Nic Roeg, Lucio Fulci, Jodorowsky, Larry Cohen, Bill Gunn, Todd Haynes. I hope to be in conversation with them, but I also see their work as so unattainable.

I’m looking for movies that contain slippery, muddy truths that require getting your hands dirty to create meaning. There are too many shitty facts going around – recipes for professional, formal artmaking as a cocktail of data analytics and high school English, with a lot of winking to the audience for remembering their homework. Anyways, unlearn your shapes.”

Lastly, what was your favorite moment in shooting or creating this film? 

“The thing I’m most proud of is how we all found the subliminal, subterranean place where this film lives. It made the finished product a real, singular thing. When Ben (fx) came to me with his plans for the creatures, it seemed like it was written in Sanskrit, like he was using ancient truths to conjure up these demons. Troy (editor) and I speak a similar language – he understood the dream of the movie and had a steady hand, applying precise sutures without losing the thread. Cue Shop’s (composer) music found the film’s bizarre and specific tonal frequency through our “vibe mining” process. Drew (cinematographer) took the references and made them new and real, being technically precise with enough flexibility for all the times when shit hit the fan. And Georgia (producer) speaks the universal language of freak, to keep us all together.” 

You can see All Jacked Up and Full of Worms at the festival this year, where it is screening in our After Dark and City & State programs. Click here for further information, tickets, and screening times.

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