Although William Phillips graduated from the University of Toronto with a science degree in 1986, he then decided to enrol at Toronto's Ryerson University in the Film Studies Programme. After graduating, he operated Grandview Products, an independent film and video production company. Phillips worked on the Canadian feature film Cube (1997), then wrote and directed the short drama Milkman, which was seen at many international film festivals and broadcast on the CBC-TV network.
Phillips completed the director's residency at the Canadian Film Centre in 1998 and wrote and directed the short film Deep Cut as part of their Short Film Programme. Deep Cut toured international film festivals and was seen on Air Canada flights. Phillips' first feature length film, Treed Murray (2001), was nominated for five Genie Awards, including Best Achievement in Direction and Best Motion Picture and won a Special Mention at the Mar del Plata Film Festival.
For his second feature film, Foolproof (2003), Phillips managed not only to lure up-and-coming actor Ryan Reynolds back to Canada to star in it, but also obtained the services of David Suchet, an international star due to his work as the title role in the television series Agatha Christie's Poirot, to take a role as the villain.
Phillips took several years off to write the screenplay for his next film, Gunless, which he also directed. Paul Gross stars in the Western comedy, about an American gunslinger who stumbles into a Canadian border town where guns are forbidden.