Phillips received his first break when he landed an entry-level job in the casting department of filmmaker Otto Preminger’s 1971 movie Such Good Friends. Impressed by Phillips, Preminger took an ad in Variety and Backstage to praise the novice’s work on the film.
The acknowledgement led to Phillips getting hired to do extras casting on Sidney Lumet’s Serpico starring Al Pacino with his job subsequently expanding to casting the entire film. Lumet then tapped him as casting director on his next film, Dog Day Afternoon, also starring Pacino. Phillips is credited with holding out for actor John Cazale to be cast opposite Pacino as Sal.
Phillips went on to cast the cult