I posted part one of this interview just a few moments ago, and realized that I needed to break it in half because of how long it was. The website choked the first time.
The nice thing is, now I get to publish a brand-new image from “The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus” with the second half of the interview, so it’s win-win, eh?
Let’s pick up right where we left off at the end of part one:
Drew McWeeny: I’ve always looked at “Life of Brian” as, in my opinion, one of the most accurate historical pieces from that era.
Terry Gilliam: We do our work. [laughs]
And in the service of, ostensibly, a comedy. You guys made phenomenal points about the political era and what the world was and why the Messiah was needed, and I mean… all of that is in there. And actually, the way I discovered Monty Python was I was told… because my parents were very religious while I was growing up… that that was on the list of films I could never see. They might as well have taken me to the theatre and bought me the ticket because it was like, “Well, you know I have to now. There’s no question.”
[laughs] See, that’s what’s so interesting. Like my mother who goes to church every week… very religious… she didn’t think it was blasphemous because that’s not Jesus. Isn’t that interesting? She just said, “That’s not Jesus, that’s Brian.” She knew a lot of people got crucified, so where’s the problem?
Yeah. [laughs] Jesus is over there.
[more after the jump]
I mean, like, “Brazil”… I was even more determined it had to end that way because of “Blade Runner” having betrayed me at the ending. I felt betrayed because I loved that until the end of the film. Now all of a sudden, the android’s going to live forever? What the fuck are you talking about, man? You create a world that’s very solid, and then you… that’s why Philip K. Dick is always been one of my favorite writers. He doesn’t go where that road takes you.
I am convinced that someone will eventually make “The Man in the High Castle”. There is such…
I’m actually meeting his daughter tomorrow.
Are you? Are you? That is just a phenomenal book and so ripe in terms of the way it talks about how we process reality and the way we tell ourselves stories about history. I think now is a great time to remind people of some of the things Phillip had to say.
One of the things that is… there’s another one that people don’t know called “The World According to Jones”. Do you know that one?
That really fascinates me… where we’re in a world where basically everything is relative. It can’t be black and white because there’s a more religious fundamentalism that we’re talking about. So now everything is relative. And then the idea that a guy comes along that can see the future, and it is not relative… that intrigues me, and I don’t know exactly how to do it. His other books… Ubik is always fun. But again, so much of his stuff has been stolen already and used…
Oh, absolutely stolen, and they keep making the mistake of thinking that you take a great concept from Phillip and you graft an action movie onto it. It’s like, no, no, no. He’s got more than enough ideas to get you through. You don’t need to do all the action stuff.
Exactly. I don’t know. I’ve been lucky because I’ve made films at the right time that have been successful enough financially that I get the next one off the ground… that kind of a deal. And then I can do… it’s not that the one was a compromise, it was just that you made one for a broad audience and now we make one for a smaller audience. It seems simple. I don’t know, I think… nothing changes for me. It’s really weird, I think. People always say to me, “Oh, it’s a pity you haven’t made more films.” The great thing is I’ve been lucky because I haven’t made as many bad films as other film directors have made. They’ve had the opportunity to make a lot of films, while mine have been limited, so I almost have to try harder with each one. But going back to the Bob Zemeckis thing… it really does worry me in a sense because when the director is that much in control, I worry that it becomes too much of a single mind at work. And that takes that life out of it for me. Because to me, it’s… for me a lot of what… I think the way my mind works is that when things do go wrong… and they’ve gone wrong all the time… my reaction to it going wrong produces a result that’s more interesting. The solution is more interesting. So sometimes it’s trying to find solutions and it’s like being on tightrope. It’s a tightrope walk is what it is.
Well, I broke the story on Ain’t It Cool when you were figuring out how to handle “Parnassus” and talking about a solution of sorts. I was really moved at how those guys stepped up and how you came to that solution. And I find it intriguing as a way of not only paying homage to Heath and how obviously he meant something to these other actors, but then how you get to interpret Heath in a way in your film as well.
Well, that’s… it’s… I’ve always had this problem of thinking the film is being made by itself. I’m merely the hand that writes. And this film just like… what the fuck has happened here, because when you think… see, one thing you have to understand, we didn’t change any dialogue. What you see on film there is what was in the original script. So the speeches about “forever young”… all written before him. And that’s the scary bit about it. It just… as I was saying, there’s one line that Chris Plummer says in the monastery which was done after Heath died, which is “It doesn’t matter what we’re telling you about… it’s a story somewhere. Comedy, romance, a tale of unforeseen death.” And Chris didn’t want to say it, and I said, “Chris, you have to say it. That was the script that Heath and I were making. You say that. We don’t change any of the”… again it’s like “Brazil”. You go down a road, and that’s the movie Heath and I wanted to make, and we’re going to make that fucking movie whoever’s in it. And Johnny and Colin and Jude, I mean… I just called friends of Heath’s… I wasn’t going to just call anybody. And there were other people… I mean, they were the ones that ended up doing it. Other people were just tied up because the likelihood that you’re getting anybody at short notice to…
Oh, yeah. It’s amazing how quickly it came together.
Oh, yes. That’s when I began to think, “Shit, there’s these forces at work up there,” you know? I wouldn’t call it spiritual, but there are weird energies that happen, and I don’t understand. I called Johnny immediately once… because I hadn’t worked it out. I hadn’t worked out how to fix it. I just called him and said “This is what’s going on.” And it was a couple of weeks it took to finally work out what I was going to do, but ultimately by having the drunk at the beginning get his face changed, that was basically it. Once you change the face… ahh, you can understand it. And luckily when Johnny… I changed the lines there. “I’ve always dreamed you’d look like this.” That wasn’t the original, but okay, that’s all working. And then it was, with the three of them, who’s going to go first? I knew it had to be Johnny, because he would make it work and the audience would love it, and they would be brought into the fun of this whole thing. It could be surprising and fun and beautiful or it’s a… and he pulls it off. Brilliantly. Fucking brilliantly. [laughs] What I didn’t realize… again, it’s this thing that happened when I started screening it… that people, almost everybody I talked to, thought it was Heath still, and it was Johnny.
So even though they knew the story and everything that was going on, they still went with it. There was a lot of that. It was a very difficult thing to do because… I mean, the making of it, because I wasn’t convinced it was going to work. I mean, none of us. We just had to keep moving. Just go to work the next day. Okay, let’s do it and see where it goes. I mean, Johnny ultimately having said yes, we almost didn’t get him. It was only because “Public Enemies” was delayed for a week that we got him. It’s as simple as that.
Because suddenly his schedule wasn’t working, and there was the writers strike and the potential actors strike looming, so he said I’m not going to cross the picket line. Literally… whatever reason, Mann had to delay a week. Somebody’s making… we got Johnny and he was in for… we had him for a day and a half. Actually a day and 3 1/2 hours exactly. That’s all we had him.
Wow. Wow. Talk about hitting the ground running when you get somebody there. Just you…
Perfect. No rehearsal. Nothing. We just go in and…
That’s where it must help really that you’ve had the shorthand with him. That you’ve worked with him before and especially on something as complicated and as risky as “Fear and Loathing”.
Oh, yeah. Didn’t feel risky at the time. Just great fun, so…
That year, that came out just before my birthday, and I like to take a big group of friends and go see something on the birthday weekend, and that was the movie I picked. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more mixed reaction to a movie I took people to…
… because I forget half the group is like tee-totalers and they don’t know Hunter, and so they come out of that movie and they’re like, “What did you just take us to?!”
And I think that was the first DVD I bought.
I bought the player the week that came out on DVD, and it still looks great. I think I bought that and “The Man Who Fell To Earth” on my first day with a DVD player…
You know the Criterion DVD of that is the first Criterion DVD to ever be sold at Wal-Mart?
“Fear and Loathing” broke.
Nice. And of all movies to do it with. It’s not like the “Armageddon” Criterion.
That’s outrageous. I’ll tell you what was interesting about that film… the best review I got of it was from this 15-year old kid who loved it. And his parents were like, “Oh, fuck… drugs, rock & roll… that’s disgusting.” And he said, “No.” And they said, “Okay, why do you like it?” “Because it’s not hypocritical.” And I thought, “Oh, fuck.”
I like this kid. This kid’s going places, man.
I think that’s it. Whatever you like about it, it’s like, okay we’re just going to tell it hopefully truthfully. I still haven’t taken acid, though. That’s a problem. I said I was going to take acid at the end of it, and I still haven’t done it.
See, I loved the… Ray Manzarek was talking with me at one point about the Oliver Stone biopic “The Doors” and what was wrong with it, and he said the problem it’s a white powder movie about a psychedelic band. And he really doesn’t like Oliver’s rhythms of that film…
Interesting. That’s really good. I like that.
It’s amazing to know that you haven’t had those experiences because that movie has such a sweaty real… it feels like you’ve been in the trenches. It feels like at the end of a trip or a binge, like you’ve had the experience yourself. Like you have had that physical “ohmyGod thisiswhatitfeelslikeattheendofsomethingandwow.”
In the 60’s, before I left for England… in ’66-’67, I was living in Laurel Canyon. And all around me, everybody… that’s why everybody else was taking acid and why I didn’t, because I could see the results of it. Because I was already at that stage that they were getting to. What happens when I take it? I was living in a glass house on stilts, and I just knew that the glass wouldn’t be there and I would be flying, and that would be the end of T. Gilliam.
So much of your work, even in the Python animation, has always had such an inventive psychedelic sort of stream of consciousness feel that it’s almost redundant, it would seem. You’ve always been in touch with that part of yourself.
That’s just it. I don’t have a problem doing it. I just think everybody’s got tons of lysergic acid inside them somewhere, and it’s just how you… if you let yourself go… if you’re not frightened. I mean, it’s like in “Fear and Loathing,” the bit that’s not in the book is the carpet crawling up the guy’s leg. That’s not in the book. I was just walking around Las Vegas and the patterns are too big. The colors are too bright. Suddenly it’s going to start attacking me. I mean, just like that. It’s partly just because it’s fun to… it’s about staying a child in some weird way. Don’t say that the door is always going to open onto the same place. Don’t believe that. Did you ever see “Toto The Hero”?
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
I love the fact that the kid thinks his father goes to work and just hides behind the door, then comes back in. I love that film. I thought it was wonderful because it got… again, it got that sense of the imagination of a child, how it goes. And I think I’m just trying to hold onto that as long as I can, because everything conspires in life to get rid of it.
Well, I’ve said to my wife that one of the reasons… and she rolls her eyes when I say it… but the truth is I am paid to remain a professional 8-year old on some level…
… where if you can’t remain engaged and excited and enthusiastic, if you can’t give yourself over to a movie, you can’t do this. You can’t, because we see so much that it’s very easy to become cynical or jaded, like, “Okay, I have to go watch another movie.” No, no. I get to go watch another movie. Now I’m raising kids, and my oldest is four, and it’s amazing how in-touch with it he is. And as we talk and as I’m listening to him start to assert his likes and his dislikes, it reminds me of how fun that is… when the whole world is equally real and all of it is… I wonder what I’m raising, because he is around filmmaking. So I wonder how he’s processing it all. Like what is real, what is not? When he meets filmmakers or meets actors and then turns around and sees them in a movie, what’s real? How do I later define to him that…?
This is probably my thing about film… trying to be honest because it’s so powerful. I mean, it defined me. I mean, watching a film… I can tell you the films that made me at a certain level. It’s, like, Jesus, I don’t want to cheat just because I think it’s powerful. I mean, “Paths of Glory,” when I saw it… I was 14, I think, and it was at a Saturday matinee in Panorama City in the San Fernando Valley. And all the parents were doing were just dumping their kids in there to get rid of them for the afternoon. And I’m in there, and we’re watching “Paths of Glory”. Ten year old kids running up and down the aisles. I’m like, “Fuck me.” Because they die. The guys go and die and it’s completely wrong. And that was, like… I thought, “Fuck, so that’s what the world can be like.” It’s an absolutely defining moment there. And you think of all the fun of going off here and there into fantasy land, then that is always stuck in there. So that’s why all my films, as fantastical as they get, they always get dragged back to this other thing. And there’s reality there and it can be really nasty. On the other hand, you don’t want people to go around being cynical about reality, because it’s absolutely fantastic. You have to chose how you see it, but not ignore the bits that hurt.
I learned… it’s funny you worked with Harvey Kurtzman early on, because his sensibility, I think, is one of the largest pop culture sensibilities, and he doesn’t really get credit for the fact that the subversion of pop culture has now become pop culture.
It really began with that era and “Time Bandits” was one of the first examples I saw as a kid, where Robin Hood is meeting the poor and the guy behind him is walking along punching everybody, and Robin Hood’s so polite. The fact that you could subvert ideas of these heroes that I’d already seen in things… it was like, “Oh, so Robin Hood could also be that?” It was like you added to the vocabulary to some extent.
What I love is when I bump into people who were like 13 or 12 or whatever when they saw that and they just… it opened their eyes because they hadn’t seen that before. It didn’t happen in movies. Especially the parents blowing up at the end and all these things. “Okay, we did that and nobody was hurt from it.” That’s the nice thing. They all loved it and stayed with it. I think that’s this weird thing, which I’ve never done but tried to work out… what movies you should see at what year of your life.
See, I’m resisting. There’s certain things I won’t show my kid yet.
Because I want him to understand them. I don’t want them to be wallpaper. I don’t ever want movies to be a babysitter. I want him, if he’s going to watch something… like Miyazaki’s films work on him on a very primal level, and so I can show him those and even if he doesn’t understand particulars, he’s getting it and he’s getting a lot from it. But there are other movies that I won’t show him for years because I want him, when he sees them, to get it.
It is this thing and I do think they belong at points… for me it was like… discovering Bergman or Kurosawa, it was just as I was going to college. And I was ready for it at that point. I’d seen American movies, which I thought “That’s all movies are.” Then suddenly, “Oh, you can do this? And, oh, you can engage your brain? Oh fantastic. Now we’re cooking.” And it’s like the world opened up. In Japan, people can die in slow motion, which… nobody had done that before. And then you get “Wild Strawberries” and this hearse comes down the street and what the fuck is going on here? It was like wow. Now we’re cooking here. And it took me ages to go back to American films. I just became totally European based. And then you see… some of the best stuff now is American television, I think.
Well, American TV has really grown up, and I think the thing is, they’ve embraced the fact that it’s a whole different type of storytelling. By having time, you can create depth that no movie can. You can never spend 40 hours in a movie with a character. And if you do it right on TV, it’s very powerful.
That’s what I think about “Watchmen”, you know… when our version of it didn’t happen, I said it would be better as a 5-part TV series. And I still think it would have been.
That’s a dense piece of material to try to pull apart and get into.
We made it less dense, but I was glad our version didn’t get made because we would have fucked it up. I think it would have made a good film, but I don’t think it would have been fair on the book. But then Zack was too reverential, I think, to the point that you’re watching it like, “Let’s kick this thing in the ass a bit.”
Some of your projects over the years that you’ve worked on, you get them to a certain point and then for one reason or another something doesn’t happen. I’ve heard to you talk about perhaps about returning to “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”
Yeah, we are.
Is that’s something that’s…?
I’m meeting some actors this weekend as a matter of fact.
That’s pretty exciting. There are others of yours, like I’ve always really loved “The Defective Detective.”
You’ve read it? Is it floating around on the web?
I hunted it down. It was something I was actively excited about. And that’s something that I still think has a lot of thematic resonance with what you’ve done and what you continue to do. Is there ever a point where you let go of a project and you say “You know what? That’s just not going to happen”?
Well, it sort of lets go of me in that sense, because “Defective Detective,” we spent a very long time with huge battles and it just didn’t happen. It’s like, fuck this. And then at a certain point I just say okay, I’ve got to move onto the next thing because it consumes a couple years of my life and maybe more. I put so much energy and commitment into it and then when it doesn’t happen it’s like fuck… it’s stillborn. My closest thing to being a mother. And then you say fuck it and you move on and try another one. So I think it’s still really good. There’s one thing in “Parnassus” which is what I was wanting to do in “Defective Detective,” which is when the drunk at the beginning runs through and suddenly all those cut-out trees are there. That’s what “Defective Detective” was going to be like. When you went into that world, into his crazy mind, the whole world was going to be 2-dimensional but in a 3-dimensional space.
So I just stole that bit for the beginning of “Parnassus.” Nobody’s ever done that, and I thought it could be fantastic… you’re in a real world, but you still have these flat things, and yet you turn a corner and it’s still 2-dimensional things facing front, so you never see…
The side of the 2-dimensional stuff… like there’s no side to it… yeah.
I thought this is a way of doing something that would be so visually surprising and fun so you’ll see a preview of it…
This is the first time you’ve ever really worked with this level of digital work in the film, isn’t it?
No. “Grimm” has a lot of it.
Then it’s relatively invisible. That’s the thing.
That’s the key. That’s my key. “The Brothers Grimm” is loaded with it. I just spent so much time trying to make it look shitty or make it look… dirty it down, break it down… and CG guys don’t want to do that. They all want to do beautiful shit like that. And I think, “No, I want fucking lurches,” and it’s really hard, especially because we’re just a small little company that isn’t like a big structure like ILM or any of the big ones. And this one ended up with 650 effect shots in it. “Parnassus,” we started with 250 and ended up with 650, but that’s for… too complicated reasons to get into. But I think the difference was there was so many varied forms of different worlds, and that’s the hard part. We got the Grant Wood world, and, oh, we’ve got the one with the bubbles, and it’s a completely different system of working, and then we’ve got that one. So that made it difficult to try to get all these different teams working and put it all together. It was, in fact, a fucking nightmare, but it was worth it.
Well, I’m pleased that you’re able to make that work within the way you like to work because like I said the Richard Conway stuff was always… Sam flying is still one of my very favorite images in any film, and flight is almost impossible in movies. Talking with Miyazaki about it, the reason I think flight is so powerful in his work because in animation you’re flying. It’s just… it is. But in live action, it always looks like you’re hanging. And that’s the one case where I can say that it doesn’t look like that. It really looks like Sam flies.
But that was a model, and that was the fucking thing… I’ve still got that model hanging at home. He’s literally that tall. The wings are there. That’s it. But it was a lot of just shooting it. We shot and shot and shot and then… this was before we could digitally remove wires… I would just sit there and go through all the shots. “I could see the wire. Out. That’s out. That’s out.” So that was the majority, like that. Now we’re down to the ones where we don’t see wires. Now, can we put the sequence together? It was done like that. It was interesting when they did the hi-def version of it… the Criterion… yeah, the Criterion one did a hi-def one. Suddenly the wires are visible. Hi-def shows everything, so we had to paint them out.
Oh, I’m amazed that… some of the Blu-ray transfers I’m seeing, you’ll see makeup lines. You’ll see things you’ve never seen, no matter how many times you’ve seen it in the theatre. I saw “Do The Right Thing” and I realized it was raining in a scene, and I’m like… I’ve seen that theatrically 7 times, 8 times… never noticed…
The studios aren’t spending the money to make it… there’s a hi-def version of “Thief of Baghdad,” the original Michael Powell one, and the flying carpet… there are at least 27 wires there, all visible now.
Oh my God.
And you think, fuck, nobody painted them out? Just in respect for the film, you know? But you think the film is… because you’re going back, for the hi-def, you go back to the neg and what you realize is… because the information is on the neg, but once you go from a neg to an interpos and then to a print, you’ve lost it. It’s softened it. It’s squishy, squished in there because it’s chemical. Digital is no squishy squish.
Well, with these crazy 4K or 8K scans that they’re doing, it’s no wonder everything is visible now.
It’s very dangerous. Films are going to cost a lot more money because it’s just going to cost… I mean, on “Golden Compass”… it was called “Golden Compass,” wasn’t it, right?
… we were doing stuff at our effects house, and Nicole Kidman… you could see the gauze on her wig. And they just had to paint all this shit out.
Shot after shot after shot.
That’s interesting because I would think that as a film maker, you’d want all the energy being put into the illusion that you’re trying to portray and not all this cleanup work. I know a guy, his whole job on “The Island of Mr. Moreau” was… because Brando just wouldn’t wear his pants a certain way, his job was to paint out Brando’s ass crack and pull the pants up digitally. And it’s like, “Really? You spent six months doing that? That means you weren’t on one of the animals. You weren’t on one of the hero characters. You weren’t on anything else.” And especially on a smaller film, I would think that it would all be about you’d want to marshall the forces to…
That’s what I basically did with this thing. With “Parnassus,” right from the beginning, I said we can’t afford to do what everybody else is, so let’s do… most of it is live action in a real world, and then we just do these quick little adventures, and then we come out before we spend too much money. While it’s still fresh, while theyre still shocked with the image, and then we’re gone before you can… well, we’ve still got another five minutes in that world, and then you’ve got to do all those shots. I mean, I saw a bit of “Avatar” which is absolutely stunning…
[At this point, the tape gets harder to hear because of the screams from the “Twilight” panel as the cast started to take the stage. Gilliam would look past me, startled, each time the screams came like a wave, and he kept smiling, amazed by all that focused energy.]
… and he can put the work in it. Every frame. The movie is vast, and I said you need a couple hundred million to do that. I’m not going to get that kind of money, so my approach is always to say I need X amount of money to say what I want to say, because I’m not going to compromise what I’m going to say. So how do I work within that? So “Parnassus” is the way around it. And I just keep thinking that’s what I’ve got to do because once you get to the big bucks, you have to limit your stories, your ideas.
I’ve always wondered, because I’ve heard Rowling say that she really loved you as the choice for “Harry Potter,” and while I can absolutely understand why she would feel that way strongly, that’s the most corporate franchise you could possibly step into as a film maker. And even with Cuaron, I get the feeling that with…
Who are these people they’re cheering? Oh, that’s Robert, ummm… Pattinson, isn’t it?
Yeah. The “Twilight” kids.
Oh, my. Look at him.
… I get the feelng that on something of that scale, that no matter how strong your visual style is, you’d still have it sat on.
Yeah, yeah. You would.
And you’d have to go through committee and you’d have to get every single thing approved. So it really wouldn’t be getting Terry Gilliam to come and direct a “Harry Potter” film. Terry Gilliam would be on-set while they were making the “Harry Potter” machine.
Correct. That’s exactly what it is. And some people are better at dealing with that. That was my problem on “Grimm,” is I thought I could handle it. I can’t handle interference. And I’ve been too lucky for too long doing what I want. And it’s just like, wait a minute… it’s not that I’m right all the time… I just know what’s wrong.
Can I ask you to verify whether a story is accurate?
Because I’d heard a story about “Grimm,” and I heard that Matt was in love with a fake nose. There was a nose that he really wanted to wear in the film. I’d heard that Miramax was so profoundly opposed to it that they sent someone to stand in front of the camera if Matt had the nose on.
It was worse than that.
Really? [laughs] Because that sounds insane to me.
The nose thing starts with me because I have a problem with Matt’s nose. [laughs] He’s got a great face, really strong bone structure, and he’s got this sweet pretty little nose and it’s always bothered me, you know? So I thought, for the character, it’d look better if he would put a bump on it… like he broke it when he was protecting his brother. And we’re not talking about much. A little bump. It was tiny, but it actually changed him, and Matt loved it. And it was like Dumbo’s feather. He walked different. And I’ll tell you, the girls in the makeup department had his new picture up on the wall, and Heath just got pushed aside so that Matt was up there. And it was his nose. He just was… different… and he looked like a young Marlon Brando. The change was extraordinary because… I won’t go through his bone structure, but it worked. Now Harvey and Bob, all they care about is the poster. They’re crazy. That’s it. I mean, why does Johnny not have a mustache for “Finding Neverland”? J.M. Barrie was a big, not particularly good looking guy, with a big mustache, so we get Johnny looking like an 18-year-old playing J.M. Barrie. So it gets to this point, this nose, and the night before the first day of shooting, they send the boys in from New York and say, “Here’s the deal. You put the bump on Matt’s nose, we close the movie down. We then… that’s it we’re going to sue you for what it’s cost us.”
Over a bump on a nose?
Bump on the nose. Now, there was a phone call with Bob and myself, and Bob… Bob just didn’t know how to deal with it, or what to do, and I actually felt sympathetic towards the problem he was in. I went to bed saying fuck it. I just didn’t care anymore. We put the bump on, and Chuck Roven called me somewhere in the middle of the night and said, “Here’s what’s going to happen, Terry. You’re going to put the bump on Matt’s nose, and he’ll sue you. And you’re going to spend the next year defending this lawsuit. You’re going to win, but in a year. Is that how you want to spend the year? Or do you want to see if you can compromise and find a way around this and make a movie?” And I came in the next morning and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I said fuck it. My initial attitude is always fuck it. And Matt had gotten to the dressing room earlier than I, and he’d been working with the makeup girl and they’d done some shading and everything. And he said, “I think it’s going to be okay without the bump.” He just kept saying, “I really want to make this movie.” And I’m sitting there saying, “What do I do? I’ve got 200 people out there all ready to go. What do I do?” And I finally said, “Okay, Matt, are you sure? You really want to do this thing? Okay, we’ll do it.” And we started that way and it was just… but it had taken… the fun was already gone. I mean it had been two weeks before that, all about this nose. And I think the deal was they were offering me $2 million more if they took the bump off the nose for the budget because we were short on the budget.
It’s amazing the battles that get picked and where the people draw the lines.
It’s crazy. That’s the problem, and I thought… it had to come down to, is the essence of the movie the bump on his nose? I’ll tell you though the first weeks were just… it really just wasn’t fun. I shot it rather boringly. I loved working with the guys. They made it enjoyable. But then they fired Niccola, unfortunately, and I was like, “Okay, it’s all about whose movie is this? Who’s in control?” And their need to be in control is so terrifying.
Well, there are certain people that the longer you’re in the business you realize, okay, I’ve got to give that person a berth because I can’t put myself in that position where I’m beholden to them or where I know that I won’t be able to win that fight.
And that’s kind of where I found myself. And I just felt I fucking compromised over a little thing like that, but it made such a huge difference to me just with my attitude for things.
Are you seeing a shift in… because I find it terrifying right now, in terms of the international financing and the independent world, where the bottom’s kind of falling out of things.
Well the studios managed to get rid of them, didn’t they? They sort of sucked them in…
Now the studios are only making 5 films a year, so really where’s our industry going? And is there a bounce coming? You’ve really had to fight outside the system for a while, so if anybody would be in tune with kind of how that works right now…
Nobody is quite sure to be quite honest, I really don’t think. I think there’s money floating around Europe… Germany’s got money… it’s all about how much money you need, is part of the thing. Do you make a film for $200 million or for $5 million in America?
There’s no mid-range films. They’re dead.
Yeah. That’s it. I mean, it’s been like that for a long time but not as extreme as that, that’s all. Look what’s happened. Look at Warner Brothers. There was Fine Line, there was New Line, there was Bob Berney at Picturehouse. They’ve all been subsumed. They all bought into Warner Brothers and now there are two guys running the show who don’t know anything about making movies.
Paramount Vantage was… I really was excited by a lot of what they put into motion because I thought they had interesting taste and I thought they supported some interesting film makers. And now? Gone.
Yeah. I think what’s going to happen, I think you’ll see all the guys who had some independent taste, interesting takes on the world, had enough power to get some films made… they’re all gone and you’re left with the bureaucrats who will be the last to go, I think.
It’s weird because this is not the business I wanted to grow up and be in. It’s just not the same business now. I grew up in the 70’s, and there were the maverick filmmakers and there was an indie world that was just starting to really explode and guys were able to get their films made outside the system, and it really feels like in this world of remakes, sequels and comic books….
You’ve also got a situation where a head of a studio is middle-management because he’s part of a larger corporation there. And they’re all hiding behind the numbers. The numbers. And who does the numbers? Goldman-Sachs. So bankers are doing the numbers but we couldn’t, on “Parnassus,” get any money out of America. The numbers were so ridiculous. You couldn’t believe it. And I was saying, “Do you understand what’s going to happen in the summer of 2008? ‘Dark Knight’ is going to come out and Heath’s going to be the biggest thing on the planet.” Not one of them could think that far. They would do the numbers and they would…weeks would go by. I can do the numbers. Okay, if we get that much out of Germany, then… but this is based on, again, what have they done recently? Okay, so “Tideland” of course made no money, but it was never meant to make any money. But Heath did even worse than I did. “Candy” made even less money than “Tideland”, so you’re talking about two losers here, clearly. [laughs] It’s like okay, let’s go, and I don’t think the bank guys… because they’re bankers, they’re not… to make movies, you’ve got to have a sense of that. We’ve all got to understand a bit of what people’s talents are.
Oh, absolutely. You’ve got to understand the context of someone’s career and who they’re…
Yeah, yeah. And nobody’s doing… they’re hiding behind that. They’ve always hidden behind NRG screenings. Now they’ve got Goldman-Sachs to hide behind. So everybody’s safe.
Drew: I’d say one of the things I’m proudest of with my time at Ain’t It Cool was we absolutely not only violated but I think ruined the NRG screening system. We just started writing about it. And we started to get inside and we started… because I was a theatre manager for a little while, and I watched them lie to filmmakers. Barry Levinson brought a film to screen and said can we just hand out the cards? And they said of course, Barry, no worries. So Barry stayed, watched the movie with the audience, listened like any film maker can, got up and left. And then they handed the cards out.
Cute, cute, cute. I hate those things. You can actually smell the fear of the executives, especially the focus group, because the guys are just back there and the focus group is suddenly has been given power. Power and $20 bucks. The focus groups make me crazy. They say, “Well, I liked it, but I’m not sure about the rest of America.” Why the fuck do you care about… what do you know about the rest of America? I’m only sure of… what you think, that’s fine. You can say anything you want, but don’t do that. I mean, I find the whole process… I’ve learned… what have I learned from them? On “12 Monkeys,” we changed one music cue. That’s all, okay? And here’s where it worked best… it was on “Time Bandits.” Anyway, they were having a huge fight, Dennis and Brian, about the ending… the parents blowing up. And I said, “It’s got to stay.” And they say, “No, you can’t do it.” I said, “Okay, we’ll have a screening.” So we were in Fresno or somewhere like that, and we had a screening up there, and the film started. Now whatever happened, I don’t know, but it was going through the wrong system. If it was Dolby Stereo, it was going through mono or something. [muffled] It was terrible.
Okay. Now one of the things… like the cards were always leading questions, like, say, “Is it too long?” Well, if you’re going to put that question in, you’ve got to ask, “Is it too short?” You can’t have one without the other.
Yes. Right, right.
So we get down to your favorite part of the movie. Now, what was… I mean, half the audience left. I mean, they just… it was horrible. It was just horrible. So I got the cards rather than letting the statistical guys have them. I took it home and looked at them. And then you start reading and understand what’s going on. They just hated the experience because of the sound, and what they liked the best was the ending. What they meant was it was over, but that’s not clear on the form. And so the numbers the next day, when the statistics came in… the best part of the movie? The ending. I said, “See, we have to keep the parents blowing up.” Nobody had looked at what it meant. What that bit of information that…
[At this point, Susan Pile, the publicist who helped put me together with Terry, had to step in and forcibly separate us. She’d been trying to give us the subtle wrap-up signal for a few minutes, but Terry’s like a pit bull when he still has a point to make.]
… it just continues.
* * * *
I would have loved to have spent the rest of Thursday and all day Friday and all weekend just continuing the conversation with Gilliam, and not just about his own films. I find it inspiring to see a guy who has been beat up by this business as much as he has who still has such an obvious passion for what he does.
Thanks to Susan and Lisa and everyone else who helped make this one happen. It was an absolute delight, and I hope some of that cam through for you as you read it.
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