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When Terry Gilliam set out in 2001, after a decade of financial difficulties, to make his independently financed version of Don Quixote—called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote—he had no way of knowing that the production would be dead within a month of shooting’s start. Fortunately, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, a documentary team who’d previously shot The Hamster Factor, about his 1995 success Twelve Monkeys were along, and their documentary Lost In La Mancha represents the only record left of Gilliam’s schemes and ambitions. The result is a compelling mixture, part cinema verité, part defense of Gilliam for his alleged creative excesses, and all tragicomic elegy. The day after I saw it, I sat down on the tail end of a full day of press for a quick discussion about their sudden rocket to documentary fame.

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hybrid: Considering that Terry Gilliam’s last three movies have come in on time and on budget, and have been fairly profitable, and that the Don Quixote story is not that outrageous—there was even a recent cable TV version of it starring John Lithgow, and considering its moderate budget, why was The Man Who Killed Don Quixote rejected by all the studios, especially Universal?

Louis Pepe: I think two reasons. The industry is afraid of Terry. He has the reputation of being somebody dangerous and excessive and there’s a way that’s an unfair reputation, and part of the goal of our documentary was showing that, you know, things, are not his fault. The second reason I think is that—

Keith Fulton: He has a reputation also for making adventurous, intelligent movies, which is always dangerous in the United States, so it makes it harder for anyone to get financing if you‘ve got a brain.

Louis: It was a $32 million film in Europe, but when it was originally being shopped around in Hollywood, it was a much higher budget because whenever you make something in Hollywood all the prices go up, because people think there’s just more money to go around, so you know, it was a hard thing for him to get that much money. He initially tried, because they were giving him so much hell—

Keith: He did not want Hollywood money in this film. He knew he was going to have a harder time.

hybrid: This didn’t even originate with him. This is the first film in a decade he’s done that’s his original screenplay.

Louis: Right, and that’s another thing that frightened them, the studio executives. At this point, you have to realize most of the people he’s pitching to are half his age, so they’re just people who’ve heard about Baron Munchausen, Baron Munchausen, and they don’t even know the true facts about it, so they’re terrified. They are not risk takers, and they’re reading this thing that’s a dark story, that isn’t someone else’s script, that’s straight out of his head—they’re afraid of it.

Hybrid: There’s a part of the movie where you show the investors—some 40 strong—they’re each bringing what, a million to the project?

Louis: They were a group of people, 60 German dentists and their wives.

Keith: Mutual fund.

Louis: It was a mutual fund and until recently it was actually a huge source of film financing because of German tax laws. These people have these cinema mutual funds where they put their money in the tax shelter, but they were half of the budget. These people were $16 million, so it was a huge portion of his film.

Hybrid: Do they actually have control—do they choose the specific projects they want to finance?

Louis: I think the head of the fund chooses, definitely.

Hybrid: But do the individual investors?

Louis: I’m not sure. They must have the same rights as the individual investors of a mutual fund would have. They are shareholders, but I don’t know exactly how it works. But they were all very excited to have their funds in a Terry Gilliam film. When you see them show up on the set, they’re thrilled. Little do they know...[laughs].

Hybrid: You’re kind of in a weird genre of documentary. I know that between Hamster Factor and this that y’all spent six years doing something which is not well known and there’s no information about those projects out there. I don’t know what it was—

Keith: We’re not gonna tell you.

Louis: We did a fiction short, and The Hamster Factor was really our big feature documentary. Everything else in between has been sort of a job.

Hybrid: Did y’all initially attach yourselves to the project or were you asked to come in?

Louis: Because we had done this film about Terry before, we’d been trying to get other projects going with him, so we had tried to do something about Fear and Loathing [in Las Vegas]. Terry said, “Look I’m doing this, do you want to come along” and we couldn’t get the money for that and then he mentioned Quixote, and said do you want to do something about this. He suggested it and we said yeah, we want to do it. We wrote up a proposal and went out and got the money and approached the producers. It was basically travel costs, which were expensive because we were in Spain for three months, and then the other thing was editing, because the process of editing the documentary was eight months, so the whole budget for the thing was about $400,000, including transferring it from video to film, which is not a cheap process.

Keith: Hiring a composer, editor, sound mixer...

Both: Animators.

Louis: Both of them are good guys. Both of them are filmmakers. The guy who did the Quixote illustrations of the Doret drawings is a filmmaker named Stefan Avalos who did a film called The Last Broadcast [a 1998 low-budget horror film which was later a major source of inspiration, if not actually ripped off for, The Blair Witch Project]. And the other guy is a guy named Chaim Bianco, who we knew in film school and is a brilliant animator.

Hybrid: Who financed this?

Keith: This was financed by private investors mainly.

Hybrid: So it’s separate from the financing from Quixote?

Louis: Yeah, that was really important to us, because we did not want to do anything where we were beholden to a studio or someone who was financing Terry’s film. It was very crucial to us that we have the flexibility to have independent financing so that there wasn’t anybody saying “We don’t like the image that you’re portraying of this thing that we’re selling.”

Hybrid: Did you deal with that on Twelve Monkeys?

Louis: Yeah, that was independent until the end, when Universal bought the film [and put it on the DVD]. We were not in contract with anybody at the beginning, because we weren’t paid.

Keith: So when we made the documentary on Twelve Monkeys, Terry basically gave us a little bit of money for tape stock, and then we worked for free and weren’t paid until the end when we sold it. So it was basically Universal saying “OK, we like it and here’s how much money we’ll give you for it.”  But they didn’t have any ability to alter it. Of course, the big difference—you ask about these six years in between—is you get older, you’re not able to do the labor of love just for love anymore, so this one had to be financed up-front.

Hybrid: Was this a conscious attempt, on some level, to return to prominence?

Louis: Well, initially that wasn’t in it because initially we thought we were going to do an hour-long piece for TV and so it was a very different film but what happened was when Terry’s film collapsed, we realized, you know, this is a very unique story we’ve captured and our film has to stand on its own now because there is no film, so we need to make it a feature and we need to get audiences to realize that this is a documentary that is incredibly unique. You have never seen anything quite like this before.

Hybrid: Do you have any documentary influences? You’re in a weird kind of documentary sub-genre, the making-of, it’s kind of a gray area normally for publicity purposes.

Keith: We’re not working in a weird documentary sub-genre.

Hybrid: I mean, you’re not but that’s how it’s perceived.

Louis: That’s a negative influence, so we’re always saying “If we’re doing something that looks like a making-of, that you would see on HBO, we’re doing something wrong.” So we always made conscious decisions not to do things that look like a promo.

Hybrid: But were there anybody who influenced you in that way?

Keith: The Maysles Brothers, Pennebaker, Leacock—all the direct cinema documentaries. Basically the film school we went to, the graduate school at the university, the big emphasis was on that generation of filmmakers, you know, the ’60s, direct sound, handheld cameras, making really great films. That’s the kind of documentary we like. So on Lost In La Mancha we set out to make a kind of film that didn’t have any narration, that didn’t have any interviews—that’s very hard to do when you’re making a film about filmmaking, because there’s always pieces of information you want to get in. But the film plays for about an hour as a direct cinema documentary, which was the goal, and we would have loved to be able to do that for 90 minutes, but there’s too much information, you can’t do that. It would have to have been a six-hour film if you didn’t do it with any narration.

Louis: Our approach is more like the classic direct cinema. Even a more recent film like Startup.com which is, you know, Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim. Hegedus works with Pennebaker, so that classic American observation documentary style. Or Hoop Dreams, or films that are less talking heads and more throwing you into the action and you watching stuff unfold the way you would watch it unfold in a fiction film.

Keith: Any time anyone says “making of”—

Both: We cringe.

Keith: We can’t stand it. We’ve done those kinds of films, we’ve done those kinds of projects. In the period you’re talking about, between The Hamster Factor and this, we did publicity pieces. We did one for HBO about Three Kings, and a couple of cases where we tried to do more substantial documentaries while being paid by studios. Your perspective has a lot to do with where the money comes from, so if you’re paid by one of these studios, you have no creative freedom whatsoever. They don’t want you to look at interesting stuff, they don’t want you to portray it.

Louis: And even in the classic films about films—we would look at Les Blank’s Burden Of Dreams, which is about Herzog, and that’s the kind of thing we want to capture. Even something like Hearts Of Darkness, interesting as it is, there’s a way I think that film actually glamorizes filmmaking which is “Okay, here’s the crazy director and he’s becoming his character but he makes a brilliant masterpiece.” And I think filmmaking is actually a lot more interesting if you get underneath that layer like, “Well Gilliam, yeah he’s got some quixotic components to him, but he isn’t the crazy director, he’s a guy with a strong vision and he’s got all these things going on and he’s very pragmatic and constantly troubleshooting,” and it isn’t always the case that genius is enough to get them through this process, because there’s the hard realities of money, and money, and money, that threaten the process every step along the way. So I think we would watch Burden Of Dreams and that was one that was a little bit more like a model for us, because in a way it doesn’t glamorize the process.

Keith: But Herzog is crazy.

Louis: Herzog is crazy, and Gilliam is in a way.

Hybrid: What do you think of Herzog?

Louis: Brilliant filmmaker, crazy person.

Hybrid: Although exceptionally polite in person. [Herzog had been in town the previous month to present several of his works, including Lessons Of Darkness.]

Keith: Can be.

Louis: He did this documentary Lessons Of Darkness, and it came out in Philadelphia and we were in grad school there and the political climate was very peace-y and people were like “How dare you aestheticize the horrors of war.” He goes [with Germanic accent] “I’m Werner Herzog, and I’ll do whatever the fuck I want,” which is... you gotta admire the guy, but he’s a little out there.


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