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Lost In Quixoteville | Filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
an emily blunt interview

 

 

 

 

The film Lost in La Mancha is brilliant on so many levels. Of course brilliant is often the most familiar adjective found floating in stories that revolve around La Mancha's star, director-visionary- pseudo-wacko Terry Gilliam. But this time filmmakers Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (pictured left) get to share the worthy adjective with Gilliam.

The two have managed to make a relatively micro-budgeted docu-film on a quirky Quixote adaptation that like all good documentaries informs us, but also captures the elements needed for a great dramatic film. Brilliant.

Being exceptionally clever bunnies they even had animator extraordinaire Chaim Bianco create some Gilliam styled "cartoon" sequences for the loyal Monty Python* brigades that'll be flying to see their circus...

And believe me this film simply shines for its details like that and its wonderful honesty and its heart wrenching emotional swells. Swells that you fear may actually make you start sobbing and stamping your feet in utter frustration at what the cast and crew faced while attempting to bring Gilliam's Euro-financed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote to the screen.

Keith and Louis were originally on board as the 'behind the scenes' documenters for a one-hour TV show on Gilliam's latest film. What they ended up with was an incredible feature length film. And you'll notice Gilliam's The Man Who Killed on Quixote is nowhere on any 2003 upcoming films lists? Um, yeah, that's because it never got finished…

The talented duo captured so much with their lens - more than any involved could have imagined. It's as if Quixote himself tried desperately to give his muse Gilliam some happiness since his own mind's vision will most likely never make it to the big bad voodoo screen.

Gilliam's personal traveling "documentarians" (this is their second documentary with Gilliam), Keith and Louis, sat with me and discussed the production behind the production. Let's get to it!

EMILY: Hello guys. What a great great film!

LOUIS: Thanks! And just so you know…we are NOT answering any questions about J Lo, Ben or the wedding.

EMILY: Damn. There goes this half of my questions.

KEITH: And up front we acknowledge the whole disaster of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is our fault by virtue of there being a camera there.

EMILY: Well of course it is. We all know that...You think it was the dreaded Quixote Curse?

LOUIS: We didn't know about the curse of Don Quixote till things started going really really wrong [on this set]. There have been other films that have gone wrong so maybe there's a curse…it was only later when someone said, "Oh no if you look on the last page of the book Cervantes [Quixote's author] says leave my character alone." We asked Terry if he remembered reading it... and even he didn't remember reading it.

EMILY: Do think maybe Orson Welles, who died without getting his version of Quixote to the screen, reached out from the grave bellowing, "If I can't get it done you won't either Mr. Gilliam!"

LOUIS: Technically he reached out from the grave for the "Hearts of Darkness" adaptation too.

KEITH: I think that it's really that Don Quixote as a subject matter attracts writers that like to take on difficult things. To whom does this story appeal?

EMILY: In the long run, ironically, you two actually made a successful adaptation- and on film! You sirs have beaten the curse.

LOUIS: Knock on wood - yeah.

EMILY: This documentary/film is just brilliant. The success - besides excellent film making talents you two obviously possess - comes in the form of your primary subject; uber talent Terry Gilliam. He's has one of those great Walter Mitty/Quixote-esque minds. And here he is so completely open and honest throughout - even as his film starts to disintegrate. How'd you get Terry to do another documentary - [they also did a "behind the scenes" documentary on production of Gilliam's 12 Monkeys "The Hamster Factor"]?

LOUIS: Terry had actually first approached us with the idea in 1999 when he trying to get the film together then. And we said okay. We were gearing up for it and his financing fell through. So when he called us a year later and said, " Now it's going to go." We knew there was a built in conflict. And because we already did the "film being made" documentary with Hamster, we said we wanted to focus on the pre- production. We want to focus on those eight weeks of how all these elements, like casting, locations, financing, how all that gets funneled into starting production.

KEITH: When we wrote a proposal to finance this project we were already talking about the strong parallels between Terry Gilliam and Don Quixote. Frankly most of the movies he has made have Don Quixote like characters embedded within them. He was finally going to tackle the source itself. We thought this is a great story. This is a director who always takes on difficult stuff. Like 12 Monkeys. Of course that's film that got made and was successful but still that story was full of conflict and struggle. Terry's a great subject! We said what better time to do another film with him then when he's tackling Quixote.

EMILY: Yeah right. But then everything that could go wrong on set did go wrong. I mean who was the location manager? That particularly painful segment where you all set up to shoot directly in the path of a NATO testing area? What was that?

KEITH: The crew knew there was going to be a problem with NATO planes. They were told - very clearly- that the test planes would only be flying for about an hour each day. There was a rumor going around the set the planes were swooping done, closer to the set, because they were trying to get a glimpse at Johnny Depp.

LOUIS: You can watch this film and think a lot of people mis-managed stuff. The reality of that is that even with the chaos things were so carefully planned out - they had gone to that location, just two weeks before, and they were with their watches. Noting exactly what times Terry Gilliam and his Quixote Jean Rochefortdo the planes show up. The planes would show up for maybe a ½ hour to an hour then gone for the rest of the day. They even checked the almanac! For two hundred years in this particular area in Spain it has not rained during the week that they were choosing to shoot. And of course there it is 2nd day of production there's flash flood! It was like one thing after another. Like (Gilliam's Quixote) Jean Rochefort's illness. The doctors had all given him their seal of approval, "Yes insure this guy." It wasn't like these people went, "Iit's only a budget of 32 million dollars? Lets not pay attention to this stuff." There were so many decisions made and it was a bit of a precariously structured production. There was no room for one thing to go wrong - then everything goes wrong.

EMILY: It must have been tough to watch your friend Terry suffering even as documenters.

KEITH: As a filmmaker naturally your always looking for dramatic occurrences; for those conflicts. There was an element when the flash flood was occurring we were excited - oh my god you could never afford to produce a scene like this. You're getting very high production values for free. But at the same time - and I have known Terry for a long time - we were suddenly filming his disaster. So yes, it was hard. It was a combination of both; we're happy we're getting a good story and we're depressed were in some ways putting Terry under a microscope at his darkest moment.

LOUIS: We said all right some difficulties are happening…but you don't think it's going to mean the end of the production. This is just going to be a rough patch and we're going to have a happy ending. It took a while for it to sink in that because of this the film was going to be shut down. Those are not the stories that make there way out to general knowledge; what is the mechanics of a movie falling apart.

EMILY: Where you aware as you were filming you were headed towards disaster?

KEITH: No. In watching Lost in La Mancha you get the benefit of hindsight. When we were actually in Madrid it's so much harder to see things like that. You're in the field - we didn't have all the information at all times. Like we were not aware when we went to Terry's set on the sixth day of production- in fact we weren't actually were not going to go to the set at all - but then we got a call from Terry's assistant saying you have to come to the set...It turned out Terry wanted us to come to he set because he knew the investors were showing up and he knew we'd capture the great irony of the investors showing up and there was no actor…

LOUIS: [laughter] and he knew the lead actor had just gotten on a plane and left! We said to Terry's assistant Ella. "Is there something you're not telling us?" [laughter] She said, "Oh no. Terry just wants you to be here early on Monday morning…"

KEITH: We were kind of excited. Because the investors showing up on set like that, "unmasked," was straight out of 8 ½ (Fellini) ! What we didn't know was the actor wasn't there and it was that much more like 8 ½!

EMILY: The audience learns so much in this film. Especially about contracts and financing. At first you think okay the lead's sick - why aren't they just replacing him?

LOUIS: Ya. Well, Jean Rochefort. I mean because Terry was so intent on making the film outside of Hollywood system, it was an international coproduction and every single entity from each of these countries says I'll put in X millions dollars, here's what we want. When Terry got Jean Rochefort he said to the French financers, "I got Jean Rochefort." He's like a national treasure in France! French financers are like, "Well of course, if you have a film with Rochefort you can have our money." So when you no longer have a movie with Rochefort now that money I going to disappear. You don't really think of filmmaking as being such a house of cards; where one tiny little thing can bring down the whole production.

EMILY: Was there ever a time when you two were looking at the dailies and saying, "Oh man this is painful. Our poor friend?"

KEITH: Yeah. There was actually a real significant moment for us…when we got back to Madrid and we were going through footage, that we had gathered up to that point, about 80 hours… and we got to a part of the footage where Terry is watching the rushes and Lou is shooting a close up of Terry's face and we noticed for the first time there's no smile on his face. There's no light in his eyes. There's nothing there. We thought this is where our film is going. This is the moment and kind of the emotional climax of the film. To see someone who is always able to laugh suddenly not able to laugh is very tough.

LOUIS: It was a couple of days before we shot that we actually called Terry and said, "Look we're starting to get odd looks form people in the production office. We're beginning to feel like vultures…it feels a little unethical. What do you want us to do?" And Terry said, "Screw ethics I been working on this for ten years, and in such misery, someone has to get a film out of it. If it's not going to be me it better be you!"

EMILY: Wow. I already respected the man…

LOUIS: Yes. It's a testament to his candor and his willingness to not sensor things.

KEITH: He often talks about the fact that journalists are always saying to give up some truth about something is brave. You're praised for being able to do that. Terry thinks it's not bravery it's just the truth.

EMILY: So how did you decide what to put into the 89 minutes we see as Lost in La Mancha?

LOUIS: We did this thing where are editor, Jacob Bricca, said, "look, think without looking at your notes what are the ten scenes you think are the best scenes. Write them down them do the next ten. If that's what you remember than that's your strongest material. Use that as the backbone of your film. Take those twenty scenes and start building out of that."

EMILY: Is that what you did?

LOUIS: Yes. And nineteen out of twenty of those scenes are in the film. The other thing you do is say,"Yes it's a documentary, these things really did happen in front of the camera." But you also have to think about it also as a fiction script. You have to look at your footage like, "Okay who's the main character, who's your secondary character, where are the story strands and where are those emotional moments?" You build it to try and move an audience the same way a dramatic film does.

EMILY: Well you succeeded gentlemen.

END

This is one helluva film folks. Whether you're a Gilliam disciple or not, like the immensely handsome mansteaks said, they've set up this documentary with all those elements you find it fine dramas. Right. But you can't script this kind of drama...err...calamity.

Sure Gilliam's film got canned but he still radiates greatness, not only in the entertaining glimpses we get of his defunct Quixote film, but as a consummate filmmaker that even at his own expense stays true to a film - even when it's someone else's film. And of course great bows to Pepe and Fulton are demanded. At all times, even as the "windmills" in Terry's own La Mancha cease to rotate, they are admiring and positive about their parallel subjects.

The two documenters were, themselves, obviously amazed at the wicked and diabolical catastrophe's that haunted Gilliam's production. The saddest part is really not in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote's demise, but the thought that a genius like Gilliam - the one director that would best deliver Quixote - may never for fill his beautiful dream.

I'm off to watch Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas…again… for some well-needed giggles and guffaws!

BLUNT ASIDE:

* Terry Gilliam was originally a lowly half-loved member of the Monty Python troupe. As the "Pythons" whacked their audience upside the head with their off-the-wall sketches and nonsensical rantings on their little seen Flying Circus show, they allowed Terry to appear once in awhile in a sketch - usually half naked or insane.

It was his unique collage stop-motion "cartoons" that gave the abused American, in an all-British regime, a chance to shine and attempt inclusion with the clicky gents. His outrageous animations helped many of the seemingly nonsequential ravings of his fellow Pythons flow smoothly. Being college boys the Pythons saw a good thing when they saw it and eventually allowed Terry to dine in the same hall with them - though at a separate table.

Meanwhile, abuse from his "friends" aside, his hysterical animated offerings made him an icon. A god as of yet unequaled ...I'd say he has had us much an impact on animation as his snooty comrades have influenced the more talented of this generation's comics ( this statement excludes but is not limited to exclusion of hack Tom Green - who blatantly plagiarized the troupe in that filmatic poopinshit Freddy Got Fingered! ARGH).

Jokes aside, Monty Python was/is by far the greatest comedy troupe - Gilliam most definitely included - that ever existed.

Gilliam went on to make several films: The Holy Grail, Meaning of Life, Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Fisher King, Baron Munch-something and Brazil.

Now you know who he is right? - Emily

 


 

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