Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Wednesday, 22 February 2006

Battle-scarred Gilliam looks to future

By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter in Bangkok

Bloodied but unbowed after his troubled Brothers Grimm movie, director Terry Gilliam speaks to the BBC News website about his latest film projects and piracy views during a visit to Bangkok International Film Festival.

Spend five minutes in the company of Terry Gilliam and he is bound to spend at least one of them chuckling madly at the insanity of the film business and life in general.

Terry Gilliam
Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm got negative reviews

It is good to find him in so ebullient a mood, as the last few years have given him very little to laugh about.

His long-gestating Don Quixote project starring Johnny Depp collapsed in 2001 following a series of on-set catastrophes.

And his last film, fairy-tale fantasy The Brothers Grimm, opened to negative reviews and lacklustre box office after a troubled production that saw him clash repeatedly with his producers, Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

But now the 65-year-old ex-Monty Python star was looking ahead with optimism and good humour.

His next film, dark drama Tideland, opens in the UK later this year, and he will shortly head to France and Israel to work with celebrated Russian clown Slava Polunin.

He is also attached to Anything for Billy, a western about legendary gunslinger Billy the Kid, based on a book by Larry McMurtry, who co-wrote the screenplay for Oscar-nominated film Brokeback Mountain.

Heath Ledger and Matt Damon in The Brothers Grimm
Heath Ledger and Matt Damon star in The Brothers Grimm

"It's the story of an East Coast dime novelist who goes to the real Wild West and discovers it's far worse than he ever imagined," he told the BBC News website.

"It's one of Larry's best books. The difficulty is there's so much in it that we'd have to lose a lot to condense it into a movie."

As with another of his mooted projects - an adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel, Good Omens - the problem lies in raising enough money to do it justice.

"I want to put things on screen that are visually elaborate, but I'm getting tired of how complicated that is to do.

"Every few days you have to compromise just to keep the film going. You're constantly shifting, just to appease the money people."

In that respect, Tideland - filmed on a low-budget in Saskatchewan, Canada with a largely unknown cast - came as a therapeutic break from the norm.


The only big name involved is actor Jeff Bridges, in a role that requires him to spend most of the film as a corpse.

"When you're spending $250,000 (143,000) a day it puts a certain amount of weight on your shoulders," he said.

"But when you're doing a low-budget film like Tideland you're free - there's no one looking over your shoulder. In that sense it was exhilarating."

Having had the Weinsteins looking over his shoulder throughout The Brothers Grimm, the director can speak from bitter experience.

He said that after disagreeing with them on everything from casting Samantha Morton in the lead female role to a prosthetic bump on Matt Damon's nose, Gilliam eventually cut off contact with them altogether.

Money worries

The result was another chaotic shoot from a director with a history of strained relations with "the money people".

"I always start with the best intentions, but then the money disappears. The chaos results from not having enough time and money."

Perhaps this explains why he has little sympathy for the Hollywood studios' current drive against DVD piracy.

"It's hard for me to worry about the studios losing money. I'm not very sympathetic to their money problems, because they certainly haven't been sympathetic to mine.

Spamalot helps Gilliam's "pension fund"
"When you look at one of their accounting sheets you realise you're never going to see a penny, so if someone wants to rip them off that's fine with me.

"If you're going to pirate, though, make sure the quality's good. Have some respect for what you're pirating!"

Not that Gilliam has to worry about money - thanks in no small part to Spamalot, the hit Broadway musical based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

"It helps with the pension fund, and it helps keep Python alive," he smiles.

"As much as we'd like to pull the plug on the whole thing it carries on - it's got a life of its own."

Gilliam plans Don Quixote revival
10 Nov 05 |  Entertainment
Damon nose bump 'threatened film'
02 Nov 05 |  Entertainment
Pythons gather for Gilliam film
01 Nov 05 |  Entertainment
Gilliam defends his Grimm reviews
04 Sep 05 |  Entertainment
Python films are 'best spin-offs'
26 Sep 05 |  Entertainment
Monty Python learns French
04 Aug 03 |  Arts & Culture


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