You and Louis are partners in life and in filmmaking.
How do you keep a creative relationship like that going as directors? You've been collaborating for at least ten years, counting back to The Hamster Factor.
We've been working together longer than that. How do we keep it going? When it comes to directing, we have complimentary skills. In our working relationship throughout the years, I've often been much better at the produce-orial side of things, much better at sort of big picture sorts of things, and Lou is a very detail-oriented person. Lou would probably be a good actor. He plays roles with actors and gets into the really deep shades of character, which is stuff that I'm less comfortable with. I'm more self-conscious. We have very, very different personalities. I'm sort of more controlling, which is important when you're directing a film, and he's very enabling. I think with a lot of directors, you find you only get one side of them, so it's actually convenient for us. We're radically different people. People find us a bit schizophrenic sometimes to work with. Someone from the crew will say, "Well, Keith said that," and Lou is saying something completely different, and that can be confusing. But the sum total of it works well.
Did you start directing in Britain?
At this point we're mistaken for being British, but we're not. I guess it's the Terry Gilliam
Brothers of the Head is a Film Four production and the cast is almost entirely British.
Well, this started out with Tony Grisoni
, the writer, you know, who is English, and it was a collaboration between Tony and Lou and myself. And Tony has a lot of connections in England, so it was really Tony who spearheaded the effort to find financing in England. We found Simon Channing-Williams
first, pitched the film to him and he was really game for it as our producer. Simon took us to Bingham Ray
at United Artists in New York. We pitched the film to Bingham and he was the one who gave us the development money to start getting the script written. Then the financing went back to England because United Artists fell apart, and then Film Four came on board. But I probably have more connections in England than I have over here.
How did you get the call from Gilliam to do The Hamster Factor?
Lou and I were in graduate school at the time in Philadelphia and Gilliam came to Philadelphia to shoot 12 Monkeys
. It shot in Philadelphia and Baltimore, so he came up to Philadelphia to set up his production and he was looking for people, film students in particular, to document the film. He had no specific thing in mind and he interviewed a bunch of students from different schools in the area and we showed him a lot of our work and he was into it and chose us to work on the film.
And he gave you carte blanche to do what you wanted?
He gave us complete carte blanche to do what we wanted. I mean, he had no idea that we would dog him for an entire year, which we did. I mean, from pre-production all the way through the release of the film a year later. And we made a feature-length documentary out of it.
It came out originally on the 12 Monkeys laserdisc Special Edition, and then later on the DVD Special Edition.
I still have the laserdisc hanging in my office. A dead format.
At that time, the "making of" documentary format was still pretty much a promotional item and The Hamster Factor was one of the first that broke that traditional mode.
That's what we were fighting against. It was a privilege to get to do that. The privilege was getting, as you said, carte blanche because usually on film sets, no one wants you to look at anything interesting. They want you to look at the prepackaged stuff that's suitable for TV broadcast. That's what most electronic press kits are comprised of. You know, happy actors talking about how much they love working with so-and-so. Lou and I got the opportunity to work completely against that. Actually, in that film, we don't even interview the actors. We had the opportunity to, but we don't.
But you show them in conversation with the director. And the other fascinating thing is that you have a whole section dedicated to the development of the poster and the concept and the whole promotional side of the film, casting a spotlight on how you sell a movie.
All that's stuff that really interested us. We were a bit wide-eyed wannabe directors, you know, and we were getting to see all this stuff from the inside, getting to see how a director as talented as Terry Gilliam was dealing with it all. So all that nuts and bolts stuff really fascinated us. And there's so much conflict in it. At every stage, there's so much tension. It made for actually really compelling documentary material.
And that's what you don't get in other film documentaries. You don't get that tension. You don't get that conflict. That's what art is about, but commercial art, filmmaking, that's at the heart of it.
The conflict is very simple and it applied to both The Hamster Factory
and Lost In La Mancha
. It's a conflict between art and commerce, you know. Gilliam knows that his films are expensive. He knows that on some level he has to embrace the commercial aspect, but he wants to make art films, he wants to make really challenging movies, and that inherently leads you to conflict.
So I take it he was happy with The Hamster Factory because he asked you to do Lost In La Mancha. Or rather, he asked you to do a documentary on the making of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote for the DVD release.
He didn't really ask us to do Lost In La Mancha
. We had tried - I think it was in 1999, when he initially tried to set up the Don Quixote film, and we'd written a proposal about doing a documentary about it then. It all fell through, so we had been trying to do another documentary with him. In that second instance, it wasn't him coming to us and saying, "Hey, do you want to do this?" It was really more us saying, "We would really like to see you try to mount this film." Because we knew that one was going to be loaded with interesting conflict. Not as much as we got. We were a little surprised by what we got.
And when everything fell apart and you kept shooting, was there any tension with him when this was happening?
There was tension in the sense that it was naturally uncomfortable. We were talking before about documentary ethics. Terry knew that we needed to tell the full story. He knew that we were not going to get a film unless our film became one that told the story of a film that fell apart. But he was in emotional pain. He was in serious pain at the time, and we were still training our cameras on him. He basically said, "You guys are the only people that are going to get a film out of this, so keep shooting." But he wasn't always happy about it.
There's a moment in the film that captures Terry Gilliam the way I always want to remember him. Obviously, there's the perfectionist, there's the guy always battling the studio, but when he's watching the cut-together scenes of those big guys he's turned into the giants...
He's full of joy.
He's laughing his ass off and he's just enjoying his art so much.
That was the one moment in the whole production, the brief production of Don Quixote
, when he was full of his usual kind of joy. And that's why we end Lost In La Mancha
with that image. The giants coming at you and you hear Terry Gilliam giggling.
It also helps explain why he, of all people, still battles the studios to get his films made. It's not the first film that has fallen apart.
It's not the first and it probably won't be the last. You know, I hope he gets to make the Don Quixote
film or another film that's really dear to his heart because I think he's had a really, really rough time since Lost In La Mancha
, since his attempt to make Don Quixote
. He needs a break.