Win a copy of the book about the making
of Gilliam's Brothers Grimm

...this page by Phil Stubbs
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A new book about the making of The Brothers Grimm has been published in the UK. HarperCollins has given three copies to Dreams to give away as competition prizes.

If you would like to win one of these books, then please send an email to Phil Stubbs [phil@smart.co.uk] explaining that you would like to win a copy. One entry per person. The Dreams random number generator will select three winners from the entrants on 13 January 2006.

A review of Dreams and Nightmares

Terry Gilliam's films have a reputation for having behind-the-scenes production stories almost as interesting as the movies themselves. The director's latest, The Brothers Grimm, was no exception. His authority as chief creative decision-maker on the project was challenged by the studio before, during and after the production. Gilliam lost several of the battles, and the picture suffered as a result.

One key area of contention was Matt Damon's appearance in the picture. Gilliam wanted to place a little bump on Damon's nose to add to his character, but Miramax's Weinstein brothers threatened to shut the film down if Damon's face was different from what the public were used to seeing. Gilliam is normally happy to discuss creative decisions with his production team and negotiate: he is more the rational, thoughtful filmmaker than his anarchic image suggests. But on this picture he became more and more frustrated as the studio prevented him from doing what he wanted, and it was unable to convince him of the sense of its vetoes.

The Brothers Grimm hit the screens this Autumn. A complex and rewarding picture, it has a wonderfully peculiar mix of comedy, fantasy and Grand Guignol. Yet the critics and box office returns suggested it was not to everyone's taste. It starred Damon and Heath Ledger as the eponymous brothers, who operate as conmen in Napoleonic Germany, fooling villagers into believing that they are haunted by monsters, then extorting money by pretending to exorcise them. The first scene demonstrates the absurd and the macabre elements in the film. We see the two brothers as children: one of them sells the family cow for "magic" beans rather than the hard cash that is needed to buy medicine to save the life of his ill sister.

The picture was shot in Prague in 2003 with Gilliam's biggest-ever budget. Not only was there was the battle of Damon's nose, but also there were casting disagreements such as Miramax's insistence that Gilliam's choice of actress Samantha Morton was not in the film. And also Nicola Pecorini - Gilliam's preferred cinematographer - was fired and replaced by the Weinsteins, three weeks into shooting.

Normally such quarrels are brushed under the carpet in Hollywood. People want to work again, naturally, and therefore they don't elaborate on the problems. Most of the time those involved in conflict like to accentuate the positive aspects of having worked together, even if it is through gritted teeth.

By contrast, a new book by Bob McCabe - Dreams and Nightmares - contains a great deal of entertaining comments, quotes and rumour to satisfy those seeking a warts-and-all story about a difficult production shoot. It contains the diaries of Nicola Pecorini, Nikki Clapp (Script Supervisor), and Bob McCabe, a writer who was on set following events for much of the time. It is McCabe who has edited all of these diaries together to make a single timeline, and writes a brief introduction and conclusion. From the book we learn much, since McCabe has access to Gilliam, designer Guy Dyas, acting coach Stephen Bridgewater and actors Matt Damon and Mackenzie Crook. There are several interviews too, and one in particular with editor Lesley Walker is very revealing about the postproduction of Gilliam's pictures.

The most enjoyable entries are Pecorini's diaries, largely unedited by McCabe in this book. They are bitchy and partial but always entertaining and illuminating. Unfortunately, as Pecorini was sacked a few weeks into filming, his voice does not feature in the second half of the book.

Much of what Bob McCabe writes is interesting, as he manages to point an ear at many heated exchanges. A fax that Gilliam sent to Bob Weinstein during production is included:

"Once again you have made an arbitrary decision which has harmed the film I am trying to make. From the beginning of this project I have said that our tastes are very different - with each of you acts, from the forcing of Lena Headey on me to the willingness to close the film down because of make-up on Matt Damon that made him look right for the character of Will Grimm, to the criticism of Peter Stormare's performance to the present firing of Nicola Pecorini, I am convinced the film in your head is a different one from mine. In the case of NP, I think you fired the wrong man - his work was beautiful, dark and magical - exactly what I wanted. Exactly right for the story."

The making of Grimm might have been a wonderful opportunity for someone to write a quintessential tale about how creative tensions erupt on a major motion picture, but this book is frequently an exasperating read. The major problem is that the book lacks something vital: a single, independent, narrating observer, which is necessary in tales of complex conflict. This is for the reader to determine a view of what's going on, and instead we get seemingly random diary entries.

Poor editing leaves us with repetition. On page 79 we learn from Pecorini the coincidence that Lena Headey's stunt double is called Samantha Martin! And on the next page, in Bob's diary we read that "...it turns out that Angelika's stunt double is called Samantha Martin".

Further, a reflection of the lack of care taken in the book is the annoying number of spelling mistakes, especially of names. And some of the events are labelled as happening on the incorrect day.

Also there are very many irrelevant entries, including how an actor is five minutes late for a meeting, and many quips from actors and crew are as pointless as they are unamusing, and which would surely have been excised from a descriptive account of what happened. Also we read an uninteresting story about how an actor's double "got laid". In particular, Nikki Clapp's diary entries offer little in the way of information or interest.

To McCabe's credit, as someone who has worked with Gilliam on books before, he has included much that is critical of the director. This book certainly reports many incidents regarding the clashes that happened on set, and contains many absorbing anecdotes to satisfy both Gilliam fans and those eager to look at the detritus that normally is safely concealed under the rug. But it's a frustrating read and a missed opportunity.
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