Dreams: On the set of The Brothers Grimm

Part Two... by Phil Stubbs
Minor spoilers included... Featured pictures first seen at The Z Review

I wake up rather late on 10 September, but still with plenty of time to explore Prague. I have an enjoyable walk around the Czech capital, including a visit to the city's National Museum, featuring an alarming number of stuffed animals - most memorable being a dead giraffe and the corpse of a playful little pony.

Just after eight o'clock in the evening, I arrive on the Brothers Grimm set with Bob McCabe for a second night - day 52 of the shoot. It's noticeably colder and windier tonight. I realise that last night's shooting had been quite a small affair, with just the four stars, plus the young girl and the one-legged man. Tonight as Bob and I walk through the mud to the set, we see dozens of soldiers, many on horseback. According to the call sheet, there's eight Artillery Foot Soldiers, sixteen Grenadier Foot Soldiers, twenty-four Infantry Foot Soldiers. Added to this are many villagers, including dozens of old crones. In fact, there are over thirty horses on the call sheet. Tents and military paraphernalia have been erected in front of the village. Several cannons have been placed there pointing away from the village. And as we walk towards the centre of the set, Peter Stormare overtakes us on foot, spitting and angrily muttering to himself.

A daytime still of the Brothers Grimm village

The first shot is being set up. Soldiers are being arranged in a line with their backs to the village and the tents, facing the camera. Director Terry Gilliam is busy with the camera at the edge of the forest.

During the set-up of this shot, Bob takes me on a tour of the Barrandov offices. All the sets are locked up so we can't have a look, but I notice that there is an office for an prosthetics team and another for an animatronics team. Returning to the set for 9:00, I see Jonathan Pryce has turned up, uniformed as a senior French officer, looking noble and evil. He climbs onto his horse.

For the first shot of the night, I notice that there are two digital preview screens showing different moving images, fed by two separate cameras. One is a medium close up of Jonathan Pryce. The second camera is attached to a crane on a dolly, and is taking in a wider angle with horse and a background of the soldiers and village.

By 9:45, we are ready to shoot with the two cameras. In this shot, Pryce's character, Delatombe, is humiliating the brothers Jake and Will who are offscreen. In fact, the actors Damon and Ledger are not needed for the night's shoot at all. Delatombe orders a book of the Brothers' tales to be burnt: "Burn it". This reveals Delatombe to be an imagination-destroying villain, echoing previous characters within Gilliam's work. This fact, together with a conversation between the brothers from last night's shoot suggests that Gilliam has been able to mould the script to match his personal vision.

A bit of tinkering later, and at 10:25, take two is ready. One guy is holding Pryce's horse at its front, and two are holding its behind, keeping it under control. Pryce hurls the book down with menace, and someone off screen catches the precious prop. As Delatombe addresses the brothers, a line of soldiers approach from behind. After five or six takes at 11:15, Gilliam is satisfied, and the crew moves to the second shot.

Monica Bellucci in character - later in the shoot

One outcome the dozens of extras is that there is a much larger food tent tonight, often teeming with soldiers and old crones in costume, with an increased amount of food options. I help myself to several helpings of gnocchi which help one get through the cold night. And it's not just me that's hungry - I see that the horses are grazing on the grass... turf that I understand was especially laid at Barrandov for this picture.

It's now midnight, and for the last three quarters of an hour, the crew has been setting up the second shot of the night. Several soldier-extras are lined up near the camera. In this shot, the soldiers are to move towards the forest and set it on fire. The shot is from the brothers' point of view - in the forest.

However, there's a problem - the cameras are ready to roll yet there is no kindling beside the trees for the soldiers to alight. Suddenly a large number of crew members start to hack at the trees to make twigs and branches for the soldiers to set fire to. Which takes time.

While more branches are being hacked, I look through some continuity stills, which look beautiful. Some from the village set during a daytime shoot. Several feature British actor Mackenzie Crook, who plays a pal of the Brothers Grimm who is involved in their capers to try and convince villagers of real demons and ghosts. Also in the stills I see that there appears to have been a scene in a torture chamber, further suggesting the genre of the film as comic horror.

A little later on and Gilliam is lying down on the ground right at the back of the set, looking through a long lens through some trees. He's giggling, and seems to like what he sees.

After a rehearsal, this second shot shoots at 12:40. The forest burn scene is from the POV of inside the forest, looking out at the soldiers with the village in background. The soldiers approach and set the kindling alight. A Steadicam moves from side to side and catches the forest beginning to catch fire, as if from within a larger forest. Gilliam encourages to keep shooting, and he's happy with the first take. The soldiers remain long enough for one of the soldiers' helmets to catch fire, producing much mirth among the crew.

The crew then get on to set-up shot three, which takes an hour. This is a complex shot looking close to the village, involves dozens of extras and featuring three cameras. Gilliam and his DP spend time lining up the cameras with a joystick, moving the camera in and out, left and right. Also the actors and props within the shot are amended to optimise the composition, for example changing the direction of the cannon. Gilliam calls Kent Houston over to find out whether a digital effect can cover up a tree, which is harming the composition.

Pryce's character yells a threatening remark in a French accent. A cannon fires. Cavaldi (ie Stormare) is behind him. Lots of soldiers, townsfolk and old crones feature in the shot. Then a cannon is fired. Huge orange lights are fired up behind the camera which brighten up the crowd's faces, suggesting an explosion.

The one-legged night-watchman from yesterday is in the crowd of townsfolk. But here he has two legs. Gilliam realises that no-one has strapped up his "missing" leg tonight, but the director states that the audience won't see in this shot that he's actually got both his legs here. The problem with this shot appears to be the control of Pryce's horse. It's an extremely difficult job for anyone to do - acting as well as controlling his horse in the early hours of a cold Prague night. It gets colder, and Gilliam proudly reveals to me he's remaining warm wearing six layers, counting them one at a time. He then jokes, "Have you been able to work out why we need so many people on set 'cos I've never been able to work that one out..."

Matt Damon as a Grimm brother

After the six takes have been completed across the three simultaneous cameras, a couple of other shots are done. One of these is a closer one of the townsfolk and old crones looking at an explosion caused by the cannon, Gilliam complains that the crowd didn't appear to be looking at anything - they're all looking in different directions. Gilliam asks for the crowd to look in the same direction. The Czech extras were all told to focus on a single point. During the next take, the crowd does as it is told and all looks at the source of the orange flash that brightens their faces. But an old bearded man in the middle of the crowd reveals his finger and starts pointing at it. To which Gilliam shouts, "Who's that asshole pointing his finger like some Old Testament prophet?"

By 4:40, the multi shots of the cannon scene are complete, but there's still time to squeeze in another shot - a Steadicam reaction of some soldiers to a fiery fox. This is done with a single Steadicam. There are two six-fingered gas-fed flames off-screen, lighting up some soldiers. Here, we are shooting the reaction to the flames (a fiery fox presumably).

At 5:30 in the morning, the day is at an end. I go up to thank Gilliam for allowing me to lurk around on set. Weary crew members escape to their beds. And I escape back to my hotel where I order an alarm call in 90 minutes time...

I've seen a great deal in the last two days to make me look forward to seeing this project when it's complete in November 2004. What I have seen looks beautiful, the actors are tremendous in their roles, and the fragments of the script I have heard suggests that the story fits with Gilliam's vision.

The challenge for the director is to make a Terry Gilliam picture within the constraints of a studio project. On set for just two days I'm unable to conclude to what extent it will be an idiosyncratic Terry Gilliam film. We'll only be able to tell when the film is complete. But the signs are good and it definitely promises to be a fascinating movie.

[Dreams home] [News] [Movies] [Interviews] [Detail] [Links]