Terry Gilliam chats about finishing
Interview/Pictures by Phil Stubbs
Tideland and The Brothers Grimm
It is August 2005. Director Terry Gilliam has just finished two films,
The Brothers Grimm and Tideland, and is waiting to find out
how they will be received by both public and critics. Here, he chats while
munching food just outside a quiet Indian restaurant in Soho.
For more about Tideland, click this link
For more about The Brothers Grimm, click this
We first talked about Tideland, which follows the bizarre adventures
of Jeliza-Rose, a young girl who moves out of the city with her father (Jeff
Bridges), after her addict mother dies. The girl, played by Jodelle Ferland,
is a young fantasist who has conversations with squirrels and dolls' heads
on her fingers. Tideland is based on the Mitch Cullin novel, and is produced
by Jeremy Thomas, who has worked several times each with directors Bernardo
Bertolucci, David Cronenberg and Nic Roeg.
Gilliam somewhere in Soho, London.
Phil Stubbs: Is Tideland now finished?
Terry Gilliam: Yes, Tideland is finished. We now have the finished final
combined print, no more pissing about. And I'm not sure if I want to watch
it now because there's nothing I can do to change it.
What were the final changes?
Well the editor Lesley Walker and I had done this big rush to try and get
it ready for Cannes, which we didn't make. But when the film was finished,
Jeremy kept pushing us saying that it was too long. I said that cutting
it short might make it a less good film - there's always a balance. So Lesley
and I had one last go, to go through the whole thing, and we made sixty
cuts. Some of the cuts are only 12 frames long, but some of them are longer.
It has probably picked the pace up a bit. And that's all - it hasn't changed
anything. I even put a scene back in that we had previously cut out. The
film ended up shorter than it was, and pacier. I think it's OK.
How long is the film?
It's under two hours, so it's not a long film. What's interesting about
the film, why for some people it may seem long is that there's a particular
part of the film, somewhere in the middle there, because you don't know
where it's going, you begin to get a bit impatient. "I've been sitting
here for an hour, where's this thing going?"
But if people can relax and just watch what's happening and not push forward,
demanding the next bit of the story, that's better. I think one of the problems
now is that we're so conditioned to narrative pace, which Hollywood is really
good at. It may be useless with ideas and original thoughts, but you get
used to its pace.
To me it's just a matter of whether we can we keep the audience's attention.
And even if they are a little bit twitchy, does the twitchiness pay off?
You need the low bits for the other bits to really kick - so hopefully we
have provided a few low bits!!!
When I visited the production of "Tideland" in Regina, a city
in the Canadian state of Saskatchewan, Jeff Bridges had just arrived for
his studio scenes. However the actor was suffering from a back pain which
made everyone anxious, especially since Jean Rochefort's illness had helped
Gilliam's Quixote movie fall apart.
Jeff's back was a bit of a worry. Was that a problem in the end?
No. He was very nervous about that, especially when he does his rock 'n'
roll moment. But it worked, it was fine. We had to pump him with some
painkillers. And he was a little bit stiffer than he probably would have
liked to have been. But it's all fine, you would never know.
Were there any challenges during the postproduction of Tideland?
Actually, it was a breeze. The only challenge was this desperate attempt
we had to try to get it into Cannes, which didn't quite work but what
it did do was it made us work at a really fast pace. Very similar to the
way we shot the film, and I was really enjoying that.
Up to the very, very end all the decisions we had to make about which scenes
stayed, and which scenes weren't working were just so fast, we were just
so clear. That was the nice thing. That's not working, we don't need that,
out it goes. So that part was really enjoyable. Then we did have the interesting
advantage that we were cutting "Grimms" at the same time. Two
cutting rooms, with Lesley and I going back and forth. And it was good,
it kept us from becoming too obsessive. You had to say: OK, we'll go and
do that one for a while.
Visually the two films were so different, and in spirit they were so different.
Too often you get caught in your own obsessions. You focus more and more
until you are going crazy, and the film may suffer from that. But here
it was really good, because you can escape from one and work on the other.
For me it's always a love-hate relationship so reaching a point where
I'm beginning to hate one, then you can go to the other one
Last year in Regina you were talking about maybe using tracks from
PJ Harvey or Tom Waits on Tideland
Nope, we threw it all out. It's a score. Michael Danna and Jeff Danna worked
together and did it. It's not so much that PJ Harvey's songs don't work,
I kind of don't need them. In fact she was just fantastic. She wrote two
songs and it was a nice relationship. She really loved the movie and it
was kind of on spec. If it worked, it worked and if it didn't, it didn't.
They didn't do quite what I felt the film needed at the end. So we stayed
with the score. I felt the invasion of another element that wasn't there
in the rest of the film. The songs are really good, so luckily they'll turn
up on one of her albums. So nothing's wasted.
When the book's author Mitch Cullin joined the set, you had him featuring
in the film itself.
He's still in. He was there, and we were doing the bus journey. And I
said, well you can be one of the passengers. He doesn't say or do much,
we stuck him in right behind Jeff and Jeliza Rose. He's got his moment.
Was he eager or reluctant?
I don't know. He was willing to play the game that's all I can say. Whether
he had sleepless nights I don't know. I think he enjoyed it. I think he's
good. We also have his name on the mailbox of Noah's house. You see "M.
Tideland will be premiered in the Toronto Film Festival on 9 September
When will it be released in the rest of the world?
I don't know. Jeremy has deals in France, Japan and Canada. Toronto is
really the moment that will dictate a lot of what goes on in the rest
of the world. So until then I don't know.
Then will it spill out to other film festivals?
There is talk of San Sebastian. I like festivals, they're jolly. As long
as I don't do too many interviews! You can have a good time to meet people.
I'm hoping that we get the film out in some form before the paying public
before the year is out, because I would love to see Jodelle nominated
for an Academy Award, because it is an extraordinary performance. It's
How did your relationship with Jeremy work?
Brilliantly, smoothly. He's really great. He doesn't interfere, he supports,
he has his own opinion about things and we can argue about things. But
it's always really positive with him. He's very brave, he's not frightened.
He wants to do dangerous things, things that push the envelope. But that's
great there's not many producers like that. I think he's really the last
of the independents to be honest. Because in Britain things aren't particularly
good at the moment. And he's slogging away.
He had a birthday party the other night and just two days before, he decided
to have a little dinner, and he got together a few friends at the last moment.
And it was an extraordinary collection of people. You walk in, there's Nic
Roeg, Hanif Kureshi, Bob Geldof, Mike Figgis, Stephen Frears, John Hurt
It just went on and on
Anjelica Huston. That was just a couple of
days before, so people really love working with Jeremy, they've stayed loyal
to him. Jeremy is a genuinely good man. It's a rare thing - somebody who
cares about film. He's passionate. I can't think of anyone else who's quite
Gilliam has often commented on how he has identified with characters
in his films. For example, In his struggle to get Brazil released, his
struggle was analogous to Sam's defiance of the system in the film.
Stills from Tideland
In Tideland did you identify with any of the characters?
Like a scattergun, I suppose I identified with all of them in many ways.
At 64 I got to play a nine and a half year old girl. I got to play with
dolls. It was great fun trying to feel that set like a child would. So
I'm for a little bit like that character. In the course of playing with
the dolls I discovered the characters of the dolls, and what they represented
to Jeliza-Rose. It's good being a kid occasionally. And I love Dickens,
because he is another side of me.
And with Jeff's character Noah, Jeliza-Rose's father
you share with him?
Yeah, total. Middle age
life hasn't worked out as good as it ought
to have. Angry, tired, can't communicate with family properly - yeah I
understand all that.
In the script Noah tells an anecdote about Keith Moon. I understand
you knew him too?
Yeah, he was supposed to be in Life of Brian. In fact he died before he
got down to Tunisia and although I didn't know him well, I had bumped
in to him. The first time we met him was when we were out in Barbados
writing Life of Brian. And he turned up, he was wonderful. What you saw
was what Keith Moon was. He was funny, he was smart, he was crazed, and
these people keep disappearing. He did it then, Hunter S. Thompson did
it recently. There's not much craziness left. There's craziness out there
but its dumb craziness. There's a difference between craziness that is
smart and funny and witty and clever, and dumb brutish craziness, which
there's too much of.
How will audiences respond to Tideland?
I don't know. I just know what it is, and I think it's good. There was
an early screening we had, a group came from Peerless, who have done the
effects on my films. I just didn't know what they would make of it. Afterwards
there was almost a fight between those who thought it was fantastic and
one guy who was apparently the liberal in the group, who found it just
offensive and outrageous. He was really outraged and the others who said
no, no, you don't understand. It was great.
My wife Maggie's response was great she said it was shocking because it
was innocent. I really don't know. To me it's a litmus test for people
about who they are and how they perceive the world and how secure they
are about themselves. I just feel that people
I can't predict what
people are going to make of it. I know I've got a great response, and
there are people who just think it's terrible.
I think the best thing was Mike Palin who saw it very early on, the film
was probably half an hour longer than it is now, maybe more, maybe 35
minutes longer, and he didn't like it. And he woke up the next morning,
and he couldn't get it out of his head. It was just in there and he began
to think. In the end he said it's either the best thing I've ever done
or the worst thing I've ever done - he doesn't know. And I think that's
what people should be doing: making films that are more on the edge.
But it's not salacious, it's not manipulative, it just goes through it.
When I watch films now they bother me, the technique of films bothers
me, because it's so obvious how you do things, sell things. I don't like
that any more. It's becoming a cliché the way things are done.
And I think ours looks different. Hopefully it feels different and hopefully
it's not too alien. It's just whether there's a little girl inside of
But Gilliam has not just finished one film, he's got another one out
soon. "The Brothers Grimm", about which there is much elsewhere
on this website, was shot in Prague before "Tideland".
"Grimm" was funded by Miramax division Dimension Pictures, and
stars Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as the siblings. The picture also features
Monica Bellucci, Jonathan Pryce and Peter Stormare.
Is Grimm finished?
Yes, Grimm is finished too. It comes out in the States on 26 August. It's
going to be in the Venice Film Festival. So I'm actually going to go from
the Venice film festival with Grimms to Toronto with Tideland, so I've
got two films in two festivals in one week!
Disagreements about Grimm between director Gilliam and Miramax chiefs
Harvey and Bob Weinstein have been much reported.
The conflict that arose during the production and afterwards
Now, which one is that
How are you going to answer questions in interviews about that over
the next few weeks?
I'll say that there is no sense of history in America. And there won't
be any during the press conference. That's the great thing about America:
history has no meaning. So we might as well forget history while I'm in
The important thing is that they really like the film now. A year ago
we reached the point where there was great disagreement about what the
film was. And rather than doing what you normally do: i.e. have a head
butt contest, and the biggest ego wins, and the film suffers, I went away
I went away and did Tideland to let the air clear, go back to our quarters.
And come six months later, they asked me to finish the film, so I've done
it. And it's good.
Harvey said when he saw it that he was laughing and he said he loved it.
He didn't realise how funny it was, until they'd put the music and all
the effects on and when they cleaned up the dialogue. So it's a happy
ending there. The screenings we've been having with the press, we've been
getting really good reactions.
There was a scene in the middle of the film where the brothers are
attacked by trees...
Stills from Grimm
It's gone. You'll have to buy your DVD to see it. It's the world's most
expensive DVD extra. I just couldn't bring myself to pull out the most
expensive scene in the movie which had been so painful to do, and was
really good in itself. But when we did, it was clear that the film benefited
from it, because it's such a climactic scene, it's so spectacular, that
it's hard to follow it.
Terry Jones early on said he felt the film was broken backed, because it's
getting bigger and bigger and instantly you drop it all and go somewhere
else. By pulling it out, it makes the film much more tense because you know
less about the forest and more importantly it allows Matt's character to
be able to say tha the forest is not enchanted, because there's still some
doubt as to what you've seen. The minute that tree scene was in it, there
was no doubt anymore.
We were arguing. Ray Cooper said you don't need it. Others had said no,
but I kept holding on to it. In fact it was Steven Soderbergh who was
the one who finally pushed me over the edge. He said you don't need it.
It was the idea of all that money, all that expense, all that work being
thrown away. I just don't like waste. It's just if one has spent the money,
and people have done the work, I want the world to see it. So they'll
enjoy it on their DVDs and their home cinemas.
In the first week of shooting Matt Damon had a big nose?
Actually we never got to shooting it. We did tests on it and that was
blocked at more than the eleventh hour - the twelfth hour. So we didn't
shoot on it. BUT that nose on Matt just transformed him. And it made him
really just a better character. It was fantastic, it really worked. It
was good for his character, it was good for him as an actor, like Dumbo
and his feather, but that didn't happen.
There was this rumour that Miramax sent someone to stand in front of
the camera to prevent any shooting of Matt and his nose.
No, that's more interesting than what happened. No, it was "Put the
nose on him, and we close the film down." It's as simple as that.
And that was the night before the first day of shooting. Good timing.
If you look at Finding Neverland, look at Johnny - he looks like he's about
18 years old, and beautiful. JM Barrie was a big guy with a walrus moustache.
I think Finding Neverland with Johnny as somebody less beautiful is more
interesting. JM Barrie is a great character. What was interesting about
Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny wore this make up and gold teeth and eye
liner and they loved it.
When should we expect Grimm in the UK
I don't know. They're talking about September but nobody has confirmed
anything. It's being released around Europe all through September and
October, so I can't believe they're going to wait too long for the UK,
but again that's all in the air at the moment.
Back in 1998, Gilliam had to battle with the Writers' Guild of America
to have a writing credit on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, despite the
fact that he and co-writer Tony Grisoni had written most of the script.
There are echoes of that struggle on Grimm too.
Tony Grisoni doesn't get a writing credit, and nor do I. However the great
thing about the film - something we tried to do on Fear and Loathing, was
to make a film based on a dress pattern. Well on this one we did. You see
a credit in there - Dress Pattern Makers: Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni.
The idea of a screenplay by one person is such a nonsense, it's basically
the Writers' Guild, an ancient bureaucracy, holding on to a false idea of
how films are made. And so that's why we've ignored that side of things
and made a dress pattern, and the crew worked from the dress pattern.
Gilliam and fellow dress pattern maker
Tony Grisoni attempt a mobile phone conversation
The Writers' Guild is just bizarre. The problem is and this is what happened
on Fear and Loathing is: if you are a director and write, you have to produce
two-thirds maybe even 70% of the script to get a credit and another writer
only has to produce a third or 30% to get a credit. But if the director
works with another writer, as co-writers like Tony and I do, that writer
is also tarred with the same brush, so the two of us would have to show
that we had written over two-thirds of the script to get a credit and that's
a hard thing to do word-by-word. And basically I took my name off. I said
to Tony I don't want a credit because then he wouldn't be tarred by the
same brush. But he was so angry with the Writers' Guild for the credits
not being an honest representation of what happened. And he said no, so
we will continue our careers as dress pattern makers.
And moving on from Grimm, Gilliam has been at work on a Python retrospective
show, called Monty Python's Personal Best. Each member of the group is
compiling 60 minutes of their favourite bits.
It's just a way of recycling old stuff to take advantage of our faithful
So, a minute of new links and the rest of it old stuff?
Yes, yes, could be!!! Michael Palin does a few, he's very good. Mine is
unique because mine is all animation. I finally got all those connecting
links out of the way. All those sketches that have ruined my animations
for years, they have now been chucked out and now you can see the genius
I read that Spamalot is going to hit Vegas
I heard that the other day as well. It's Steve Wynn who is the big man
in Vegas. His new hotel, they'll build a permanent theatre with a permanent
version of Spamalot. So Eric is going to be the richest Python on the
The rest of you get a cut?
We get a little cut. Somewhere down the line we get something. I'm not
sure exactly what it is. I don't think we're going to be hurting though.
And there's a film coming out called the Aristocrats with comedians
telling the same joke. I understand you had some involvement with that.
Yes, I did. Penn Jillette called me up, they came over here and they filmed
me doing my bit on the Aristocrats and apparently I was quite funny, but
for whatever reason the sound recording didn't work so it's just me with
no sound. So I've been cut out of the film.
The Brothers Quay project, "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes".
I've seen some stills from it, and what I've seen is a lady and six very
thin looking German guys.
That's more than I've seen, and I'm the executive producer. But I've
not seen it. I've got a DVD but they then asked me not to look at because
they went back to doing some more work on the sound. So I'm very much
like the Hollywood executive getting credit for doing bugger all.
What films are you enjoying at the moment?
None. I haven't liked what I've seen recently. With War of the Worlds,
I'm beginning to feel that Spielberg can only direct scenes now, he doesn't
know how to make a film. There's no coherency in it. I really haven't
really seen anything that's got me excited.
The one thing that did there's a little festival I'm involved with in
Italy. And it was Turtles Can Fly, an Iranian film. It's pretty amazing.
It's a good one. But other than that I haven't been watching movies. The
ones I've seen have all been Hollywood films which I've found instantly
forgettable. I'm like a junkie wanting a proper fix these days. There's
nothing that hits me that stays with me. Hollywood produces really slick,
technically brilliant films with really no substance to them.
There's got to be change. I keep feeling like 19th century academic painting.
You'd see the huge canvasses they're brilliant, the technique is brilliant.
Horses, the people, the battles. They're fantastic, but you don't respond
to them and along came people like the Impressionists. Which must have looked
incredibly bizarre and crude, but suddenly there was stuff there that grabbed
the imagination again. And I just keep feeling that it has to happen in
In fact the one I did love was Kung-Fu Hustle. Stephen Chow is now my new
hero. It's just a very funny film. And the martial arts stuff is brilliant
and funny. It's good filmmaking.
Look out for Tideland and The
Brothers Grimm somewhere soon!
[Dreams home] [News]