While Gilliam spent a majority of his Question and Answer session at Manhattan’s Film Forum discussing Time Bandits (as detailed here), he did touch upon a few other topics worth sharing.
On the future of motion pictures: At the moment, everybody is very confused about where the business is going with DVDs and the Web. I still think there will always be that big pot of money and it is in the hands of a few people who are very nervous. At the moment, the studios now are not even run by entrepreneurs or people who understand or are interested in film. They’re middle management because all the studios are owned by larger corporations and they’re living in a world where quarterly statements are dictating everything. So you have a lot of people being paid a lot of money who are terrified of making movies. There basic function is to say ‘no’ because they’re safe when they say ‘no.’ If they say ‘yes’ and the film flops- heads roll. That’s just the system. Unless something extraordinary happens I think it’s going to be with us for a long time. When I go to Hollywood I’m usually coming up with a project that to me is fresh, new and exciting and that’s what terrifies them. They fill a need to remake things that have worked before. They want comfort. I’m just so perverse, I like making their lives a misery. I probably suffer more than they do for it.
Does he consider himself a maverick film maker?: I’m not trying to make elitist films or difficult films. I’m actually trying to reach a large number of people and I keep failing. On the other hand, Time Bandits was a big success. Fisher King was a big success. Twelve Monkeys was a big success. I’ve done enough that allows me to do what I do. I’m not really thinking about the audience as such. I don’t know what an audience is. I know what individual people look like, but I don’t an audience. So I make things that excite me, that I believe in. I assume that I’m somewhat part of the human race so that there must be a couple of other people like myself who have similar taste and I’m relying on that. I always get into that situation where I feel that after a certain number of less financially successful films, I need to think of something that will make some money. It’s such a gamble and I can’t predict anything. I’m getting old and I’m going to die soon, so I make what I like.
On George Harrison as a movie producer: I was under a lot of pressure by Denis O’Brien to use a lot of George’s songs in it. He could see it as a real Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with a lot of “Hi ho, hi ho,” all that stuff. I said, “No that’s not the kind of film we’re making.” George did write and sing that end song which I tacked on. I didn’t realize until much later, it’s his notes to me about the film. There are lines in there about “Amaze without taking up time’, i.e. “It’s too fucking long Terry.” Just listening to it now, being reminded what a clever, sneaky little bastard George was.
On his reputation of being ‘difficult’ for studios to deal with: It’s become a bit of a legend, it’s not really true anymore. Journalists tend to be lazy and they just keep repeating themselves. My big fight was over Brazil and it was very public, but after that I didn’t really have any big fights until the Weinsteins came into my life, but that’s something else. In fact the studio films that I’ve done that were in Hollywood – The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys and Fear And Loathing – no problems at all. It’s a bit inflated. I think it’s partly because I have people making documentaries about the films that I make or somebody writes a book. There are always fights. Every movie, every director has fights. These get written down or in a documentary so that they’re available for public consumption. Most battles happen behind closed doors. I’m so lazy I don’t write diaries, so I have people write these books or make documentaries. They’re really for me to remind me what it was like and hopefully encourage me to never to it again. I do have this reputation but I’m getting tired of it to be quite honest.
On improvising solutions on the set: I don’t know if you noticed at the end [of Time Bandits] when the boy is approaching the pile of ashes that the smoke is going backwards. Here’s why- we weren’t able to afford a proper crane, all we had was this cherry picker. When it was going up, it jerked. I said, ‘Well, this is no good.’ So we started the shot up there and it’s all shot in reverse. Craig is walking backwards.
On his long gestating adaptation of the novel Good Omens: I’ve been working on it this year. In fact I just rewrote the script a week ago. It’s an expensive film, that’s the problem. It means I’ve got to get some A list actors to get the kind of money I need and most of the A-list actors aren’t right for the parts, so I’m in a bit of a quandary. This is a project based on a wonderful book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchet about the apocalypse. It’s a comedy with heaven and hell, angels and demons and the anti-Christ. It’s a wondrous book and I think we’ve made a pretty good script out of it. Before Brothers Grimm we had a budget of 60 million. We couldn’t have doe it for that, we lied. But we raised 45 million outside of America. I needed 15 million from Hollywood. I had two actors to play the angel and the devil- Johnny Depp and Robin Williams. And I couldn’t get 15 million dollars out of Hollywood. That was time Johnny was doing Chocolat and The Man Who Cried and they said ‘Well he just does those European art movies, he’s not worth anything and Robin’s career is over.’ That was the end of that one and along came Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s just what’s awful about Hollywood is that they don’t really understand the talent that they’re dealing with, who they’re dealing with. Now with Johnny you can put him in anything and you can get the money and that’s a product of him sticking to his guns and doing the kind of things he likes doing.
On how aspects of Brazil seem to be playing themselves out on the international political scene: I’m honestly thinking of suing George Bush and Dick Chaney for making a remake of Brazil without my approval! Their version isn’t as funny I don’t think. It is absolutely frightening. Homeland Security is just like the Ministry of Information because if your job is counter-terrorism, what do you need to keep in business? You need terrorists. Even if they aren’t there you may have to create new one.