The Matt Damon Column
Brother Gilliam: Exclusive report on the filming of "The Brothers Grimm"
The September/October issue of Brazil magazine contained a feature story on the filming of The Brothers Grimm, and the magazine was kindly sent to me by Nicole. The article was originally in French, and over many hours I have transcribed it, mostly through an online free translation service. Therefore I cannot guarantee my translation of the following article is entirely correct, but I have sought to retain the original voice and intentions of the author, Christophe Goffette. Note there are some minor spoilers as to the film's storyline and particular scenes.
Some lines of apparently no relevance to the movie or its cast or crew have been shortened or deleted. Please do not copy or replicate the following translation, especially as the veracity of the text cannot be guaranteed. The two diagrams were included in the original article, and are discussed by the author. All errors in translation are mine.
The "Brazil" magazine is available for purchase as a back issue. If you would like an original copy, send a 10 Euro banknote with your complete address to: Brazil, Chemin du Haut des Buissons, 95430 Auvers sur Oise, France.
The author of the article, Christophe Goffette, can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Brother Gilliam: The improbable adventures of Tery Gilliam, new chapter
Mid-August, worried about not having heard anything about the shooting of "The Brothers Grimm" and knowing that Terry will soon be finishing the filming of scenes in exterior and natural settings - that explains doubtlessly six interminable weeks of silent news - I send him the summer edition of Brazil magazine, with Albert Dupontel on the cover, as well as a small letter that is pythonesque. I get a short letter from Amy, one of his daughters (she is the middle one), in return: "Hi ya, thank you for the latest issue of the magazine. Terry is busy shooting but is keen and happy for you to come and visit him in Prague. Let me know when you are thinking of coming. Speak soon".
It is then useless to translate or even to specify that three days later (Friday 22 August), I am in the airplane, happily jaunty (I supported even the piloting of a Czech pilot who was doubtlessly a debutant), and seeking to be a whore of the privileged. Smiling blissfully and with a stupid air of circumstance, and aiming not to spill my coffee, I promised myself to relate it all to you in the smallest detail... Of which I did!
Some hours before my departure, Amy had warned me that George, Terry's driver, would greet me at the airport brandishing happily a yellow sign of "The Brothers Grimm", to beautiful effect and, yes, it is there, as predicted, with pretty writing. My plane is delayed only five minutes, but I have the impression that George had been sleeping while standing for just a small moment. He is very kind, his manner enthusiastic, he floods me with good wishes and takes me to the car. He takes out a list of the actors and their respective roles and asks who I am and if I will sign an autograph. "No, no, I am not in the film, I am simply a guest."
He asks me if I want the air conditioning to stay on (22 degrees c). I tell him that it is 21 and a half degrees outside and that it is preferable to open the windows. It would be in this car that the aforementioned George drives Terry Gilliam to the Barrandov Studios each morning. This big sly devil of about sixty nonchalantly uses the integrated phonebook in the car's computer to call the production office. Then follows a brief exchange of courtesies and of information with Sylvia, from the office, and I am told that he will come to look for me at the hotel at nine o'clock exactly, the following morning. Here I have some good luck. The centre of town (and therefore the hotel) is arrived at quickly in fifteen minutes, I decide therefore to talk with my charming driver (more charming than a good driver besides, except to the Python version of the term "competitions of the simple-minded born good") but his English is more than rudimentary, outside of the fact that his mastery of the table of superlatives under all the possible diagonal ones: "super, fantastic, great" (the Renaissance Hotel where my room is reserved); "great, super, fantastic", (the general mood around the film) I begin to feel that this journey to Prague... is... fantastic, great, super.
Silly, isn't it
At nine o'clock the batteries are recharged and here comes the unchanging George. A quarter of an hour later we arrive at the Barrandov Studios. The announced budget for the companies of Miramax (via Dimension Films) and MGM, who co-produce the film, is 75 million dollars. On the spot, in Prague, all is managed by Reforma Films, a new company of specialized services created by Ales Komarek, but also by Etic, his other production corporation.
The buildings are old, survivors of the former Communist bloc, but on the interior, it is the planet Mars! The person designated to receive me drives through a maze of decorated items including stuffed straw animals, immense candlesticks, voluminous barrels... "Terry is in rehearsals with Matt, Heath and Peter, follow me". You speak and I will follow you! It is a Saturday, the end of a week of six days of work, there are shadows under eyes, the smiles worn out, but the expressive voice of Gilliam gives everyone a late burst of energy.
In this scene, Matt "Will Grimm" Damon is lengthwise on a bed, sleeping between two magnificent twins, and Heath "Jake Grimm" Ledger, a restless sleeper, sleeps on a small bed adjacent. On top lands Peter "Cavaldi" Stormare, come to stop the two brothers. The look is relaxed for everyone, short hair for Matt, shaved for Peter, in all directions for Heath.
The rehearsals continue, so I take advantage - I am in an environment of an immense corridor with some drinks - to look at the surroundings. The wall behind me is constructed with skulls and carved livestock. Some are so unbelievably quirky that I start to wonder if these animals can be so handsome and well crafted. A technician confirms: "The walls and the stairways are phoney, the rest is real". Further on, a bear skin, gaping head upside down, seems to challenge me. Down below (we are on a stage), under two immense arches, there are ancient chairs and tables, old pieces of pottery and an elevated fireplace with carved images of war are opposite three huge barrels of more than two meters fifty high. The restored walls are sticky, the canvas has omnipresent spiders, the candlesticks drip wax. A strong wood odour mixed with straw fills the atmosphere with fragrance, and contrasts with the appearance of the dirty and damp place that has been recreated. It is very hot and in the space of an instant, I wonder if the barrels are filled, and if yes of what.
The rehearsals end and a large number of persons come out of the small space, making me wonder where they could all have fit! Terry Gilliam, among the last ones, jumps me over (in the clean sense!) "Christophe, how are you going? It pleases me, etc." We exchange some banalities and decide to speak when it's calmer, a little later. He must discuss with his team the different framings and visual options for the scene that has just been rehearsed.
I profit from the break to finish touring the property. On the same stage I also find the interior of a barn, immense. I pass to the following stage where there are busy carpenters and decorators. I throw my eye to the model, then to the life-size version. An imposing work and very believable. Wooden hill mounds have been made in the middle of ruins and an immense tower, surrounded by a wide stairway, climbing to the ceiling by a good twenty meters. The tower is constructed in the manner shown in the logo of the film (that we show here), a tower without windows, but one that conceals several mysteries (you will see when you watch the film!)
All the forms and moldings are made in wood, which has been dated, on which they have affixed big pieces of polystyrene that has been cut, filed and painted, according to what is required. The gigantic scale of the place is all the more impressive since it has all been meticulously crafted and prepared. To judge by the thick battery of plans that were not opened, the team on the spot did not finish and left to have fun! I notice big inscriptions in black paint on a rocky path around the tower and question the first Czech that understands English what it says: "The main decorator, the director and other influential persons come regularly and decide on slight corrections. All is simulated on computer then planned, but once all is created in three dimensions, this 'reality' asks nonetheless some small adjustments."
A small detour by the catering (three cafes) and I find myself in the middle of the technical team in the process of dealing with the light, and having problems with the light passing behind the window, making it difficult to light up and therefore not very credible for the time being, so coverings are being hung at random. The exterior rails will finally be moved around fifteen degrees and the false windows straightened, illuminated by transparency, which will suit much better the director of photography Tom Sigel (X-Men 2, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), who is preoccupied with another problem. Terry wants the shadow of Cavaldi to be shown climbing to the ceiling then projecting itself on Matt and the twins, but without the other actors being visible, including and especially Heath, placed to the right of Peter. The discussions are long but finally when Terry asks his assistant, listener to all these difficulties, "What do you think?", he replies laconically "I do not know anything," which instantly causes the two men to laugh, visibly, for the first time in a while.
Vive la revolution!
Arrival of the actors in costume: Heath in long underpants dangling down, thick beard and hair always in battle; Matt in what one could imagine to be pyjamas from the Middle Ages, wearing a curly wig; and at last Peter Stormare, imposing in black pants, long leather coat with cape and a Napoleon hat with the most beautiful effect, rusted whiskers.
Gilliam always likes to have fun with the physical look of actors (Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys) and he has proved it again. This scene (scene 20) is situated - to the lay-reader - after a good twenty minutes of narrative. Jake and Will Grimm are in a small town, and they have fleed, in a spectacular manner, from a witch that haunted the water course at the edge of the dwellings. (There is a generality, there, but you will know it well enough early, I do not want to nonetheless reveal to you the scenario a year before the release of the film!) They have just won - or rather "granted themselves" - a small well deserved fiesta. We are in Germany in 1810, where Napoleon has just conquered, and as a reminder two French soldiers and the tricolour flag are at the entry to the town.
The sign "Bienvenue a Karlstadt" has replaced the antique "Willkommen Zu Karlstadt". The action unfolds in an inn, where Will has somewhat abused Châteauneuf du Pape de 1792 [wine] ("Good year! Vive la revolution!" he says), and prepares to finish his night on the floor with the girls of the tavern. Jake is not hot, and refuses the invitation to participate when asked by his brother. Then follows a flashback that brings us to the nightmare of Jake and therefore to this fine intrusion scene of Cavaldi into the room.
To take full advantage and maximise the "spectacle", I place myself behind Gilliam, in a small space, where he and the continuity person who has the script, Nikki Clapp (a name predestined?) look at the pictures on the format scope, on a double screen that has liquid crystals. The first takes are badly stalled: the shadow of Cavaldi does not arrive such as Terry would like it, but he remains in good humor, enthusing notably in front of a nevertheless harmless gesture of Heath (who goes up his leg between two pillows, to better simulate his restless sleep). We are joined again by Tom Sigel.
The two partners exchange some joke involving an imitation of a prickly Mickey Mouse (in song!) but the pressure suddenly climbs up a notch. There is always something that goes wrong; a ray of light, the shadow of a technician, and so on. On the seventeenth take, Terry says to imself: "How can it require seventeen takes for such a simple thing?" On the eighteenth one, the arm of Stormare appears at the top of the picture to the left, and Gilliam beats on the back of his chair, causing it break to half (I save you the insults!) and fall quickly to the floor... This is where one counts on tact and rare kindness (compatible fortunately with a need to turn and look away from each other). In three steps he has recovered his spirits and when he addresses his unfortunate companions, his manner is more courteous and open than it was before. And as a reward for putting his patience to the test, the following take will be the good one, and the director motivates his troops: "Come on, places, quickly, quickly."
The following plan for the same scene will be filmed straight out (Cavaldi from the back, invisible outside of his shadow - and only his voice heard in the frame), there is a wall to remove, another to put back, the light to regulate, I am not certain that things will go quickly and I decide to take the air.
Garbo, by the odour tempted
Outside, I pass Peter Stormare, who is taking his dog for a walk (a female one, do not ask me the type, I do not know, like an old German type from the second World War with pointy ears and a look that is not certain). Still wearing his costume, minus the hat. The long curled whiskers on every side of his hairless skull are a ridiculous sight. I cannot prevent myself from laughing, while I am sitting in the process of taking notes, but also to sustain me with some waffles that I have found. While the aforementioned dog, tempted by the smell, brings its foul-smelling self some centimetres from my face. "Garbo, come here... You know very well that you are on a diet".
I always have kindness for people who speak with their animals, especially Swedish actors who are used to twisted roles! A small reminder of the CV of this performer: formerly with the Swedish Royal National Theatre, artistic director of the Tokyo Globe Theatre and director of production for numerous pieces of Shakespeare, and moved to New York in 1993, the year where he began to appear in various different films, in the United States and elsewhere. His notable films include Big Lebowski, The forbidden experience, Chocolat, Bruiser, Dancer in the dark, Windtalkers, Minority Report, 8mm, Million Dollar Hotel and the recent Bad Boys 2 and Riders on the Storm. Wonderful variety!
"Your dog is named Garbo, after the actress?"
"Yes and she is also capricious, a veritable diva!"
I pass by catering (too hot outside, therefore too thirsty inside)... Matt is talking with a young Czech: "This is not a bad day, I spend my time lengthwise on a bed with two charming twins, a stupid hat on my head!" He laughs. It's difficult to know if he will stay the same, but the actor is today still totally reasonable/considerate; his air doll-like, despite his Jason Bourne-esque shoulders immediately apparent. Gilliam goes through the area also.
We discuss Brazil (yes, the magazine that you hold between your hands); and Luc Besson (I recall for him that the French director had described The Fifth Element to a US journalist as being 1/3 Blade Runner, 1/3 Brazil and 1/3 Jacques Tati; he swallows his coffee the wrong way and almost chokes!); the movie market in France; the next Albert Dupontel film (who was going to accompany me but had to push back the invitation to the last moment), of common friends...
Returning to the stage, all is practically ready to go. I write quickly these lines in the middle of the stage on the floor underneath, under the supervision of the head of a dusty wild boar, while three local extras, dressed in armour, get used to their heavy suit and to the swords. Scene 20A therefore... Cavaldi, with the three fine soldiers to his side, blocking the exit by the door. The twin sisters are screaming, Will reassures them then turns his head, sees his enemy and starts himself to scream (Damon is excellent, very funny with each take), before the latter does not project, and is tossed through the room. Jake has also been pulled out of bed by one of the soldiers, but he remains partly asleep, upright with one of the pillows against his head, asking what has happened, while yawning noisily.
Peter Stormare has fun with dialogue that is completely crazy, mixing English (with a strong accent) and Italian. Each take is different, often better than the preceding one. The ninth one is almost perfect, but cannot be used because of a visible luminous bar between the two sisters lasting a few seconds. I ask Terry "Definitely, this is a day of misfortune, isn't it?" He says, in an upset air: "No, it is like this everyday, the whole time, since the beginning."
It is only the second staging of the same scene that I've seen and, already, all the ingredients of an excellent film made in Gilliam-land are present: the picture (orange, oppressive shadows, framings with a lot of intelligence and virtuosity), actors who themselves are entertaining in the scene while already looking funny; and always this craving to have a minimum of one idea for each scene, while others do films with an single idea (bad move).
I take back down the small stairway some drinks with Terry. We have this conversation before it is shouted by three persons at once: "You've seen the village?" "No, Amy is going to me take me." "You have to see it, it is unbelievable!" "I already am on the planet Mars, I do not know the two or three galaxies nearby." Laughing Terry then moves away indefinitely... Amy arrives exactly then, I ask for her to drive me there without delay.
My hut in the Czech Republic
Amy drives me (a good word, I have the impression it is my initiation to the rodéo!) with a small car at a slow speed. Except that, visibly, this current road is by no means practicable with any of the means of motorised transport invented to this day. We arrive at last after two kilometres that feels like tens, and there I literally remain shocked for a good two minutes! Unbelievably, this is an entire town that was restored, and even two wooded hills, as confirmed by Amy, who is enjoying my admiration: "Not bad, hey?" Extraordinary is the word. I am in the town, I am in the film! The town has in all about twenty houses: a church, the city hall, a flour mill ("In perfect working state" I am told). I give myself a thorough visit, it is all meticulously constructed, down to the smallest detail. We go past the barn, a water course, a well (actually dug, not simply some artificial rocks).
A little lower, we discover (at last, especially me, Amy knows every recess of the town), Angelika's house, the female lead of the film, played by Lena Headey, who already has about thirty credits to her name since her first appearance in "Waterworld" in 1992. In Grimm, she guides the two brothers in a mysterious forest of which she knows all the secrets (and also the history, far less appealing; again, you will learn all this soon enough!) Her abode is dark. She collects the grim objects, the remains, some stuffed ones and straw animals also. Visibly, her character is much gloomier than the plastic beauty of the actress leads you to suppose.
Return to the studios, for a new plan of the same scene, Matt and the twins face to face, Cavaldi attacks by the side. The script notes scrutinise every detail, the space between the actors that must preserve their marks, including when it is time to struggle, grabbed by a soldier! After almost every take, Matt, Peter and Heath rush to look at the results on the screen, laughing at themselves. Like big kids in a gigantic attraction of which they are also the principal characters. Terry to Matt, all mouse in front of his clown made of marble, to the screen: "This is rather stupid, isn't it?" Shared laughter.
The preparations for the following scene require a break of twenty of minutes for changes of all sorts, so I ask Terry if he can give me this time. "Of course, where do you want to go?" "In your caravan, I left there some gifts for you."
A discussion that takes place in the corridor
Q: It is funny to see to how the scene has evolved since the rehearsals of this morning...
Terry: It is normal, each brings his contribution, the actors especially. Peter having to take the two brothers between his hands and to clatter their skulls, I find this a much better new option, a lot funnier one with Heath sleeping standing up, Matt plays it stunned and Peter puts the two back to bed...
Arriving in the caravan, Terry discovers my modest presents: an example of the book The Monty Python: texts and sounds; the limited edition version of the Holy Grail DVD with a small book of 80 pages; the French zone 2 DVD of Brazil; and the new albums by John Mellencamp and Neil Young. Terry is a big fan of Young, he prepares himself to play it on his chain hi-fi that, I give him Emile, it refuses to read the disc and even ejects itself. It was necessary for the machine to play at that very moment, and not discuss a review of Lost In La Mancha to note that our man is cursed by bad luck! Finally, with much irritation and after pushing all the buttons at the same time, the CD went out again and the message "error" did not leave the small rectangular screen. "Fuck it! Enough lost time..."
Q: Terry this film, why did you choose it?
A: Ah well, I am ambivalent. I needed to film as quickly as possible to obliterate definitively the unfortunate experience of Don Quixote. I would not say that I took the first film that was proposed to me, but I was a lot more supple in my choices than I normally am. I do not have the director's cut, for example, so this already adds additional pressure, for I really try to follow my vision in every scene, every take, to be certain that it will not be taken apart in the editing. About Don Quixote, I heard that Lost In La Mancha did very well in France...
Q: Yes, for a documentary, it was a surprise. The distributor was very cunning, on that thinking.
A: Even better for Lou Pepe and Keith Fulton, they deserve it. Besides, they are currently are preparing their first fiction film. I am happy for them, they are brave, very intelligent.
Q: Lost in La Mancha appeared to me to be rather manipulative in comparison with the reality...
A: Yes, I asked for them to heighten the dramatic level, eventually not to respect exact chronology and specific events. What was important for me was that someone could show this misadventure. I wanted it to be a film before all. Lou and Keith believed that they did not have enough material. Finally, they showed themselves as bosses and even if those pictures are a source of horrible frustration and pain for me, knowing that they exist reassures me, in a certain way. All this history was not in vain, it rests in a track, however slight.
Q: On hold, besides, I did not see any "hidden movie camera" on the stage, so there is no making of this time?
A: As you know, I am very superstitious, so there is no movie cameras or making of! I already have many impressions that I'm remaking Baron Munchausen, so it is useless to give me any more reasons.
Q: Grimm seems to be a sacred enterprise.
A: This is totally titanesque, I am exhausted! If I also was not bitten by cinema, if it was not such a vital part of my character, I would have stopped a long time ago. I would not have even started the film! There are far too many people, and that slows us down considerably. I like the relationship with my actors, how one elaborates and models the history together. So, I find again my usual position: I do my best and am not sure about the result. For Twelve Monkeys, it was similar: it is only while editing the film that I realised that I had made the film.
Q: It is funny, after you had finished The Fisher King, you described it as an ordered film, a small casual project and now, you have set off again in the opposite direction...
A: Yes, I have cravings and therefore excessive needs. I wanted the movie to always be bigger, more rapid, more original. And then, I realised that there had to be enormous loss, and that this did not have to be totally there, and that I wanted to draw in my energy. Now, I dream for things to be more intimate, to be able to direct my actors, to be in a small committee.
Q: So you are rather a dissatisfied eternal optimist and you continually want things you can not have?
A: I have for a long time believed that, but then I have impression that a piece of the motor is broken, but that I have at last found my way, otherwise my career ends. I already have some films behind me, this is not as if I have just begun.
Q: The age you show at this new stage?
A: I do not know, I suppose yes. I believe that one cannot take slams indefinitely and that I've had more than my share.
Q: Independently of all form of largesse, is there not a certain humanity present in all your films, that you seek to preserve?
A: Exactly and there, I have the impression that that goes through smaller budgets, of smaller teams. I am at the end in Brothers Grimm, but there is an important technical team, a lot of special effects. That creates a break and some distance between me and the actors and what happens on film.
Q: Visibly, you have nonetheless always had the pleasure of directing your actors...
A: Yes, and I also had a lot of luck. The duo of Matt/Heath works wonderfully. They get on well together and there is a beautiful emulation in their work. And then, despite the weight that weighs on us for this big production, one finds brightness/bursts oneself again. We have a good laugh, everyone has a say, everyone appears concerned and has an interest in the film. I am still confident, even if we are far from finished and even if we have accumulated a delay.
Q: Filmed is scheduled to finish at the end of October...
A: It will be instead November. I still do not know exactly when. We are trying to stop the haemorrhage because Matt has obligations right afterwards.
Q: I did not see Jonathan...
A: No, he also has other projects on the fire. We have filmed practically all his scenes, he was totally great, as usual.
Q: A few names circulated concerning the actor who will play the "Queen Mirror", including the name of Uma Thurman. Who will play the role?
A: I would like to know (smiles), especially because we have a big job ahead of us for this actor, notably at the special effects level, for she is 500 years old...
Q: How did the first weeks unfold with shooting outdoors?
A: The two first weeks were a true ordeal for me. I did not want to do the film and again I was obsessed by the Don Quixote demons. It took a lot of time and energy to relax me and to be very interested in the film. Today, I began to enjoy it, even if it is long and often tedious. It never goes quickly enough, usually we turn the movie camera to the shoulder for a crumb...
Then follows a discussion of about twenty minutes completely devoted to Outlaws Outlaws, for a book to appear with the upcoming zone 2 French edition of the film. Terry there unveils notably a well hidden scoop concerning his continuation, that he is supposed to produce a day or so later. Then we return to the stage where they will film a new sequence of the same scene in the room, viewed this time through the window.
For a moment, Peter Stormare slips totally and acts in a delirium, with a rattling voice. The script says: "What is this, what are these intonations?" "This is without importance," replies Gilliam, "a moment that just plays." Not ready to face any interrogations with his interviewer, Terry already has his head elsewhere, and leaves his seat.
As they did in the morning, Matt Damon and Heath Ledger look at each take carried out before linking on the following one, often really two times that are the same, itself funny with their respective styles. After some takes, the Australian (yes, Heath is Australian and, in Australia, a big supporter of amateur rock, as can be testified by all that pass in proximity of his noisy trailer), leans above the director, a big smile on his face: "This scene is the most ridiculous one I have ever filmed". Recall that even then the young actor had rather compromised himself in dated clothing/or period pieces in his career, of which the peak point remains the inestimable jousting Knight...
The eighth take will be the good one, and this is the end of the day. And week, by the same occasion. Heath jumps in all directions while yelling (an Australian, I tell you!) while an assistant follows him with his shoes, to avoid, doubtless, that the "star" does not injure itself mortally to the foot with a sliver splinter. Each takes his cheque and disappears into nature...
The curse of the taxi drivers
Terry and myself agree to meet on Sunday evening. When Amy calls me about 17.00, it is to tell me that he is exhausted and already in bed. She confirms with me at the same time that George, his driver, will come to look for me. I reply that I already know George, but she insists: No, another George, this is not the same, he drives a black Mercedes... A mystery, but it does not prevent me finishing my tour of the beautiful city that is Prague...
The next morning, faithful to the request of nine o'clock exactly, I go out in front of the Renaissance Hotel, noticing a Mercedes parked some metres away. I knock on the passenger window, which owers... "George?" "Yes." "I am Christophe?" There is a look of incomprehension on my speaker who, after some hesitation, tells me that he is the driver for the hotel, not for the production of the film. Another George, but he does the shuttle between the airport and different luxury hotels. The third Mercedes and therefore the third George will be the one, a true history of crazy ones! "You are all called George in this country? One forces you to be taxi driver if you call yourself George? There is a requirement for a trade in the Czech Republic? This George looks at me with eyes again wider than the preceding ones and I understand, to hear his English which is more often than not correct, than I have found at last the true driver of Terry. All this has no relevance to my narrative, so I will resume right away...
When I arrive on the set, everyone is already on site. All is ready for the sixth plan of this damned scene 20: a camera on the exterior that follows Peter "Cavaldi" Stormare through the scene. The Swedish actor is huge and all memories have been forgotten that the role had first gone to Robin Williams, who doubtless would have been quite entertaining due to the actor's personality, but certainly less theatrical and less imposing.
The twins, too static, pose a problem, but after only two or three takes, Terry decides to pass on the problem. "They will not do better, so it's useless to insist!" he specifies. Effectively, the movement that they give to their legs resembles no longer feet simulating pedalling on an invisible bicycle that had been asked for them and shown initially.
The following scene (indeed, scene 22, with 21 already having filmed in exteriors with horses and guards) unfolds inside, in the tavern. The brothers Grimm, who did not succeed in escaping from Cavaldi, are led by the feet, through the immense parlour, with the assistance of big ropes. Rehearsals were carried out with stand-ins. The director of photography and the director seem rather sceptical: the light is rather bad, and one cannot even distinguish their respective faces.
While each takes his equipment to reposition it, I pointed out to him that the plan to change was quickly executed, compared to what I had seen on Saturday. He explained to me that he spent a part of his Sunday on the telephone, to buck up the troops. Knowing the gigantic nature of this great production this causes me to smile. I have fun myself to note that a spray from time to time on a wall gives a more humid aspect, while another puts bottles of scotch on the ground, in different colors, for the marks of the actors. Progressively, I give them all a name: Vaporisator Man, Screwdriver Man, etc.
Several wheels of this imposing machine required for filming film fascinate me. I look at certain technicians in the morning to evenings while wondering how they are able to serve so well and without never seeming to know that theirs is just a small element. While I write these lines, outside, under an already heavy sun (it is only 10:15 am), Peter takes off his suit, but visibly not any of his character, since he continues, off movie camera, his Cavaldien deliriums. His day is finished...
I pass by Terry's trailer to recover my computer. He is in discussions with an Englishman, Bob McCabe, and he introduces me. Bob is following the entirety of shooting in order to write a book on the origin of the film, and is equally the author of an enormous book, The Pythons, Autobiography by the Pythons, of which he has just received the first copies. I discover a voluminous and very complete coverage of the work of the ex-Monty Python who is enjoying hugely the evocation of all these memories. The book is totally pythonesque, evidently, with a multitude of rare photos, notably Terry, as a kid, with a horse on a pig (that almost could be the name of a picture of Dali, lacking more than a soft watch and two eggs on a dish to a horse on a stick in the process of sodomising by some Portugese bread!)
The men do not cease to be surprised by the quality of the book, it is remarkable. Someone comes finally to look for him - one seeks him on the stage - me, I remain a moment in the caravan to finish leafing through the hundreds of pages (big format) of this bible, but also a copy of the script, all scribbled on. As for the preceding scenarios which were more or less Gilliam's (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Twelve Monkeys etc), I notice the history of what has been rewritten, again and again. On about 120 pages, only a tenth survive from the first earlier version of shooting dating back to June 19, the remainder uniformly having been modified all the weeks through to mid-July, then a last time in August.
"Last chance for cinematic history"
Merde, the time flies, it is necessary nonetheless to pass over a little: I returned finally to stage number 5... There (still in the tavern) Mishka Cheyko, the first assistant director, a Frenchman, very nice (he slaved over recently The Ninth Door, The Truth About Charlie and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), manages the troops who are present. There is activity, which is a change from the apathy generally noted since my arrival. Matt and Heath are pulled by the feet until they reach the immense entry door of the establishment.
There, two immense slashed guards, Letorc and Dax (respectively played by Julian Bleach and Bruce McEwen, as excellent as each other), in the manner of lemmy Napoleons, yell, laugh and, with a big sword blow, liberate provisionally the Grimm brothers before a baston does not break and Will does not escape. Everyone concentrates hard, everyone is on and the scene links together quickly. I rest as a discreet witness, undercover, at the top of the corridor.
Between two paths, I cross Matt Damon, who says to me: "In this trade, it is necessary to like change! Saturday, I was trapped with two charming twins who were not well dressed, and today I am being led in the dust to be beaten up!"
During those times, banana pieces are crushed on the glasses on Heath's face, make-up being typically Gilliam-esque, the costumer for their part putting earth in the hair and on the clothing of the actors. The takes resume. Matt Damon has an understanding of the action scenes, he masters the space, understands quickly the camera movements and always going a little beyond the simple execution and mechanical motions of the scenes he has to play.
Always concerned with minor details, Terry places himself on the ground in the tracks left by the two pulled bodies. After one take, Jake and Letorc are woven together, and the director laughs: "At last a torrid love scene, that's what's lacking in this film!" In some tens of minutes, all starts to slow down and be more regulated. The face of Jake practically is stuck to the movie camera, the épee movements are graded in millimeters; and Will has more width, Matt exaggerating to maximise his movements, always to the limit of the comedy, performing continually to the edge of a thin border that would tip the scene to the side of the ridiculous.
Terry is concentrating behind his screen: "Last chance for cinematic history!" he says while laughing himself: the take will be perfect. While preparations for the following take continue (travelling at the level of the feet of the heroes, very quickly executed), Amy arrives and presents to her father the latest important mail and other papers that are required to be signed urgently. She also announced to him that the group Linkin Park is downtown, that they all are fans of his work and that they would like to come to visit him in the evening, in exchange for which they propose invitations for their concert of the following day. "They are what, Linkin Park?" he demands to know. I hasten to make him a description of the rap-metal band in question, after which a simple glance between Terry and Amy is sufficient for a response. They are not fit to take the boards of the studios Barrandov, I still laugh about it!
For the next take, I decide to move to a small space so I can have an overall vision, and move to the top left of the stage, a very dark place with unstable equipment. I look at the whole range of action, during a good quarter of hour, about thirty persons in all, during which only Terry will see me (a small wink to my area), proof that his vision includes all of the space and that it is all under his control. A little later, I descend to look at the result on screen and am surprised to rediscover a manner to the film completely in the spirit of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with a camera on a ramp that collides with the setting, upsetting tables and chairs. Peter Cavaciuti on the camera is totally in sync with the requests of his director in the scene, always following his directions, but ready to bring his own experience. Generally, Gilliam is always listening to his crew, each being able to interfere and bring his small personal touch. Opinions about film and mood may be heard, but he remains unquestionably the sole master on board. I ask him about this, and he replies that a crew for him is like a garden fence: you can talk with one another through the fence, nothing is hidden, but the other person does not come to mow the lawn at his place! Beautiful metaphor...
This scene, for example, was composed originally as a transition scene, without a big moment. After asking Matt to exaggerate his manner, then Letorc and Dax to laugh madly while striking their sword on the ground, one is led towards new shores, as absurd as they are sarcastic. Brief, more interesting and totally Gilliamm-like. During the last take, a blow that should not have carried crushes itself on the face of Dax. It is not a small slap, but a direct hit! "Now that is realistic!" laughs Gilliam, while Matt apologises to his unfortunate partner.
It is decided to have a break and I profit from it to rush into the office of the special effects numerical (not my luck, the computers are squarely calculated, I can't see anything) then visual. I find there some totally articulated crows, a corpse and a body cut in two, with some meters of entrails leading out and, especially, a magnificent wolf, or at least 2/3 of a wolf (without the rear paws). The person in charge of the special effects gives me a demonstration - for a wolf, it is rather sturdy and impressive.
At the end of the day, everyone seems to rise onto their feet, but Terry does not move. The shadows, the reflections of the swords, the looks, the angles, all must correspond to the image that appears in his head. Eighteen takes later will be necessary for the background. While everyone flees once the end of the day is officially decreed, I rediscover him, pensive, at the top of the corridor. I tell him "Superb settings, no?" It takes him out of his reverie. "Yes, this is rather unbelievable, I do not know where they found all these things. That then makes my heart ache, that these props will be destroyed when we finish filming, I would like to bring back them all them to my place". I tell him that I have a flight the next day at noon, that it is therefore time to say us good-bye. "Come back tomorrow morning, even if it is only for an hour or two, we're filming in the village, you must see that, with the actors".
Thus the following day, at 7.30 am, I am in the middle of an incredible affair. As I have become accustomed, there are indeed many extras (a huge job for the costumers), but also Lena Headey - Angelika - with whom I'm introduced briefly. The scene unfolds itself a little later in the narrative: Cavaldi, the brothers Grimm and Angelika leave the village on horseback. The armours of Jake and Will are sublime, made from many pieces of shining metal. The scene is filmed with two cameras (sometimes three, with Terry himself behind camera 3, which amuses his crew), but obviously the requirements of the director are needed here this morning badly.
He says rather heavily "that usually" this type of scene is filmed in a way that is rather simple, with a camera which starts from a very broad distance then comes closer on the actors, who say their lines before the camera returns to the broad original view. Terry wants to show more, fastidious as usual; he wants to see the top of the church and he wants the horses to turn around for the camera - and again! - while Will, Jake and Cavaldi speak, always with the one speaking holding the screen. The trainers (French) take the lead with the horses and the tone goes up quickly. A take is almost good, but it misses some action. Terry exclaims: "Why have observers if they are not seen? I want children who play in the foreground, I want movement, life, shit!"
Everyone makes some sound, to improve the scene. Terry looks at me and says "I detest making films". I must leave as I do not want to miss my plane. I say to him that it is rather harsh that this sentence is the last that I hear of him before returning to France. "It will be necessary therefore that you return" he replies, and as a special treat a wide smile returns to his cunning face. "Not a problem, tomorrow I pitch my tent in front of Anglika's house and I do not leave again the stage!" Almost last: I make an appointment to return at the end of September, and hoping this time that Albert Dupontel, currently shooting the new film of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, will be available to accompany me.
Before I leave the Barrandov Studios, I pass through the production office, there discovering the film's story-boards (in colors, please), magnificent; different logos (I take the one that seems having been adopted provisionally) but also illustrations and designs of posters. Among the different documents tacked up on the wall behind Amy's office, a unique drawing is signed with the hand of Terry, typically in the line of these past works. She gives me a copy that we reproduce here. I leave sadly with no photo from the film but, the set being forbidden to journalists, with the satisfaction of having been really privileged and also full of words in my head...
In the airplane, I rediscover the same air hostesses, which makes me fear that the pilot is acting under orders.
This is evidently the case and I can tell you that the devil did not profit from his long weekend, quite the opposite. That said, I dived into the reading of the script that I had also taken and which I had sought desperately (on which it is stated "Coming too soon - The Brothers Grimm," a detail that amuses me and of which I am certain Terry was the author) and do not pay any attention to my neighbor, white as a ghost.
The film begins as a fairytale: a grand-daughter of twelve years goes into a wood, two crows caw to all around, the sharp green glint of a hidden wolf in the shadows, an unspeakable fear...
Translation (c)The Matt Damon Column 2003
To return to the main page: The Matt Damon Column.