Brothers Born from Adversity


During the postproduction of The Brothers Grimm, there was disagreement between the film’s director Terry Gilliam and the studio Dimension Pictures (part of Miramax). In June 2004, I interviewed Gilliam, who spoke openly about his conflict with studio head Bob Weinstein. The resulting transcript is now available below on this webpage.

This interview took place six months after the film’s Prague shoot, and several different cuts of the film had already been shown to test audiences in the USA, and one in the UK. Shortly after this interview, Gilliam went over to Canada to make a new picture called Tideland in Autumn 2004, while Grimm was put to one side, unfinished. During the shooting of Tideland, it was agreed between Gilliam and the Weinsteins that the director would in fact be able to complete a final cut of Grimm without studio interference. But at the time of this interview below of course, Gilliam did not know that.

In the first half of 2005, Gilliam finished off the postproduction of both films, allowing for the release of Grimm in Autumn 2005.

Portions of the interview are available below as mp3 audio files. Follow the links below. Pictures by Francois Duhamel.

Gilliam on the set of The Brothers Grimm

Dreams: What is the current status of The Brothers Grimm?
Gilliam: Well, we’ve had two screenings in the States. And in the course of that we’ve shortened it. Hyperbole is something I’d better avoid. I think we also came to the realisation that they’re talking about a considerably different film from what is there. At the original first screening, at the meeting afterwards, “The great thing is we don’t have to re-shoot anything”, was Bob’s comment. It was a great relief. And then there were a lot of areas that we went around and around about. Then we had our second screening. And it played better and a bit shorter because now it’s under two hours long. It’s almost a reasonable length film now!

What changes had you made?
Tightening up, it’s always just tightening up. It’s trying to make the story as clear as possible because in our earliest screenings I realised that it was more complicated than a lot of films out there. And especially if it’s an audience that is coming in for one of the big commercial movies – Bam, Wow and all that stuff. And it meanders more. The structure was very unlike those kinds of films. The beats aren’t there, and it requires a kind of intelligence to watch the thing. It’s not just a visceral exciting action movie, it’s not that, and it’s never intended to be.

I remember at the first screening. The first kid that ran out. He was 15 years old, saying “It’s perfect, it’s fantastic.” And I said, “What are the bad bits, what are the boring bits?” He says, “What are you talking about, it’s fantastic, it’s wonderful!” His parents were coming out saying the same things. And then I get Bob Weinstein grabbing me and saying, “We gotta talk. There’s a great film in here, but we got a lot of work to do.” So I realised at that point I was the guy who carved the block of Carrara marble, that Michelangelo, ie Bob, was going to use to make his David. And I thought, “This is getting interesting”, and so we had this meeting and everybody is giving their point of view on what it is and what it isn’t.

And then Lesley [Walker – editor] and I came back and trimmed it down and tightened it, and clarified the story. There’s a bit at the beginning which is odd for some reason because there is a lot of information going on which a lot of audiences are not ready to deal with. And so we tightened the beginning of it up before we get into the village. It’s definitely improved it and helped it. And just trimming out more of the just silly kind of details that I’m intrigued with… just at least get the audience sucked into the thing before we start playing with them a bit more.

After the second screening they were saying, “Cut this and cut that.” They came over here last week, and they brought along Ehren Kruger [the original screenwriter] back into the mix, who sat in the meeting. Kruger said, “If you want that kind of thing you’ve got to set a scene up earlier.” And then he sent his notes over his ideas for scenes that would help the movie.

New scenes like in the beginning after they’ve dealt with the mill witch. A scene in the tavern with the brothers upstairs the little girl comes in and says to Will: “Can you tell one of your stories?”, and Will says, “Fuck off!”, and goes down to have a good time in the tavern with the girls and all. And then at the end of the film we’d be in the village, and all the villagers are celebrating. They’ve been released from the queen and all that stuff and all their children are back. And their kids would come in say “Will you tell me one of your stories” and Will says, “Come over here kid sit on my lap.” I gag when I hear stuff like that, you want to vomit and that’s what they are talking about – things like that.

When they came to see it last week and they were very abrupt with what they saw, they didn’t even see the whole movie. “It doesn’t work, it’s broken and it needs fixing.” And they’re very good at turning it into nothing. And so I said, “Well, we’ve made this film, we all think it’s rather good and everyone who’s worked on it thinks it’s fantastic. People we show it to over here think it’s wonderful. You don’t, but I don’t know how to make the movie you are talking about. So you’d better take it away and cut it the way you want it, and then we can talk again.” So that’s what they are doing right now. We’re finishing off here, we’re mixing next week. We’ve got a screening here next week in Wandsworth on the following Sunday which will be the last of my contractual screenings. We’ll see what the numbers are like over here.

And we sat in this meeting with Bob enthusing about Spy Kids as a model for this one. A completely different film! I think they seem to be trapped in the old 17 to 25-year-old male audience. I said “That’s not the audience for this thing.” So what I’m going to get for this audience in Wandsworth is much younger kids, it’s a PG13 so you get 10-year-olds, much younger kids with their parents.

We had our last screening here before we went over to New York. I had about 35 kids there ranging from around eight, to about fifteen. And they just loved it. And for some reason they don’t seem to be able to get it through their heads that this is the audience, it’s like Time Bandits – it wasn’t aimed at 17 to 25-year-old males. It’s like that, it’s more in that world. So we’re on this… it’s not a collision track yet because I’m waiting for them to get back.

They want to postpone the film. They’re not going to release it this year. They want to re-shoot in December. But they’ve got to show us what they are talking about. What will happen is that I’m going to say “No” and then we’ll see what happens.

So it’s going to end up messy. And I’m beginning to think it’s almost the 20th anniversary of Brazil, when I wrote “Dear Sid Sheinberg, when are you going to release my film Brazil?” And I’m actually thinking of taking out an identical ad in Variety if it comes to this. I’ll just cross out Sid Sheinberg and put Bob Weinstein, and put in The Brothers Grimm. I mean I’m hoping it doesn’t get to this point. It’s 85 million dollars and they got to be really careful because they are going to need me, and they are going to need Matt and Heath – who love the film – to help sell it.

They’re wanting to make a different film. It’s not even right or wrong… this is dementia. They make Spy Kids, they make Scream, they make A Scary Movie. That’s the kind of movies they make. They’re comfortable with that that’s the kind of movies they like. They hit the beats – Boom, Boom – and all that. This doesn’t do that and so as I said at the very beginning of the project, it could be a very bad marriage, this one. So I don’t know where it’s going to go. The movie he wants it to be – it can’t be. It is what it is.

But at this point I’m just trying to keep this potential nightmare quiet because we’re just finishing editing. The effects will be finished in another month. It looks amazing, the performances are great. It’s a really good movie and so that’s where I am, and to be completely honest, this has been the worst experience of my life – just working under the shadow of those guys, and how they do things and what they want.

Matt Damon as Will Grimm

Many examples that have come out such as the battle over Matt Damon’s nose
And the final thing was the firing of Nicola Pecorini. The not casting of Samantha Morton. They got rid of Robin Williams. He was there at the very start, they got rid of him. I didn’t go to these guys, they came to us. They wanted to do it after MGM pulled out, and they got rid of Robin. They got rid of Chuck Roven the producer. The night before the first day of shooting was the whole battle over Matt’s nose – the two million dollar bump on the nose. And five weeks into it they fired Nicola. It’s basically been just a matter of surviving it, getting through it.

And the editing is very difficult because I’ve got a love-hate relationship with the thing. And I’ve maintained a side of me that doesn’t want to like the film so if I get in this fight with him I can say, “Fuck it – it’s all yours, do what you like, because I’m not getting involved in destroying this thing.”

Why did they fire Nicola?
Because they got it in their head that it was too dark, they didn’t like his lighting. Too dark. But Nicola’s lighting is beautiful. It was like a nightmare working with these guys. After they fired Nicola, I said, here’s how I get through this film: the Weinsteins don’t exist. And I didn’t speak to them until less than a week before our first screening in New York which was just a month and a half ago. Because it was the only way. I just had to ignore them knowing they’d be back in the mix as they are now. I keep referring to them in the plural but all I’m dealing with is Bob at the moment. I don’t know where Harvey fits in the equation. He was very much present at the beginning stirring it up and winding his brother up. I don’t know where he is now.

Heath Ledger as Jake Grimm

With the contract they wanted me to be in the 90% bracket, in the top two boxes but I said no no no, unless I’m going to be 101% I’m not going to sign! They didn’t understand the joke. So now we’re in this very delicate dance at the moment. But it’s reached the point where I can say just go ahead and cut it. You’ve paid the money, just cut it and show us what kind of film you think it is and then we can talk. But at the moment I’ve just got to finish it the way we want to finish it. And the nice thing is that the film will exist at that point.

You said you didn’t know whether it was a Terry Gilliam film. Is it a Terry Gilliam film in its present cut?
Others say it is. I don’t know what it is still. They say definitely it is a Terry Gilliam film. Coming out of the stuff in New York, there are some who think that the ending is a bit too sweet for a Terry Gilliam film – but it’s a fairy tale. It’s got to have a happy ending. They want it to have a darker ending. But it’s not, it’s never meant to be. It’s actually stunningly beautiful I think. It’s very funny. The characters are great. And it’s got some wonderful quirky things in it so I guess it qualifies.

How much freedom did you have with the script?
Tony and I, once we started rewriting it, did what we did because I liked the basic premise of Ehren’s script, but I didn’t like the characters and I felt it lacked real magic. It had these set-piece things/events that were really clever, really good but they didn’t seem to be intrinsically magical. And so we did a lot of work to try and make the thing magical.

Some comments from people who have saw it over here at the last screening we had, they were saying it became like a dream at a certain point. You just got lost, the ground sort of disappeared, it’s shifting, changing and you get swept away. And I thought that was really nice the idea of describing it as dream-like – that’s good.

There’s a point in the film about two-thirds of the way through – it moves into an area and every time I see it, it blows me away, because many things are happening at the same time. It’s been interesting how kids have had hardly any problems watching it, but adults have more trouble. And this happened way back even with Jabberwocky and Time Bandits.

Adults are too frightened, they become too restricted in the way they perceive things and they want explanations. But kids as long as it’s dragging them forward through this wonderful stuff, they seem to just love it. I couldn’t get the kids to criticise it. However I did feel what I did get from one kid is that his older brother didn’t like it. I think his older brother was in this 17 to 25 age group and he was in that stage, trying to be cool. It’s not for cool kids, you’ve got to let go. And adults that want to relive their childhood – they get caught in it. I think that the mixing of all the fairy tale elements coming in – albeit in not exactly as the final stories turned out – works really well and everybody seems to really enjoy that.

The character of Cavaldi – Peter Stormare – the Weinsteins really didn’t like him. And the last screening we had, he was the most popular character. There’s so much good stuff in it, that’s what I really like about it. I think their job is to find the audience, get the audience in that will appreciate it. But they are kind of fixated on other movies at the moment. They only seem to be able to describe this one in terms of other movies – wrong movies.

Gilliam directs Peter Stormare as Cavaldi

The preproduction in Prague – how long did that take?
Oh shit. Was it 18 weeks? It was quite a long one because it was very complicated, we had so many effects to create. We had to build the village, we had to build the forest – both inside and out, we had to train horses, we had to train ravens, and build models of things. What pleases me about the finished film, a lot of people say when they watch it, they really find it hard to believe that this forest is on a sound stage. And it looks great – you just don’t believe this is not a real forest, except you couldn’t get the lighting in a real forest, you couldn’t create the atmosphere.

When it came to building the village, I was obsessive about textures and finish and all that. Guy Dyas, who’s brilliant, went out buying old barns and tearing them down and rebuilding them using the wood, so we get all this woodworm and rot to make the place feel real.

Where did you find them?
All round the Czech Republic. Just raped the countryside that’s all. We literally bought forests and cut them down, moved them in tree by tree stuck them in concrete and built the forest outside and the one inside.

The trick was we were trying to make things – even though it’s fantastical – to make everything real. You really wanted to feel this was in a real world, in a real place. So when the magical things happened, they’re not silly little fairies floating around. And I think we’ve pulled that off.

The ravens are fantastic. This guy Ota Bares hatched them out and trained them. They’re wonderful I really wanted to take some home because they are smart birds; they’re funny but then I got CG ravens in there and you can’t tell the difference so there’s this wonderful mixture of computer generated and real. And I think the more we’ve been able to combine the two, so you don’t see the dividing line, is where it gets interesting.

The key that finally clicked these things was the iridescence of the feathers and they fly through the wood the way it caught the light. One girl is doing all the ravens – “the bird woman of Peerless” we call her. And that’s all she does and I got to the point that I don’t even think about them now because I just assume they’re real.

Inside the queen’s tower

The Queen’s tower is another set. Could you describe that?
It’s this tower in the middle of this forest. The queen is 500 years old and still alive in this tower. We did something so that the exterior of the tower seemed to be a diameter of 15-20 feet maximum, but inside it’s almost twice as big. It’s one of those weird TARDIS worlds.

We’d been in a place outside of Prague called Carlstein. It’s a very famous castle where Charles the whichever, I can’t remember his number, holy Roman Emperor, built this incredible chapel at the top of this great tower. And I’ve never seen anything like it. We basically stole visual ideas from it, and turned it into this beautiful space with this gigantic bed.

But not many people have spotted this idea of the bed, it’s the princess and the pea with fifteen mattresses stacked high and within that room there’s a mirror, which is a magic mirror as one would hope. And that’s one of the things I’m most pleased with because it wasn’t a mirror. In fact it was two rooms the same size and one was grey and dusty and covered in shit and cobwebs and aged down and the other was in its pristine state – all gold and beautiful. And we shot all these scenes with doubles for Heath who’s standing on one side of the mirror.

You can see his reflection but behind him is the Queen – Monica Bellucci – but she’s not in the old part of the room, he’s standing on his own yet she’s embracing him in the mirror and I think the crew was going a little bit crazy because we’re shooting all this stuff out of sequence, and having to make it look like a mirror either with a double on one side that’s matching Heath or Matt’s moves or using green screens so that we can see Heath on both sides.

And when you watch it you don’t have to think about it, it obviously just a mirror. It’s his reflection in the mirror – well what’s going on here? You actually think about it “this actually can’t be going on, there’s a queen in there as well.” And the room is very different on that side. It was one of those moments played around with different ways of doing it.

And we decided that we should just build the two rooms and do it. It works. It’s some of the best stuff in the film as far as I am concerned. And it looks effortless – that’s the key thing.

I think there was a perverse side of me with things like Van Helsing coming out. I just didn’t want to go down that route so everything is much more grounded, much less spectacular. Less extraordinary and possibly more effective because the world is real and you’re in it yet it’s doing things that the world doesn’t do, rather than something creating a fantastical world that you’re disconnected from. And I think that part works really well for those who like the movie it gets under your skin.

Is it getting harder to make an effect believable to an audience?
There’s two roads you go down – one getting bigger and bigger and more extravagant which is one way, or the one we chose which is to pull back. With effects you can do anything now with such ease. We started this with trying to do a lot of work with walking trees with models because originally this obsession with making things real. So walking through the roots how they rip out of the ground and the dirt falls. It’s stuff that’s very hard to do on the computer so we started to do it with the models, but the models in the end didn’t work, they were a disaster. And we’ve had to create everything with computer. And it’s really good so I’m more and more committed to computers knowing what we’ve been able to do on this one.

I’m a partner in this company Peerless. We’ve always maintained about a dozen people. We’re about 80 now – a lot of them came from New Zealand from Peter Jackson’s crowd. They’ve come from all over the world to work on this. We’ve even had to get some new premises just to house these people. It has been good to see the interest. Now we have a world of freelance computer people, people with different skills, different animators, people with textures. And they float around the world and they gravitate to interesting projects. And we’ve been lucky to get a lot of them.

The actors in the film. The one thing I saw being shot was Ledger being a bit freaked out in his character – and Matt Damon was trying to bring him down. Is that their characters in the film?
Yeah, Matt plays the pragmatist. He’s the cynic, very practical, he’s the one that keeps them fed basically, he’s a conman. The character Heath plays is the dreamer, the scholar, the one who’s dragged along reluctantly and who then finds this truly enchanted world – it’s everything he has dreamed about coming true. And he becomes this momentum that sweeps the two along into this world.

I cast them opposite their types really because Matt is normally more of an introspective character. He’s quiet yet in this one he’s the brash one, the ballsy one, the asshole basically. And Heath who has been stuck playing the straight heroic role in The Four FeathersA Knight’s Tale – he gets to play the comic, neurotic, outrageous character. I think they work brilliantly, the two of them. The bonding and appearing to be brothers, that worked beautifully they just clicked the two of them. They’re very different types of people, but it worked better than one could hope.

I think this is one of the strong points of the movie. You really believe these guys. And they’re surprising – they’re not what you have seen before. To me the point of doing these things is to surprise the audience. Heath’s is a physical performance. It’s all twitches and turns and he’s like rubber at times. And Matt has had to walk differently… we had Matt doing tango lessons. We had him doing everything to carry himself differently, to become a very different person. And that’s the thing I’m really pleased with.

Lena Headey, how was she?
Lena’s solid. Normally Lena plays bourgeois middle class characters and now she’s a peasant and she comes off really strong. People who’ve seen the film comment that they like the fact that she’s so independent and not your standard woman who suddenly falls head over heels in love and is vulnerable. She doesn’t play it that way. She stays this independent loner for most of the movie. She had to learn to ride and to shoot arrows. I kept on calling her Lena Warrior Queen.

The one thing she wouldn’t do was skin a rabbit. I said, “Come on Lena, you’ve got to do this.” She said, “No, I’m a vegetarian.” And I went out one day on the back lot with her. I said, “You got to do this, it’s in the character, it’s in the script, you got to do this.”

And we got on this barren back lot, it was like the Killing Fields, and there was this estate wagon sitting up there and two dark Slavic guys there with beard and hair, and at the back of this estate wagon was a couple of cages. One had a bunny and the other cage was empty. One of the bunnies had already been prepared, so we could practice skinning him. He’s on this rack he’s dead this little bit of blood on his throat and she wouldn’t go near it. And I went “You’ve got to know how this is done, you’re a trapper, you got to be at ease with these things.”

And the guys showed me how you skin a bunny, you pull the skin down and off it comes. And I turned back having watched it and here’s Lena, she’s got the other bunny and she’s holding it saying, “You’re not going to kill this one, you’re not going to kill this bunny.” And so she kept it for the whole film. And in the end we made these plastic replica hairless rabbit bodies. And then we wrapped them in rabbit fur. She had to mime pulling the thing down, with lots of condoms inside for blood and guts to fall out.

The music – Goran Bregovic – I think the only thing I’ve seen he’s done is Underground
Well in the end it’s not Goran. I was really keen for him to do it because I was playing nothing but gypsy music the whole time I was making the film. I was just obsessed with the stuff. And I met him last New Year’s at a film festival and we started talking and he was very keen on it. But he said at the time that he didn’t write regular scores. I said, “I don’t care”. We started putting his music on the film and as we were working, we more and more became aware we needed a traditional score on this movie. It just wasn’t working the way I’d wanted it to.

And in the end I got Dario Marianelli, who did the score for In This World, the Michael Winterbottom film – Tony Grisoni was the writer on it too. And he’s done I Capture the Castle – all British films. He’s brilliant, so this is really his big break. The first really big film he’s on. And so we’ve ended up with two hours of score.

Lena Headey as Angelika with fake bunny

And does Bob have any problems with the music?
No he likes that, it’s fine. The thing with Bob is that he keeps describing himself as a filmmaker, unlike other studios, they’re filmmakers. Oh really? Well, we’re going to find out just what kind of filmmaker he is, he doesn’t say whether he’s a good or bad one.

I don’t know where this fight’s going to end – whether we put out my film or not. So that’s why, at this point, I’m trying to keep everything positive until we know, because I dread the war, but it may have to come. But I’m hoping that reason wins out. They’ll look at their ideas of what they want to do with the film and realise that they’re not going to work, but maybe not. It would be nice if that was the happy ending for the film and then it went out, but if not I don’t know where really it ends up.

It’ll end up being like Brazil and I’ll just go all out war, and I’ll use every voice out there, every friend to do it and see if they would knuckle under. The thing I worry about that is they kind of feed of that kind of aggression. That’s why in all these meetings I’ve learned that the way to deal with Bob is not to fight. They’ve got nowhere to go. When they came the other day, I said well “Cut it”. They said “What? Really?”. I said “Yes, just get on with it.” I hope this new Gandhiesque approach works.

Tideland – What’s in place? And is the cash solid?
Yeah! After this last screening in New York two weeks ago, I then went up to Toronto and met all the people up there and I saw already some young girls who read. The team – we’ve got a designer and Nicola’s gonna be shooting it. We’re starting shooting in September. Everything is happening. In fact today I just got this pile of more tapes of girls, and we are looking at locations. It’s quite an interesting one because I’m here [in London] and they’re there but it’s working. We’ve found the locations we need.. we’re just doing it with tapes and things.

Maybe you don’t have to go over there at all…
Yeah, maybe that’s the new way of doing it. Tony and I had a session a couple of days ago. We went through the script again and did some rewriting. We’ve just got to get the little girl – that’s the key. She’s so vital, but everything else is pretty straightforward. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a cheap film, easy. All the bullshit that’s gone on with The Brothers Grimm is not there.

But Miramax actually say that the idea of reshooting and all that is not an abnormal thing. That’s what one does – whatever is takes to get it right. But the problem is the “right”. Whose idea of right are we talking about? Well, we’ll see where it goes.

What plans do you have for the voices of the dolls’ heads

My plan is that there is going to be just the girl’s voice. What happens in the thing is that there is a point when she’s talking to them and then at a certain point her lips stop moving and the dolls are just speaking. The way I want to do it is to have a couple of actresses next to the camera playing the parts of the dolls. And then in post we’ll get the girl to re-voice them to be like the actresses but it will be her voice. So it’s always her. Some girls have been pretty amazing. One did Classique with a French accent. Another one did it with an English accent. So they’re pretty good.

The Halifax advert that spoofs the Crimson Permanent AssuranceDo they have to seek permission before they or can they just rip it off?
I haven’t seen that. Is it really close to Crimson Permanent? They’ve been doing it for years, ripping my stuff off. Several years ago, Channel Four was doing a piece about ripping off films and I think they wanted me to be angry about it. I said, Why? I think it’s great. I mean I stole from people, so why don’t we just carry on? It’s nice that somebody remembers it. There’s been stuff from Brazil in ads – they’ve used that. I keep occasionally bumping into animation that looks like I’ve done it. And there was definitely a BA or a British Airports one a few years ago that had everybody waltzing like in Fisher King. So it goes on the fact that somebody liked it enough to steal it – it’s a compliment.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
My Executive Producer hat. It’s being shot, we are in our second week right now. The Quays are busy at work. The money is very tenuous but they’re shooting. They’re off and running. They seem to be getting on with it. I don’t know if they’ve got enough money to finish it. But they’re doing it. We finally got money out of the Japanese. I’m just happy to help. Whatever help I can contribute, because I think the Quays are brilliant and it’s such a boring time now. There’s not enough people being dangerous out there. It’s being really irritatingly boring. The Film Council’s a disaster, frankly. Money is not getting out to really experimental work. Everything has to make money. Everything dries up when you start like that. There’s no new growth, there’s no new ideas.

Is it live action or puppet?
It’s live action, but they are doing lots of stuff with blue screen, so they will create sets from their models. The other person who’s doing stuff is… do you know Dave McKean? Mirrormask – Neil Gaiman wrote it. And I think I’ve got to go and see him before he closes his shop. He’s been busy at it. I think he finishes fairly shortly. Again using a huge amount of computer generated stuff. These guys are terrific. The only time you get to see something interesting occasionally is music videos but even they’ve become boring, they seem more and more the same.

It’s a way of travelling, the world is becoming too easy to travel in and I think about holidays and where is an interesting place to go? And maybe the most interesting place to go is a Brothers Quay film, because they create different worlds and I’m beginning to think that’s what we should all be doing. The movie will be lucky to make its money back, but at least it might inspire somebody else to go and do something. I think that’s the function of what we do… to keep inspiring the next group who’ve got a bit more energy and foolishness to carry on!

More to explore

Films in depth

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
The Zero Theorem
The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
The Brothers Grimm
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
12 Monkeys
The Fisher King
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Time Bandits