The Hamster Factor – press release


The information below about the documentary was sent to me by the directors…


The Hamster Factor chronicles Terry Gilliam’s struggle to make “a European art film in the Hollywood system.” With verite footage shot throughout the entire production and editing of 12 Monkeys – from Gilliam’s efforts to undercut the celebrity status of his lead actors to his reluctant encounters with the market testing process – the documentary traces how ideas are realized, compromised, and eventually funneled through the industry’s marketing machine into salable commodities. The Hamster Factor is an intimate portrait of Gilliam’s filmmaking methods and an unprecedented glimpse at the strange marriage of art and commerce in Hollywood filmmaking.

Produced, directed and photographed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
Original Score by John Benskin
Animation by Chaim Bianco
Edited by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe
Editorial Consultant: Ann Tegnell
Sound Design by Steve Rowland
Narrated by Keith Fulton
Executive Producer: Alan Glazer
Associate Producer: Lucy Darwin
Produced in association with Atlas Entertainment and Poo Poo Pictures


Keith Fulton (Producer/Director) is a native of Boston, Massachussetts. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Haverford College and a Master of Fine Arts from Temple University’s program in Radio-TV-Film. Before moving to Philadelphia in 1990, he worked as an exhibit designer in Seattle, Washington. Fulton has dedicated most of his film career to the pursuit of Philadelphia’s eccentrics, producing two documentaries along the way – John the Barber (25 minutes, 1993), a portrait of a prophetic neighborhood legend, and Ben Franklin(s): A Historical Fiction (58 minutes, 1995), an omnibus of bizarre Franklin imagery and rival impersonators. Both films have aired on Philadelphia PBS’ acclaimed series, Through the Lens. He has worked as an editor and director of educational programming for public school systems and as a project facilitator for The Scribe Video Center, an outreach facility which trains community groups in media production. He most recently served as the producer of On Strong Shoulders, a half hour profile of AIDS outreach workers and activists in the Philadelphia area. Fulton is the recipient of a Philadelphia Foundation Grant and an English Speaking Union Research Grant for his work on The Hamster Factor.

Louis Pepe (Producer/Director) is a Philadelphia-based independent film and video maker. He holds two Bachelor of Science degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one in Computer Science and one in Film Studies, and worked as a computer graphics programmer before pursuing a career in film. His first documentary short, Roadside Eulogy (1991), a study of people’s excursions with road kill, was screened at numerous national film festivals and broadcast on cable television. His subsequent shorts, Confession and Jean Meets the Beatles, have documented equally peculiar and curious aspects of everyday life. Pepe has also served as director of photography on several award-winning short films and experimental videos, and was one of four recipients of the 1995 Eastman Kodak Scholarship for excellence in the field of cinematography. He has taught classes in film analysis, documentary production, and editing at Philadelphia universities and media centers, and most recently worked as Associate Editor on the PBS documentary W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography in Four Voices. He is a Russell Conwell Fellow and a Master of Fine Arts candidate in Film and Media Arts at Temple University. In addition to his film work, he moonlights as an accordion player.


The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys is a candid look at the creative process of one of the cinema’s most irreverent talents. Employing verite and interview footage gathered over a year of shooting in Philadelphia, Baltimore, London, and New York the documentary chronicles Terry Gilliam’s struggle to make what he calls “a European art film within the Hollywood system.”

The Hamster Factor captures the filmmaking process at its most dynamic–as the often tenuous combination of the director’s personal vision, the ensuing collaboration with the cast and crew, and the pressures of a marketplace economy. These facets are particularly well played out on a production directed by Gilliam – a director whose career has been burdened with studio battles and who openly embraces the film industry’s paradoxes by attempting to produce challenging and highly personal films within the Hollywood system.

Candid interviews with Gilliam throughout the course of production find the director grappling with these as well as other issues: his fears of selling out, his difficulties handling the celebrity status of lead actors Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, his attempt to honor the complexity of 12 Monkeys without losing the audience, and his effort to fight the market testing system which so often acknowledges mass appeal over creative merit.

While the “making of” genre is riddled with films which mystify the glamour of Hollywood feature filmmaking, we take as our precedents documentaries such as Eleanor Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness and Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams – films which show how the grandiosity of film production can often result in creative compromise and moral dilemma. Branching off from these films’ emphasis on the dynamics of the set, The Hamster Factor focuses on the rarely documented moments of pre- and post-production which we feel better characterize the blending of directorial vision, collaboration, and economics. Early meetings with Gilliam and his creative staff, as well as rehearsals with the lead actors trace the development of the film’s complex ideas; and in-depth coverage of editing room conversations, marketing meetings, test screenings, and premieres reveal the sometimes uncomfortable process of funneling these ideas into simple, salable commodities.


“The Hamster Factor, an exemplary and hugely entertaining ‘making of’ documentary which, like Hearts of Darkness, centers on an articulate witty visionary battling to forge a work of art in a world of accountancy. Intelligent, engrossing, insightful, and enormous fun with it.” Mark Kermode, BBC Radio 1

“… an inventive piece of verite moviemaking that deftly chronicles Gilliam’s made-in-Philadelphia sci-fi extravaganza … Like Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams … and Eleanor Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness … Fulton and Pepe’s The Hamster Factor illuminates, in candid detail, the tumult behind a mammoth movie production.” Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Anyone who wants to know how movies are really made cannot afford to miss this!” Alan Frank, The London Daily Star

“A fascinating observation of the mechanics of movie making and the contradictions of a maverick filmmaker.” Sheila Whitaker, Director, London Film Festival

“… an invaluable look at the creative process … The Hamster Factor is a rare find that deserves a spot next to Eleanor Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse.” Kevin D. Melrose, Philadelphia Gay News

“… captures in amazing detail the often tortured process idiosyncratic director Terry Gilliam went through to make his film 12 Monkeys.” Howard Altman, Philadelphia City Paper

“A fascinating documentary …” Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Daily News

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