- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

The documentary team of Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton traveled to Spain in summer 2000 with a commission to record the production process of "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," a time-travel version of the classic Miguel de Cervantes novel, adapted and directed by Terry Gilliam.
The documentarians completed their production, titled "Lost in La Mancha." The director didn't.
Mr. Gilliam's decade-long dream of doing a "Don Quixote" ended after only a week of shooting near Madrid.
"Lost in La Mancha" covers eight weeks of preproduction and the calamitous week of shooting. The documentary about a film that never was is booked exclusively at the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle.
During a telephone interview, Mr. Pepe, who lives in Los Angeles, recalls the saga and his feeling that Mr. Gilliam hasn't been able to leave it behind him.
Moving on, he says, is difficult for Mr. Gilliam.
"I sense he still wants to make the film," Mr. Pepe says. "Johnny Depp is still committed to his role as the Sancho Panza character. A lot of people involved are Gilliam loyalists who would be available for another try. I think Terry always has it in the back of his mind, but what he really needs is to get back in the saddle and prove to himself that he can make a movie. Any movie."
Mishaps plagued the six days of location work on "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote." A thunderstorm reduced the filming site to a flash-flood disaster zone on day two. Jean Rochefort, the venerable French actor cast as Quixote, suffered from prostate problems and a herniated disc. It was too painful to mount or sit astride a horse. He departed for France, and when it became clear that there was no chance of a speedy recovery and return, the production was abandoned.
Mr. Pepe and Mr. Fulton became close collaborators after meeting as graduate students in the film department of Temple University in Philadelphia. Mr. Gilliam, the former Monty Python animator who went on to specialize in movie spectacle ("Time Bandits," "Brazil," "The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen"), laid the foundation for their professional careers by selecting them to do a behind-the-scenes featurette about his science-fiction thriller "12 Monkeys," which was shot in Philadelphia.
That association turned out so well that Universal included their impressions, titled "The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys," on the laser-disc version of the feature. It supplements the DVD edition of the movie. Subsequently, the Pepe-Fulton team sustained a career by doing "Making of …" featurettes about other notable productions ("Three Kings," "Ghost World," "Insomnia") and by contributing segments to TV specials and documentaries.
Mr. Gilliam's misfortune with "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" was an artistic loss for the filmmaker, but it also throws doubt on the wherewithal of movie financing in Europe. Is the European capacity to compete with Hollywood, especially in a global marketplace, as severely limited as, say, its capacity to compete with American military resources and prowess?
"That's not such a big stretch," Mr. Pepe reflects. "The whole scale of film production is just smaller across the board. The producer of Terry's film told us that the average French film has a budget of $5 million. In Spain, it's certainly less than that. Their industries are closer to the indie world in the United States. Clearly, Hollywood can afford to do things that can't be done by their competitors. They have a global reach and popularity that justifies expensive productions."
At several points in the Pepe-Fulton "Lost in La Mancha," Mr. Gilliam is seen talking about the thin margin of financial security on his production, budget-cut down to $32 million from $40 million. The sum, he says, was about half of what a "Don Quixote" film really needs. Although the sum sounds modest in a contemporary Hollywood framework, Mr. Gilliam says in the documentary that it was "a heavy burden for European shoulders."
Mr. Pepe helps clarify the perils of depending on European shoulders: "Terry's film came at a unique point," he says. "There was a lot of production money available in Europe [at the time] and German tax shelters were especially favorable. One of the things that Terry hoped to do was complete an English-speaking movie financed completely in Europe."
"The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" was going to be a pacesetter, the most expensive English-language movie of that kind, Mr. Pepe says.
It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to people here, he says, but the Europeans were very much aware of how many Hollywood-financed films are made in England. That was a tantalizing competitive challenge for some European investors. "Why not make inroads on that sector of the business? Do English-language films, but with all the rewards going to European backers."
• • •
Mr. Pepe, 36, grew up in Philadelphia and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an undergraduate, majoring in computer science. Mr. Fulton is a year older. A Boston native, he earned a bachelor's degree in art history at Haverford College in Haverford, Pa., before going on to film studies at Temple.
An awakening put Mr. Pepe on the path to a movie career when he was a freshman at MIT.
"I took this film history class and felt an immediate calling," he says. "I told my parents I wanted to be a film historian. They said I could be whatever I wanted after graduation, but that as long as I was at MIT, they expected me to get a computer-science degree. They weren't sending me there to be a film historian.
"In retrospect, the odd thing is that there was also a big documentary-film-production program at MIT. I didn't give it much thought, so I never explored the curriculum."
At Temple in the early 1990s, Mr. Pepe and Mr. Fulton got into the habit of working on each other's projects. Mr. Fulton made faster progress on a thesis film, completing his in 1995. Mr. Pepe took another two years.
"We met Terry around the time Keith was wrapping up his movie," Mr. Pepe recalls. "We had just invested in a High-8 video camera, which was the state-of-the-art instrument at the time. The film office in Philadelphia passed on the word that Terry was looking for some film students to do a documentary about '12 Monkeys' while he was in Philly. We put together a reel of scenes from our respective projects and pitched ourselves as a team. And we came cheap; we were willing to work for lunch privileges."
Mr. Pepe believes there was a convergence of senses of humor when they encountered Mr. Gilliam.
"Our sample reel emphasized some pretty oddball stuff," he says. "Keith had done a film about Philly's community of Benjamin Franklin impersonators. There are quite a few of them. I had done a film about people's responses to running over animals on the highway.
"When Terry selected us, he said he didn't want a typical 'Making of …' film. He wanted us to respond to what we saw on the set with our own sensibilities. 'Don't try to please me or the studio,' he told us. 'If what you get amuses you, it will probably amuse me.'"
The two also were advised to "steer clear" of the principal cast members: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe.
"I think Terry was also in uncharted waters," Mr. Pepe says. "That was a heavy-duty Hollywood cast for him, but his advice made for a better documentary."
As a rule, "Making of …" films are studio-sponsored commercials, Mr. Pepe says. "All they want is footage of the stars being chummy and the director saying 'Action.' By looking around in all the odd corners, we found things that were fascinating to know and that gave us a head start as aspiring filmmakers.
"Thanks to Terry, we got to see how the process worked. It is a bit sad to reflect that the two films we did with him make such perfect bookends we witnessed one of the high points in his career and then one of the low points."


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