Dreams 11: July 1998 News Bulletin

Edited by Phil Stubbs. Last updated 29 July 1998.

In this Dreams 11 bulletin...

  • Fear and Loathing makes waves at Cannes
  • Fear and Loathing released in the US
  • ABC bans Fear and Loathing trailers
  • Gilliam in conflict with WGA regarding Fear and Loathing screenplay credit
  • Gilliam vs Thompson feud?
  • Jack Mathews speaks to Dreams about updated Battle of Brazil book
  • Gilliam festivals update
  • New Links

Fear and Loathing makes waves at Cannes
Friday 15 May 1998 was the date of the world premiere of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam's latest movie) at the Cannes film festival. Barry Norman, a UK critic, interviewed Gilliam there, and asked him, "You said I think that you regard [Fear and Loathing] as a cinematic enema for the nineties - do we need an enema?" Gilliam responded, "Oh I think we do. In many ways it’s a great reaction against the formula films that we definitely see now. These are the big successes - they are the ones the machinery just turns out. They’re not bad films; some of them are very good films, but they’re the same films, there’s a rhythm when you go to see a film now, I know what’s going to go… I know what’s going to happen to him. I know that next scene’s going to happen and I wanted to try something that would shake that up. Actually, I think it [Fear and Loathing] is a very intelligent film, but you’ve got to get on the right track before you get derailed on this thing. You’ve got to be able to move fast from one direction to another because it’s not an easy ride."

It was widely reported that the critics and film journalists gave Fear and Loathing a hard time after its showing at Cannes, but a great deal of the criticism seemed to be moral finger-waving at the film’s depiction of drug use. Fear and Loathing was in competition at Cannes. However, the movie was overlooked at the prizegiving. On the day of the premiere, Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, and producers Laila Nabulsi and Patrick Cassavetti gave a press conference at Cannes. There is a new Dreams page dedicated to the highlights: Fear and Loathing Cannes Press Conference

Fear and Loathing released in the US
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas received its US premiere in New York on Tuesday 19 May. The screening was at the 34th Street Showplace and there was a party later on at the China Club. Gilliam and producer Patrick Cassavetti joined Thompson, Depp and Del Toro at the premiere.

The film opened on general domestic release in the States from Friday 22 May, facing stiff competition from Godzilla, which had opened on 20 May. Reports suggested that in some places there were huge crowds, but in others, theatres were largely empty. Walkouts were commonplace. The first weekend (Memorial weekend) brought box office of $4m, and by the end of the second weekend, this had crept up to $7m. Statitistics on 20 July suggested the cumulative domestic box office had nudged over $10m.

The UK release of Fear and Loathing has now been delayed to 13 November 1998. It will receive its first UK screening at the Edinburgh festival in August.

ABC bans Fear and Loathing trailers
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas gained extra notoriety when it was announced that ABC were refusing to screen commercials for the movie because it claimed that movie glorified drug use. Chris Hikawa, of ABC’s standards and practices department said ‘I know the book is a very famous drug book, because I read it.’ Hikawa went on to explain that Universal refused to let her see an advance cut of the movie.

Gilliam later claimed that ABC was ridiculous and that the decision was hypocritical - saying that the network advertises R-rated movies all the time - ones in which ‘people are blown away by the hundreds’ - without screening them.

Gilliam in conflict with WGA regarding Fear and Loathing screenplay credit
Before Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was released, Gilliam came into conflict with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) over the screenplay credit in the film. At Cannes, Gilliam said: "It's a rather long and tedious nightmare. This particular incarnation of this film was started with Alex Cox directing and writing the screenplay. Johnny and Benny came on board and Alex fell overboard somehow. This was before my time. I don't know the ugly details. But Laila sent me a script that Alex had written when he was directing it and got me interested in the project. I had to read the book again to realize how much of the book was not in that script.

"I went out to LA, met Johnny, Benicio, Laila and Hunter and decided, Yes, let's do this project. I came back to London and got a good friend of mine, Tony Grisoni, to sit down and write this thing. So we basically started from scratch, dived into the book, underlined all the good bits, ignored all the bad bits, tried to assemble this thing. We did it in record time like we’ve done the entire film. The whole thing was to be done as fast and furiously and energetically and crazed as one could, and we managed to write it in 8 days. And then we read it. It was a piece of crap.

"So we rewrote in 2 days and were quite pleased with what we had done. We had to make very quick and definite decisions about what to do and what not to do. The book is so dense. There's so much great stuff in it. There's so much great stuff in it that whatever you do, when you're given enough time, you start realising how much you left out of the book or out of the screenplay. It was very depressing when you realise that you're not able to incorporate all of that book on screen. So we made some very definite decisions and went forward.

"We then went about making this film. Now everybody in the course of making this film has added to that script. Added to what's on that screen. Everybody - the actors, the sound guys… everybody contributes. It's one of the things that I like about making films: it's a collaborative effort. Everybody works. We rehearse, we talk, we argue and the thing eventually becomes the film. But somebody has got to take the credit or the blame for writing it. And Tony and I got that. Universal Pictures submitted it to the Writers Guild, with screenplay by Gilliam and Grisoni. Now there's a very complicated procedure that takes place. It's really long and boring. But here goes. Let's get down to basics here. The Writers Guild of America has a problem with directors who go off and write. If you're a director who writes, you become known in their terms as a "production executive" and you're thrown immediately into arbitration.

"It's a very complex process. But basically, if you happen to be directing a film, you and your co-writer who wasn't a director have to produce significantly more than 50% of the script while any other writers involved only have to produce 30% of the script. So the Writers Guild determined, much to our chagrin, surprise, horror, shock, that we had not written the film. We’d spent a year on this and this was indeed a surprise. That all of us - the actors, the crew had been working on the wrong script. So, on one of the original posters, you’ll see screenplay by Alex Cox.

"Well, we then spent the next couple of months involving lawyers. Universal brought more scripts in to the mix. And at the end of this long, tedious procedure, we had to write a 25 page document which actually took longer to write than the script -- to prove that we had written substantially more than 60% of the film. And in their wisdom or terror or shame, the Writers’ Guild reversed their decision and gave us credit. Now, the surprise was we didn't get put in the second position of the credit, we were put in the first position which apparently has never happened before. So that's the story. And here we are. And I think a lot of other people need to be credited."

So, in the end, the screenplay is now credited to Gilliam, Grisoni, Cox and Davies. Terry Gilliam appeared at the Broadway Barnes & Noble bookstore on 20 May to sign copies of the screenplay, published by Applause Books. David Morgan, creator of The Terry Gilliam Files was there, and sent the following report to alt.movies.terry-gilliam (repeated here with permission)…

"I attended the book signing at Barnes & Noble, in which a packed - but not exactly hushed - crowd heard from Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni about the indecipherable machinations backstage at the Writers Guild re: attribution for their screenplay to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (Because it appeared at first that the WGA would not grant credit to Gilliam & Grisoni, in favor of Alex Cox and Tod Davies, the jacket of the newly-published Applause edition of the Fear & Loathing script reads "NOT the screenplay by TG & TG." Unfortunately, now that their film credits have been won on appeal, it's too late to change the book's cover.)

"He also played a tape of a short film starring Ray Cooper which he was prepared to attach to the F&L print explaining how - thanks to the WGA's reasoning - the film that people were about to see had not actually been written by anybody. Of course that was now irrelevant, too.

"But to prove there was no love lost between himself and the WGA (whose by-laws are effectively prejudiced against writer-director hyphenates when it comes to doling out credit), Terry ended the evening by leading a BBC camera crew outside to Broadway where he proceeded to burn his WGA membership card (and his middle finger!). Call it gonzo book-signing."

Gilliam vs Thompson feud?
The London Sunday Times on 17 May 1998 claimed that a feud had developed between Terry Gilliam and Hunter S. Thompson. It was claimed that the quarrel was ignited by comments by Gilliam about Thompson in the previous weekend’s Sunday New York Times. Gilliam had said ‘I keep saying this guy died around 1974, and the guy that’s there is this mummified version of him." Also, Gilliam claimed that Thompson "thinks he’s a Messiah in a strange way."

According to the New York Post, Gilliam was quoted in the New Yorker as saying, "Keep him away, I hate him, I hate the bastard, don’t want him near this thing, I’m going to **** up his book if he comes near this thing." However, the magazine says things went well at a subsequent meeting at Thompson’s place in Aspen, and that after screening the film, Thompson praised it as "an eerie trumpet call over a lost battlefield".

Following the remarks in the New York Times, Thompson allegedly was all set to fly over to Cannes to disrupt the premiere of the movie, but was dissuaded from making the trip because he was unable to find a flight between America and Europe that would allow him to smoke.

Several days later, the story was refuted by Gilliam. Gilliam said that reports of a feud were untrue. Gilliam described Thompson as unpredictable, but stopped short of calling him eccentric. The decision to keep a respectable distance during the making of Fear and Loathing had been mutual, and Gilliam went on to describe the New York Post article as "total bullshit".

Jack Mathews speaks to Dreams about updated Battle of Brazil book
Brazil fans will be pleased to hear that The Battle of Brazil, by Jack Mathews has been updated and republished. It is an excellent account of the problems Gilliam had in trying to get his key work released in its proper form in the States - and has been republished by Applause Books. See the Gilliam Books page for more information on how to order this book direct.

The author of The Battle of Brazil, Jack Mathews, recently answered a few questions posed by Dreams...

How did you become a movie writer/journalist?
I started out in my career as a journalist, and for the first few years covered a little of everything, crime, courts, local elections, even sports. While writing about entertainment for the Detroit Free Press, the job of film critic opened, and it was offered to me. That was in 1979, and I've been at it ever since.

Tell me how you came to write 'The Battle of Brazil'?
As I detail in the book, I broke the story of Terry's fight with MCA-Universal honcho Sid Sheinberg in the Los Angeles Times, and then covered it, as a columnist taking the filmmaker's side, all the way through to its victory with the L.A. Film Critics Assn. and its release. Afterwards, I was approached by Crown Books to do a book, and the deal was done.

Why was the book unavailable for so long?
Crown did very little to promote the book, and didn't do a second printing. It didn't take long for the books that were out there to disappear, so from about 1988 on, you couldn't find it.

How did the book get republished after so long?
The book was resurrected by Terry Gilliam, who convinced Applause Books' Glenn Young that it was a worthwhile project. Applause had done several Monty Python books, and, I believe, published the screenplay for 12 Monkeys. Anyway, I met with Young, and we agreed on expanding the book to include a lot of the material that was squeezed out in the writing of the first edition.

Was it an easy book to write and research?
The book was not terribly hard to research, because of all the groundwork I'd done while covering the story for the L.A. Times, and because almost everyone involved was open and on the record. Also, I was pretty much in the center of the storm throughout, so I became, in a way, one of my own best sources.

How helpful were the people at Universal?
There were two camps at Universal in the mid-'80s, those loyal to Sheinberg and those loyal to Frank Price, the chairman of the movie division. The Price loyalists were extremely cooperative, the Sheinberg loyalists less so. Sheinberg himself was terrific. Though he was the ostensible villain of the story, he was so certain of his righteousness that he made himself readily available.

Who is your favourite Brazil character, and why?
My favorite character is Sam, for all the obvious reasons. He's the one most like us, going along to get along, and eventually doing what we hope we would do, and what Terry did with Universal, rebel against an oppressive system.

Following Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, what advice would you give to Terry Gilliam for the future?
Terry Gilliam has been doing fine without my advice (though I believe I did encourage him to have those clandestine screenings of Brazil for the L.A. Film Critics). I hope he just keeps following his muse. He is a uniquely gifted, and insightful storyteller, with the courage--always the courage!--of his convictions.

Recent good news is that a further three Gilliam-related books are to be published or already have been published.

Also from Applause comes the previously mentioned Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - NOT the screenplay by Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni. And later in the year a volume entitled Dark Knights and Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam is to be published by Essential Books, written and compiled by Bob McCabe, who interviewed Gilliam in July 1998's Sight and Sound magazine. And, as reported in the Dreams 10 bulletin a new book, Gilliam on Gilliam to be published soon in the UK.

Gilliam festivals update
Following his appearance at Cannes, Gilliam has also appeared at a film festival at Conques in the South of France, and is scheduled to appear at the Edinburgh International Film Festival too at the end of August, where Fear and Loathing receives its UK premiere. The EIFF includes a Terry Gilliam weekend of movies. Also, Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys and Brazil have been touring the UK on big screens under the stars. Featured towns and dates are as follows:

  • London, Battersea Park 23-26 July
  • Newquay, Towan Beach 4-6 August
  • Nottingham, Wollaton Park 14-15 August
  • Edinburgh, City Chambers 21-23 August

Terry Gilliam is also to visit the San Sebastian film festival, on the North Coast of Spain, in September this year. For more information, see the San Sebastian link.

New Links
The following new links are dotted around Dreams:

And also, note that Dave Cowen has updated his excellent Brazil faq. It was sent to alt.movies.terry-gilliam, and will presumably soon be found at Trond's Brazil page

Contributions are welcome! If you wish to send letters, analysis, news or any information regarding Terry Gilliam and his work, then email me!

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Phil Stubbs - Wetherby, UK. July 1998.

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