Dreams: 2008 News Blog

Edited by Phil Stubbs

Lily Cole and Heath Ledger about to rehearse
scenes at Leadenhall Market
(pic: JustJared)
As 2007 ended, the shooting of Terry Gilliam's new project The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus was well underway. Ten days of shooting had been completed in locations around London: Bounds Green, Potters Field, Battersea Power Station, Blackfriars Bridge, Borough Market and around the City of London.

Location shooting on Dr Parnassus restarted in London on January 3, with day 11 in Battersea Power Station. Further locations used over a further 12 days of shooting included Leadenhall Market in the City of London, and Clerkenwell.

Ray Cooper, an old pal of Gilliam who appeared on screen in Time Bandits, Brazil and Munchausen, has a role in Dr Parnassus. He plays the leader of a group of Russian criminals.

The last day of filming in London was Friday 18 January, shooting in Clerkenwell. Therefore, the real-world scenes set in London were complete. After this, the UK unit packed up, and the plan was to restart promptly in Vancouver with the bluescreen work, to shoot the scenes taking place inside the Imaginarium.

Death of Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment, in the afternoon of Tuesday 22 January. The BBC reported that he was found unconscious at the apartment and pronounced dead. Father Kim Ledger said that the death of his 28-year-old "dearly loved son" had been "tragic" and "accidental". Speaking in the actor's home town of Perth, in Western Australia, Mr Ledger said that his son had been a "down to earth, generous, kind hearted, life-loving, unselfish individual. Heath has touched so many people on so many different levels during his short life that few had the pleasure of truly knowing him."

The BBC added an obituary which highlighted how much Ledger had achieved even though he was still in his twenties, mentioning that he had finished work on The Dark Knight, but significant work remained on The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.

The next day, Entertainment Weekly ran a lengthy conversation with Ledger's co-star Christopher Plummer. The veteran actor revealed a number of details about the project, as well as paying tribute to Ledger. Plummer mentioned that Ledger had had problems sleeping, but added, "We're still in total shock over Heath's death. It's sort of literally unbelievable, because apart from the sleeping, he was in such good form.... There was a sweetness about him. He was a very charming and gentle guy, actually."

With respect to completing the movie, Plummer said there was an enormous amount to do. "This is why we were going to Vancouver. All the technical stuff, was to be done in Vancouver. God knows what's going to happen now... The film wasn't half made.... It's just terrifying. It had so much going for it, and there was so much new stuff we were all going to put into it to help it along. It was a sort of work of invention, from all hands.... And Terry [Gilliam] has had this experience before, with [The Man Who Killed] Don Quixote, with Johnny Depp... My heart goes out to him because he's worked so hard to get it off the ground. It just drives you mad thinking about it. I have no idea, and I can't say, really, what's going to happen to the film. We're still in total shock over Heath's death."

"He was looking forward — he was in such a good, happy mood about the picture. Looking forward to going to Vancouver. He was enjoying the film thoroughly, and I'm here to say so. He was also terribly excited about becoming a director."

"I don't dare say what will happen until we've talked with Terry [Gilliam]. Probably nobody will know until the end of this week what's going to happen. I spoke to Terry yesterday. We're all in shock... it's just awful. Quite shocking, because it's so incredible. I just left a very laughing, happy fellow, practically a few minutes ago.

On January 24, Reuters reported a statement from Dr Parnassus's production team, stating that Ledger's death puts the film on hold indefinitely. "Heath was a great actor, a great friend and a great spirit," said the statement. "We are still in a state of deep shock, saddened and numb with grief. Over the coming days Terry and the producers will be assessing how best to proceed." The film was to be produced by Vancouver-based Infinity Features at the Bridge Studios in nearby Burnaby.

The BBC added a further story on January 25, reporting a tribute made by Ledger's family. And The New York Times speculated on the future of Dr Parnassus in an article on the same day, saying that Ledger’s death leaves the producers with few desirable options: recast and reshoot, rewrite and adjust, or abandon the project altogether.

Early in February, there were signs that the second option, Rewrite and Adjust was to be the favoured option. An official website was launched on February 5. The still below, featured on the website in much more detail, is the first to be released.

A source close to production confirmed to Dreams on February 6 that the production would continue. "[It] has been very difficult and sad. We have been grieving and coming to grips with the future. While we have gone quiet the world is making its own assumptions on Dr Parnassus, and it seems they are saying we are dead. We have to spread the word Terry and Dr Parnassus will continue. We are still turning over in production, shooting to recommence soon. What is important is people understand that we are alive and moving fast to finish the last film of Heath... and a Gilliam masterpiece. All of Heath's amazing performance remains in the film."

On February 6, the BBC reported the findings of New York City's medical examiner on what killed Heath Ledger. It said the actor died of an accidental overdose of six different types of prescription drugs. The city medical examiner's spokeswoman said Ledger died "as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects" of the different drugs. They include painkiller Oxycontin and anti-anxiety drugs Valium and Xanax.

Spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said: "What you're looking at here is the cumulative effects of these medications together." Traces of painkiller ibuprofen and sleeping pills, Restoril and Unisom, were also found in Ledger's blood. Ledger's father Kim said: "While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath's accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage."

By now, there were plenty of rumours that a number of actors were to play Tony in the remining scenes that would have been played by Heath Ledger. Aint-it-Cool News was the first to reveal, on February 15, that Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell were each to play Tony, and that the script had been rewritten to allow for Tony's apperance to change in the story. The BBC confirmed this on February 18, and a few days later ran an article on how to replace a film star who has died during a production.

Vancouver work started on February 24. In the first few days there was some location shooting in Vancouver. Lily Cole was spotted on location in Vancouver on 25 Feb, and pictures of Cole with Gilliam and Christopher Plummer were featured in the Daily Mail on February 26.

An article on Infinity producer Rob Merilees on March 9 said that the planned wrap date for the Vancouver work was April 15.

A press release was made on March 10 by the Dr Parnassus production team:

Vancouver, March 10th 2008: Terry Gilliam and the producers of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus have confirmed that, with the blessing and support of Heath Ledger’s family, filming on the UK-Canadian co-production has recommenced in Vancouver.

After the tragic loss of Heath, there have been many rumours surrounding the production, but we are now delighted to confirm that Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law are participating with the rest of the cast in the completion of the film.

“Since the format of the story allows for the preservation of his entire performance, at no point will Heath’s work be modified or altered through the use of digital technology,” the film’s producers re-assure: “Each of the parts played by Johnny, Colin and Jude is representative of the many aspects of the character that Heath was playing.”

“I am grateful to Johnny, Colin and Jude for coming on board and to everyone else who has made it possible for us to finish the film,” says director Terry Gilliam, “I am delighted that Heath’s brilliant performance can be shared with the world. We are looking forward to finishing the movie and, through the film, with a modicum of humility, being able to touch people’s hearts and souls as Heath was able to do,”

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus also stars Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Andrew Garfield, Lily Cole and Tom Waits. The modern-day fantasy adventure film is written by Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown and produced by William Vince, Amy Gilliam and Samuel Hadida.

Tom Waits in Vancouver
TG on location in Vancouver

In early April, news came out that Verne Troyer had suffered from dehydration on the Vancouver set of Dr Parnassus and reportedly had to be rushed to hospital.

The first picture of Tom Waits in costume as Mr Nick (aka the Devil) were made available at a Johnny Depp site.

Verne Troyer gave an interview about the project to MTV on April 9, where he revealed a tattoo that he and others had gained as a mark of respect to Ledger.

The last day of Principal Photography was April 15, on schedule. The Globe and Mail featured an interview with producers Bill Vince and Amy Gilliam. on April 19. After Ledger's death, said the article, the producers formed a sort of protective shield around their director as he grieved the loss of a close friend, and was charged with devising a plan to save his movie.

"Amy and I were managing the people around him so he had room to do what he needed to do. And we kept everybody glued together, so when he did announce what he wanted to do, we were poised to do it," Vince says.

"I don't think he took it lightly - from the emotional side, to the creative side to his personal side, there [were] a lot of factors that were swirling around. And it's a great testament to him and to the film, because if he didn't believe in it, he wouldn't do it," he adds.

On April 20, cast member Andrew Garfield was given a BAFTA. This was for his work on the moving Channel 4 TV drama Boy A, which has been given a theatrical release in certain countries outside the UK.

Andrew Garfield was interviewed by New York Magazine on May 2. He said, "The amount of stuff [Heath] left me with was astonishing. I will never ever lose hold of what he had to offer. He just had this total spontaneity and the ability to do anything at any point: fly off the handle or joke. It was electrifying and I never knew what he was going to do — like punch me, you know? But how he did it is a mystery to me." Garfield also spoke about the project itself, "Terry's movie is hilarious, it's ridiculous vaudeville. I do stupid things and it was fun as hell — just fucking stupid stuff."

In an interview on his record-label's website, Tom Waits answered a question about working with Terry Gilliam, published on 20 May:

I am the Devil in The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus – not a devil… The Devil. I don’t know why he thought of me. I was raised in the church. Gilliam and I met on Fisher King. He is a giant among men and I am in awe of his films. Munchausen I’ve seen a hundred times. Brazil is a crowning achievement. Brothers Grimm was my favorite film last year. I had most of my scenes with Christopher Plummer (He’s Dr Parnassus). Plummer is one of the greatest actors on earth! Mostly I watch and learn. He’s a real movie star and a gentleman. Gilliam is an impresario, captain, magician, a dictator (a nice one), a genius, and a man you’d want in the boat with you at the end of the world.

Dr Parnassus sold well at Cannes, according to Variety on May 21.

In May, the Model Unit was well underway in London, the first part of postproduction.

There is a preview of Dr Parnassus in Empire's July 2008 issue, released on June 4. In the preview, Terry Gilliam reveals that Heath Ledger's character Tony, a charming interloper, "is based on a former Prime Minister named Tony"
Producer Amy Gilliam is quoted as saying, "It's like someone up there is trying to hit us and knock us down. But we have such a strong group, and it's like no force is going to reckon with us. We're going to keep fighting."

Dr Parnassus producer Bill Vince died on June 21, reported the Vancouver Sun. The producer of the Oscar-award winning movie Capote died on Saturday at his home in West Vancouver after a battle with cancer. Vince, who was 44, was a well-known and respected figure not only in Vancouver filmmaking circles but in Hollywood as well. He is widely recognized as the only Vancouver producer to have made an Oscar-winning movie.

The article quoted Infinity producer and close associate Robert Merilees as saying, "Bill Vince was the most generous person I have met, with his time, his talent and his knowledge of the business. He was an amazing partner and a loyal friend. All of us here at Infinity loved him dearly and will miss him terribly."

An article appeared in the Independent on Sunday on July 13. Entitled "Heath Ledger's Final Cut", it featured the recollections of an extra who worked briefly on Dr Parnassus.

Gilliam was quoted in the Daily Telegraph on July 16 - giving his views about a campaign for Ledger to get an Academy Award for his portrayal as the Joker in The Dark Knight.

A further interview with Verne Troyer at Yahoo on July 16 gave a story about how photographers were trying to get a picture of Ledger. According to Troyer, Ledger made his way into the crowd unseen to tease the shutterbugs.

"Heath snuck his way out into the crowd without anybody noticing and came right up next to one of the photographers and asked him, 'Who are you trying to shoot? Who are you trying to get?' "

The photog said he wanted a snap of Ledger, to which Ledger responded, "'Oh, really? That's cool,'" according to Troyer. By the time the pap could realize it was Heath himself, the actor had disappeared. "I thought that was classic, just classic and hilarious," Troyer said.

Two new interviews with Dr Parnassus actor Andrew Garfield were published, the first in The LA Times, and the second with MovieMaker magazine.

At the end of July, the Daily Telegraph revealed that Gilliam was once again eager to restart shooting of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. His previous attempt in 2001 ended in disaster, and was documented in the documentary feature film Lost in La Mancha. According to the Telegraph article, the ownership of the script has now returned to Gilliam.

Terry Gilliam spoke to the BBC about Dr Parnassus at the beginning of August. He declared that the decision to film Ledger's remaining scenes with three other actors had worked.

More information about the proposed Quixote restart came in from The Independent on August 4. According to Gilliam, "As far as we're concerned, it's on. When Johnny's ready, we're ready. We're just talking about dates to film. Basically it all depends on his schedule but otherwise we're set. It will be next year some time, before next summer anyway. We're going to completely reshoot it. The intervening years have taught me that I can actually write a much better film. I'm so excited it's going to get done at last."

An academic text about Gilliam, written by Peter Marks, is to be published in 2009 by Manchester University Press.

In August, an interview with Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, by Paul Morley, was published in the Observer. The pair revealed more about the Gorillaz film project they discussed with Terry Gilliam, about which much was rumoured throughout 2007.

The project they intended to film was Journey to the West, an opera that received its world premiere at Manchester's Palace Theatre in 2007. The project is based on the Chinese mythological tale, which was worked by Albarn and Hewlett into the BBC's coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games.

According to Albarn, "We spend a lot of our life talking about a film." And Hewlett said, "We had fantastic lunches with Terry Gilliam about turning Journey to the West into a film. That's the closest we ever got to a Monkey film."

In January, while a Dr Parnassus shot was being set up one night in London, Gilliam said the following to Dreams about the project, "Damon Albarn approached me about this. I really like them, and we started talking about it. But I'm still waiting to see a script!"
[Incidentally, during his time at ZTT Records, Paul Morley tried to get Gilliam to direct a video for Frankie Goes to Hollywood]

At the start of September, it was reported that Virgin Comics had collapsed. The company was working with Gilliam on realising some of the director's unfilmed projects as comic books.

Also, a source close to Terry Gilliam confirmed to Dreams that plans were in place to restart The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Gilliam is hoping to shoot Summer 2009.

More news on The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus… in a Swedish interview, Peter Stormare revealed that he has a brief cameo role within the film. Also, a teaser trailer for Dr Parnassus was released on the Internet, more details are on another page within Dreams.

There was a full retrospective of Terry Gilliam's work at the Milan Film Festival in September, and the director attended an event on September 13. Andrea Corsini attended and sent the following YouTube links to Dreams. In the first, Gilliam talks about how he initially decided not to continue with Dr Parnassus immediately after Heath Ledger's death, and was subsequently persuaded to complete the film:

Gilliam at the Milan Film Festival - YouTube: 1
Gilliam at the Milan Film Festival - YouTube: 2
Gilliam at the Milan Film Festival - YouTube: 3
Gilliam at the Milan Film Festival - YouTube: 4

Gilliam answering questions at the Milan Film Festival, September 2008

On September 28, Gilliam presented screenings of Time Bandits and Brazil at the BFI.

A new still of Heath Ledger was released, alone on the stage of the Imaginarium.

At the start of November, an article in Variety listed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote on a list of projects in development with Hanway Films.

Editing work on The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus is now finished, the soundtrack is complete. What remains is the final integration of effects work, which is still ongoing in London.

At the end of November, Gilliam was given a tribute in London from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Grauniad did a write up of the event, featuring news about Parnassus and Quixote. Gilliam revealed that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will be credited simply to "Heath Ledger and friends", rather than "A Terry Gilliam Film".

"With Heath's death this became a very different film," Gilliam admitted. "In a strange way, events wrote it for us. Fortunately in the movie there is a magic mirror, and when someone goes through it things can change. So we decided that one of the things that can change is the actor playing the main character.

"I was terrified that it wouldn't work but we've had a couple of screenings and it seems to work fine. I'm really pleased with the film - I think it's a good one and I think there will be an audience for it as well," he added.

Gilliam also said that he would be restarting work on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote next year. He explained that he had finally secured the film's rights from the French insurance company which paid out $15m (£9.9m) when the production was scuppered by a flash flood and the withdrawal of lead actor Jean Rochefort. He said he and his co-writer Tony Grisoni had extensively rewritten the original script.

But he admitted that at times God had stepped in to "save his ass", specifically on Don Quixote. "I was in some way relieved that it did fall apart," he said. "Because I didn't have the money to finish it. It's a good thing it went down when it did because I would have got the blame for going over budget. I think this time we will make a better film."

Elsewhere, Michael Palin paid tribute to a colleague he described as "a man who begins where others stop and only stops when others have fallen asleep". He added: "Terry is someone who tries to do things in ways they have never been done before. This can be demanding - but usually for no one as much as himself."

Also at the end of November, Terry Gilliam and his son Harry spoke to The Times about work and family life.

In The Observer, a British newspaper, Gilliam penned a tribute to actor Heath Ledger.

Any time I try to describe Heath it becomes a series of clichés, because he was extraordinary and, unfortunately, most of those clichés have already been used up on lesser people.

I met him for the first time in LA around 2001, when we were working on The Brothers Grimm. He was a ball of energy, firing on all cylinders, and he had a magnetic quality. I liked him immediately and even though I hadn't actually seen Heath in anything at that point,

I said to him: 'You're on. Let's do it.'

He was one of those blessed human beings who have the facility to do so many things at the same time. When he wasn't acting, he was directing music videos and supporting young musicians. He was working on the script for a film he was preparing to direct. He had an incredibly artistic side, and he was practically a grand master at chess. That's why, when he died, it was as if half of the world had collapsed.

He died halfway through the film I'm currently making, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. We had finished shooting in London on Saturday night. On Sunday, I went to Vancouver to prepare for the next stage and Heath went to New York. He was supposed to be turning up in Vancouver on the Friday. On Tuesday he was dead.

None of us could deal with it. It was impossible - that was the problem. It was absolutely impossible that this could be a fact. But there it was. I was working in the art department when I heard the news, and we stayed there all afternoon. At sunset, thousands of ravens flew over the window and I thought: those are the ravens from The Brothers Grimm, and they are all going to salute Heath.

In terms of his acting, it still rankles with me that he's dead because he would have been streets ahead of anyone else in his generation. He just kept getting better and better. He was fearless. On Parnassus, he was improvising all the time and it was better than what we had written. I don't normally encourage that kind of improvisation, but in a sense I felt Heath was writing this film. He was an incredibly funny performer when he wanted to be - his comic timing was just extraordinary - and then he could break your heart the next minute.

Usually, with actors, it's all about themselves. But it was never like that with Heath. He was completely supportive of everything else around him. He got better performances out of other actors - he just drew it out of them. He was utterly generous and always aware of everyone else, and he behaved as if there was nothing special about him - he was just a guy.

His physicality was extraordinary, too. I remember Monica Bellucci turning up to make Grimms. She went into the make-up room and Heath's picture was on the wall. She hadn't met him and I don't think she knew exactly who he was, but immediately she went, whoosh, to that picture. That was the kind of attraction Heath had. Women adored him and men loved him.

We've all agreed to call Parnassus 'A film from Heath Ledger and friends' because I don't think it is a Terry Gilliam film. I think it's something that his life and death has created. When he died, I said it was over. We can't carry on. But everybody said, 'You've got to carry on' - for the film, for Heath's last performance. It wasn't possible for any one person to replace him so we made the quantum leap and got three people - Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law. The Holy Trinity. They came in and they pulled it off and I think it works brilliantly.

When he died, there were all these nonsensical stories coming out about Heath Ledger, James Dean and River Phoenix, all destroyed by the system - but that's bullshit. What happened was an absurd accident. I still don't understand it. I know he was exhausted - the last thing he said was that he was so tired and just wanted to sleep. You actually think at certain times angels come down to earth and Heath might have been one of them. And then he's gone and you think: this is all wrong, all the other people should be dead. He should be leading us all into a wonderful world of adventure.

Gilliam was given an award at the Dubai International Film Festival in December. "Our 2008 honorees for the DIFF Salutes Awards are French-Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb, Chinese action director Tsui Hark and American-British fantasy master Terry Gilliam. All of them have pushed the boundaries of cinema", said a spokesman. At the film festival, Gilliam spoke to The National, a local newspaper. He mentioned a potential new project:

“I have another project I’m playing around with... Zero Theorum that Dick Zanuck (the Driving Miss Daisy producer) is producing. It’s a small film, but it’s a very smart script. I tend not to solicit anything, to be quite honest, so don’t ask any more questions!”

There followed some speedy research by Brendon at Filmick, who revealed that the Zero Theorem script is by Pat Rushin.

And as 2008 ended, the visual effects work on Dr Parnassus was still taking place.

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