From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 4 NO. 2
A Case Study on Film Authorship: Exploring the Theoretical and Practical Sides in Film Production
Case Study: Lost in La Manch (the making of Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote)
The story of Don Quixote appeals to Terry Gilliam’s taste in film, as noted by his past films like Brazil, which features a character struggling against insurmountable odds without a firm grasp on reality. Early in preproduction, Gilliam made himself available to his crew for suggestions and questions to avoid “making a fool of [himself].” He relied on these other artists and craftsmen to turn his ideas into reality. Gilliam thought of himself as more of a resource rather than leader in production because he had been developing the project for so long. This is due in part to Gilliam’s role as writer-director, so he was a major creative force in the story phase of the film. However, moving into the design phase, Gilliam relied heavily on his art department to bring the story to life visually. Gilliam was not concerned with designing every element himself, but he did ask for changes when the designs conflicted with the story.
Facing budgetary and logistical constraints early on, Gilliam turned to his producer and assistant director to make things happen for the production. The assistant director was responsible for coordinating meetings between Gilliam and the busy actors, which led to collaborating sessions between Gilliam and these actors. The crew was in “sheer panic” approaching production because Gilliam was relying so hard on his crew to make things happen that weren’t happening, like finding a sound stage. When Gilliam finally brought in actor Johnny Depp, he allowed Depp to develop an opening scene to explain his character and give himself some back-story. This reinforced Gilliam’s original story by building on the characters he had designed. Commenting on the actors coming together and the sets and costumes finishing for production, Gilliam said, “It’s going to be beautiful.”
When Gilliam arrived on set, his assistant director and art crew had already been working on setting the scene. However, it was Gilliam’s reliance on his crew that led to some initial problems. Scenes he believed to have been rehearsed with the extras had not been done because he allowed this duty to be taken by an assistant director. Gilliam believed in using his crew for the duties they were assigned rather than micromanaging over their shoulders. This collaborative effort made the process more cumbersome.
When the weather began to change unexpectedly, Gilliam consulted his local crew about how to proceed. They made suggestions based on their knowledge of the area and the weather. Instead of blundering ahead with his own ideas, he took their suggestions in stride to make the most of their production days. “There is a very clear plan,” he said, and he wanted to make the plan work with the help of his crew. Except for occasionally taking the camera under his own control, Gilliam defaulted to his experienced technicians to pull off the shots. He relied heavily on his assistant director to “hold this thing together” because of his [the assistant director’s] dedication to the project.
Because this film never made it to post production, we don’t know how Gilliam would have continued with his process. However, based on the evidence we can see that Gilliam is a more collaborative filmmaker, relying on the crew around him to create the world of the film. While Gilliam created the story, he was not a perfectionist about the visual elements. This left room for his cast and crew to bring their own ideas. This was a prime example of collaborative filmmaking both technically and artistically.
This author is thankful to Professor Nicole Triche and Dr. Glenn Scott at Elon University for their supervision and advice, without which the article could not be published. The author also appreciates numerous reviewers who have helped revise this article.
Azlant, Edward. “Screenwriting for the Early Silent Film: Forgotten Pioneers, 1897-1911.” Film History 9 (1997): 228-56.
Barlow, Aaron. Quentin Tarantino : life at the extremes. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger, 2010.
Braudy, Leo, and Marshall Cohen. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
Carringer, Robert. “Collaboration and Concepts of Authorship.” PMLA. 116.2 (2001): 370-379.
Caughie, John. Theories of Authorship: A Reader. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul in Association with the British Film Institute, 1981.
Dangerous Days: Making of Blade Runner. Dir. Charles de Lauzirika. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2007. Director’s Guild of America. http://www.dga.org. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.
Eckstein, Aurther. “Darkening Ethan: John Ford’s “The Searchers” (1965) from Novel to Screenplay to Screen.” Cinema Journal 38.1 (1998): 3-24.
Gallafent, Edward. Quentin Tarantino. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2006.
Gerstner, David A., and Janet Staiger. Authorship and Film. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print. Grant, Barry Keith. Auteurs and Authorship: A Film Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2008.
Hatfield, Maryella. “Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice.” Global Media Journal. 3.2 (2008): 1-5
Hess, John. “Auteur Criticism: A Film Maker’s Approach to the Cinema.” Journal of the University Film Association 25.3 (1973): 50-53, 58.
Hillier, Jim. Cahiers du cinéma, the 1950s : neo-realism, Hollywood, New Wave. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1985.
“In the Cutting Room.” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2011. Blu-Ray.
Kipen, David. The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History. Hoboken, NJ: Melville House Pub., 2006.
Liukkonen, Petri. “Ben Hecht.” http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/bhecht.htm. Web. May 10, 2012.
“The Look of Salander.” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2011. Blu-Ray.
Lost in La Mancha. Dir. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. United States: Docurama Distributed by New Video Group, 2003.
Macgowan, Kenneth. “The Film Director’s Contribution to the Screen.” College English. 12.6 (1951): 307-314.
“Men Who Hate Women.” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2011. Blu-Ray. Movie Staff. Moviestaff.com. Web. 9 March 2012.
Naremore, James. “Authorship and the Cultural Politics of Film Criticism.” Film Quarterly. 44.1 (1990): 14-23.
Naremore, James. On Kubrick. London: British Film Institute, 2007.
Parrill, William. Ridley Scott: A Critical Filmography. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. “Sarris Categories.” They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? Web. 9 March 2012.
Schickel, Richard, and Martin Scorsese. Conversations with Scorsese. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
Sellors, C. Paul. “Collective Authorship in Film.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65.3 (2007): 263-271.
Spadoni, Robert. “Geniuses of the Systems: Authorship and Evidence in Classical Hollywood Cinema.” Film History. 7.4 (1995): 362-385.
Tomasulo, Frank. “Theory to Practice: Integrating Cinema Theory and Film Production.” Cinema Journal. 36.3 (1997): 114-117.
Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
“Visual Effects Montage.” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer. Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2011. Blu-Ray.
Worland, Rick. “Before and after the Fact: Writing and Reading Hitchcock’s “Suspicion.” Cinema Journal. 41.4 (2002): 3-26.