Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s Lost in La Mancha began as a documentary about the filming of Terry Gilliam’s fiction flick The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The maverick Monty Python alumnus had finally secured the film’s US$32 million budget, after 10 years’ development and two false starts. His all-star cast included Vanessa Paradis, Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort as Don Quixote. What L.A.-based Fulton and Pepe ultimately captured was an ‘unmaking-of’ story, as one disaster after another destroyed Gilliam’s dream film. Notes Fulton, ‘We spent three months in Madrid covering eight weeks of pre-production, one week of actual production and three weeks of slow meltdown.’
Producer Lucy Darwin says Lost was never meant to be a ‘sanitized ‘making-of’ [film], but rather a warts-and-all documentary.’ But, no one could have predicted what the doc-makers witnessed – the unexpected discovery of a nato bombing range next to the film location, flash floods that changed the landscape and carried away expensive equipment, a sound stage that wasn’t soundproof and a double hernia that beset the leading man. Six days in, the Quixote production ground to a halt.
Although Gilliam’s cameras stopped rolling, Fulton and Pepe’s kept going. Says Pepe, ‘As the film was falling apart, we approached Terry and told him we felt uncomfortable shooting, that it seemed like we were exploiting his misery. He replied, ‘Someone’s got to get a film out of this mess, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be me, so it better be you. Keep shooting.” Gilliam even left on the wireless mic he had agreed to wear for the duration.
That Lost got made, says Darwin, reveals Gilliam’s trust in the filmmakers. Fulton and Pepe previously worked on The Hamster Factor, a doc about Gilliam’s film 12 Monkeys.
From the beginning, the doc-makers were committed to Lost, putting up their own cash to cover the first month of shooting while Darwin looked for investors. Says Pepe, ‘We decided to pay for our tickets, accommodations, living expenses, and tape stock with credit cards, bring whatever equipment we had, and shoot for one month. If Lucy still wasn’t having any luck by that time, we’d pack up and leave, but at least we wouldn’t have missed anything.’
After a month of impoverished production in Madrid, Darwin connected with Gerald and Jacqueline Curtis, of U.S.-based Eastcroft Productions, who agreed to finance most of the budget. Notes Fulton, ‘We were extremely lucky to work with investors who had the patience and
generosity not to interfere in the creative process. Even after it became clear that Terry’s film was headed quickly down the tubes, the Curtises held fast to their commitment to the project.’ Lost eventually cost just under $500,000.
Editing the 100-plus hours of raw footage wasn’t easy. ‘One of our biggest editorial challenges was understanding what would be the narrative image,’ Fulton recalls. ‘In earlier cuts, we foreshadowed the disaster and had a lot of characters telegraphing an impending sense of doom. But, our test audiences didn’t like the characterization of potential failure. They wanted to believe in the project, to feel Terry’s passion for it, before launching into a series of painful catastrophes. That was the big editorial lesson.’
Shot on DV, narrated by Jeff Bridges and blown-up to 35mm, Lost in La Mancha premiered at the 2002 Berlin Filmfest. It has since sold to the Independent Film Channel in the U.S. and Optimum Releasing in the U.K.