Posts tagged ‘Terry Gilliam’

Press Release for The 7th Python – Part 1

Here is our first Press Release for The 7th Python:

BOOK LAUNCH

THE EPIC STORY OF A FILM PRODUCER, BRITAIN’S BEST-LOVED COMEDY TROUPE, A CLASSIC COMEDY, AND HOW 40 YEARS ON THEY CLASHED IN A TRAGI-COMEDY OF BONE-BREAKING GREED, AND HEART-BREAKING DESPAIR.

STARRING MR JUSTICE NORRIS, THE LORD OF INJUSTICE, MONTY PYTHON AND MARK FORSTATER, FALSELY YCLEPT A TWAT.

LITERARY EDITORS SHOULD KNOW YCLEPT IS OLD ENGLISH FOR ‘CALLED’. SEE THE PRODUCER’S TALE DIRECTED BY GEOFFREY CHAUCER.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a comedy classic. Consistently voted in the top ten of all comedy films, it is the most profitable independent film ever made in the UK and has achieved worldwide box office success. Forty years on it is still screened.

The young man who produced the film was Mark Forstater, an American from Philadelphia who shared an apartment in New York with Terry Gilliam, before coming to England in the mid-Sixties to study at film school. Forstater liked the country so much he decided to stay and has been living and working here ever since.

The 7th Python (A Twat’s Tale) tells the story of the ups and downs in the making of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It lifts the visor off the sometimes brilliantly creative, sometimes fractious relationships between the Pythons. They were comedy icons but they were also, cue cliché, human with all too human frailties, which Forstater describes sans cliché.

Everything was fine, rosy and profitable until Eric Idle came up with the idea for Spamalot, a stage musical based on the film. Spamalot became a smash hit. As producer of the original film, Forstater was entitled to a percentage of the profits from the film and its spin-offs. But then his share of the royalties was arbitrarily slashed. Did anyone consult the ‘twat’? No, though for 30 years and more Forstater had received his agreed share.

Forstater tried to talk to the Pythons; he wrote to them; he tried to negotiate. But the mighty Python was stubborn as a goat. (Note to editors: mixed metaphors intentional.) So Forstater had to go to law which led to Eric Idle dubbing him a ‘twat’.

Forstater tells of his trials and tribulations before, during and after the trial. For seven long years, he tried to get the Pythons and their management to see reason, and for seven long years, he failed.

The final section of the book offers a lesson for those thinking of going to law. After endless writs, witness statements, witless statements, etc., the Pythons appear in court. The judge says the original agreement could have been drafted better. It ends moderately happily for Forstater – he wins – and very happily for the lawyers in that they all get their fees.

Forstater was sustained in this ordeal by his belief in the Tao. He is the author of The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga (with Jo Manuel), The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao, The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, The Spiritual Teachings of Seneca (with Victoria Radin), The Living Wisdom Of Socrates and with Rudolf Reder I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp (Psychology News).

A must-read for Python fans and anyone interested in comedy – and human frailty.

Press Inquiries to Nigel Passingham – mob.: 07795024272, email: nigelpas@live.com

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February 8, 2016 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Michael White and The Holy Grail

I’ve just been watching The Last Impresario on Imagine (BBC1), a film about Michael White, the theatre and film producer. Michael was the exec producer of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and he invested 50% of the budget. I liked Michael very much, and we worked well together. We eventually went on to do other things. such as a production of Woody Allen’s The Bluebird Of Unhappiness. He was incredibly helpful on the Holy Grail, because when we had a terrible preview of the film, Michael didn’t panic but helped to put up the additional money to redo the soundtrack. He was cool in the face of seeming disaster. Here is how I describe it in The 7Th Python:

The Disastrous First Screening

It was one of those evenings when Python flopped. – Terry Jones

Back in London, we worked hard to produce a cut of the film that we could show to the other Pythons and the investors.

The preview took place on October 1 1974 at the Hanover Grand Preview Theatre in central London. We had invited about 200 people, including most of the investors. This screening was one of the worst film experiences of my life.

Every screening has a certain mood that you can feel in the theatre, and the mood at the end of that screening was certainly pretty grim. People weren’t responding, they weren’t laughing the way they should have been. There was laughter at individual scenes, but no sustained build-up. The main problem was that the sound effects were too prominent. Because the comedy is quite slight, the jokes need to have a context in which they work, and if you overwhelm them with sound, they will just get drowned, which I think is what happened.

This was the first time that either of the two Terrys had ever done this kind of film sound mixing, so it’s very easy to try something which doesn’t work, and at that point it can all be thrown away, can all be redone. But someone who doesn’t know the technical side, might think looking at it, “God, this is it, and we’ve got to live with what we’re currently seeing,” which of course is not the case. A certain amount of inexperience may have led people to think it was a disaster which couldn’t be repaired.

Afterwards, there was a feeling of “This is a mess, what have we let ourselves in for?” I think there were people who probably felt the film was a lost cause. And it’s
very easy, when you’re in a position like this, to panic.

Eric Idle walked out halfway through the film; everyone else stayed to the bitter end. There was polite applause at the end. (Michael) White and (John ) Goldstone (executive producers) didn’t speak to the Pythons.

Here is how everyone remembered the event, in David Morgan’s book, Monty Python Speaks:

TERRY JONES: Terry G. had done the dub, and you know what it’s like when you’re making a film: you’ve got two or three sound editors working away for months and months building up wonderful, incredibly thick soundtracks. It started off everybody laughing at the beginning and then after a while just nothing; the whole film went through [with]
no laughter at all. And it was awful, I was sitting there saying, “It
just can’t be unfunny.”

JOHN GOLDSTONE: We’d already spent all the money by then and couldn’t quite go back to them and say, “Can you put up some more because we’d like to refinish it?” So we had to go to a bank and borrow money against personal guarantees to make up the difference.

TERRY JONES: So we went and redubbed it and as soon as anybody started talking I just took all the sound effects out, all the atmosphere, everything. I went through the entire film doing that, and that seemed to help, it was something about the soundtrack filling in all the pauses.

TERRY JONES: Neil Innes’ music sounded quaint, it didn’t have an epic
feel to it. And we’d run out of money by that time, so I went along
to De Wolfe Music Library in London and just took out piles and
piles of disks and just sat here at home trying out music to it, trying
to get something to work. So it felt like what you needed was really corny, heroic music.

NEIL INNES: The Arthurian themes were too thin with the instruments we had available- two French horns, two violins. Terry rang to say we can’t use the music because it’s just not strong enough. The 12 piece orchestra couldn’t cope with the 120 piece orchestral sound that the film required. Artistically it was a better solution to go to a library to get epic music. We would never have had the money to record that size score. I wasn’t that disappointed. I understood it. If it was my film I would have made the same choice.

We had some very heavy meetings over the next few days, a post mortem to see if we could bring this dead film back to life. Michael White was very supportive; he didn’t panic and I was glad that I had kept him involved in the production. In the end we remixed the film, bringing down the level of the sound effects to let the dialogue punch through, and added the mock heroic library music score. We knew there was a good film buried there, and if we went back and remixed it, we’d have a funny film. The next screening was very positive. Now we knew the film was very good, it was very funny, it was working well. I think everyone was very happy with it. So it was really night and day.

If the Pythons had not owned the film, the director (or directors) would probably have been replaced at that point, or at least told to stay out of the cutting room. But the structure I set up meant that even through a disaster, the two directors had the time (and we had to find the extra money) to let them correct their initial work.

Everyone benefited from the great success of the film, and thirty years is plenty of time for memories to blister and fade so that some of the Pythons seem to have had a bout of amnesia concerning who raised the money – and much else. The two Terrys, Graham and Michael all knew what my role had been, but Cleese and Idle had no involvement with the setting up of the film, so had no idea as to what I had done for them. This became a real problem when their management changed, and (their former manager) Anne Henshaw was no longer there to keep alive that memory.

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December 2, 2015 at 12:23 pm Leave a comment

Healing Python Wounds

I was interviewed today by Frances Hardy,a reporter from The Daily Mail. They want to print an in depth story about my Python case on Saturday.

I told Frances the history of my involvement with the Holy Grail film, and also the circumstances in which the Pythons and I parted company. I didn’t realise I would feel so sad after this interview, but it was clear that dredging up old and painful memories left its mark on me.

I had blamed myself for this break-up for many years, and of course regretted it, since the team went on to make two more films, and Terry Gilliam, who I was closest to, had become a feted director. I regretted not having been involved in those films, but the train had moved on.

When I realised that my dispute with the Python management over my royalties was not going to be resolved by negotiation or mediation, but that I would have to take my claim to court, it became clear to me that the preparation for the court case would force to me to open these old wounds and to examine them again.

During this period I met Terry Gilliam at a dinner and asked him what happened between the Pythons and me in 1975, when we went our separate ways. Terry said, “We were naïve.” What I took this to mean was that this was their first real film (as it was mine) and that they didn’t understand that if a producer delivers the goods – ie a successful film – that the arguments and dissensions that take place during production can often be creative, or at least may spur everyone on to do their utmost. They aren’t good reasons for ditching a producer who has helped make as successful a film as the Holy Grail. This was the naïve act of people who were not film business savvy.

Looking at the documentation disclosed for the trial, and hearing Terry’s opinion, I realised that there was no need to blame myself. It was my first big film, and I undoubtedly made a number of mistakes out of inexperience and innocence. I didn’t handle the problems that arose as well as I did later or would do now. But in their eyes – as artists and performers- this was enough to force a break.

Winning the case has been a great relief, but perhaps the most important outcome of the trial is that I now view the past in a different way. I don’t blame myself, and I’m pleased that the trial gave me the chance to clean out those old wounds and allow them to finally heal.

July 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm Leave a comment


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