Terry Gilliam had been gearing up this summer for pre-production on "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" — a famously troubled film the director first started shooting a decade ago only to see it collapse — when what Gilliam calls a financial "hiccup" again interrupted work. That's when he got a call from the Arcade Fire, asking if he'd like to join the band on tour and direct a webcast of their concert at Madison Square Garden.
"I have to thank them for liberating me from weeks of depression," Gilliam laughed.
And so since late last week, Gilliam has been riding on the band's tour bus, checking out shows in support of their new album, The Suburbs, and figuring out exactly how he's going to capture their epic sound for computer screens. The effort is part of American Express' "Unstaged," a series of concerts by artists like Alicia Keys and John Legend streamed over the Web.
As he readies plans to film the Arcade show on Thursday (August 5), Gilliam gave MTV News a call to chat about his existential connection with the band, the difference between making movies and making music and why he's hoping not to inflict "too much Terry Gilliam" on the webcast.
MTV: It was surprising, in a very good way, to hear about an Arcade Fire/ Terry Gilliam collaboration. How'd the whole thing come together?
Gilliam: Less than two weeks ago, I got contacted by their manager asking if I'd be interested. There just happened to be a little gap in my life, and it's something I've never done, and I've been a fan of the band since Funeral. I thought, "Why not? Just leap off the edge of the cliff and see what happens."
MTV: Did they know that you were a fan or something?
Terry Gilliam: I don't know. It turned out that they like my stuff, and maybe the band and I will develop a relationship, so this really has become a meeting as opposed to anything else. I hate the fact that this word "directing" is being slammed all over the place. I'm not directing. I'm just hanging out with them. I'm just a really old groupie.
MTV: So if you wouldn't call it directing, what are you doing in preparation and then on the day of the show? Will you be in the control room calling for cameras?
Terry Gilliam: I'm still working it out, which is what is so wonderful. I've been with the band since Montreal on Friday night. I've seen three shows already. I'm just trying to work out what we're doing. The reason I'm so relaxed about it is that the show is so good that I don't have to do anything. You just point some cameras at it and it'll be great. The cameras and the team that does that are already in place. All I'm trying to do is make sure what they capture is true to what the band is doing. The band has got guys mixing their own cameras up on the screen and pulling in material that they've already assembled. When I saw that, I realized, "I don't have anything to do!" which is good, because they've got great stuff, and anything I might do is just unnecessary and may end up being too much Terry Gilliam.
MTV: There can never be too much Terry Gilliam!
Terry Gilliam: Oh, I've read the reviews. Come on!
MTV: So what have your conversations been like with Win Butler and the band as you hang out and get closer to the live stream?
Terry Gilliam: It's all about knowing who they are and how they see things. They come from the suburbs and I come from the suburbs. The music resonated as much with me as it does with contemporary suburban kids or kids trying to get out of the suburbs. There are those that stay behind in this kind of Middle Earth that is neither country nor city, neither good nor bad, but a place that if you're creative, you just need to get away from. You want to get where it's painful.
MTV: So are you just going to be kicking back having a beer on show night?
Terry Gilliam: I'm in the middle of it! I don't know what will happen! They said, "Just come along and we'll see what happens." In many ways, if we get on well, there's something in the future that can be more thought-out. When Win and I first talked on the phone, I said, "Win, when I make a movie, I'm a couple years in preparation so that when I get to shooting, it's so much a part of my being that I'm not even thinking about it. It's not like we're playing music and I'm at the piano and you come in with a guitar and we make a song." The whole thing is very relaxed and we'll see what else it leads to if I don't make too many mistakes.
MTV: Are you guys thinking about a more in-depth documentary?
Terry Gilliam: Those conversations are floating around with other people and I'm staying out of them and seeing where this leads. It's exploratory for us and for the band.
MTV: Have you gone back and looked at some classic concert documentaries?
Terry Gilliam: Nope! I don't watch concerts very often. I've been in a couple. I was in the "Concert for George." [Monty] Python was a big part of that. That was such a great night. The atmosphere was astonishing. When you see the DVD, it's fine for people that weren't there, but it was not what we experienced. That's the problem with DVDs and webcasts — it's just a fraction of the experience of being in the room. It's always difficult to capture that. That's why theater is theater. It's that moment and no other moment.
MTV: You sound so chilled out! I think it's great that you're just going with the flow on this whole thing.
Terry Gilliam: It's been so much fun. We've had a documentary camera running around following me when I'm talking to the band. I have no idea what that will end up being. When I work on a film, everything is so controlled. So the idea of someone with a camera, wiggling it around at us when we're talking, I'm hoping it might be liberating. Because I don't care!
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