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Lost in La Mancha

Year: 2002
Production Co: Quoxite Films
Director: Leith Fulton/Louis Pepe
Cast: Terry Gilliam, Johhny Depp, Jean Rochefort, Jeff Bridges
If you believe films or entertainment properties can be cursed (Poltergeist, Superman, The Searchers, etc), then here's history's most cursed director.

As narrator Jeff Bridges (who played the lead role in one of Gilliam's most mainstream films - The Fisher King) explains, Gilliam's always had a difficult time because of an expansive vision that befits the multimillion dollar budgets of Hollywood but an oddball storytelling sense that's more suited to the far cheaper productions of the arthouse circuit.

But even that disconnect isn't enough to explain the litany of bad luck that shut down production of his Johnny Depp-starring Don Quixote epic within merely weeks of the start of production.

Pre-production was nightmarish enough, giving gasping, desperate life to the plight of most filmmakers trying to co-ordinate high profile casts for costume fittings, rehearsals and the other demands before shooting starts.

The planets finally seem in alignment when veteran French actor Jean Rochefort, Depp and the other principals are present and raring to go, but the real tragedy strikes on day one and doesn't let up. Filming in a remote Spanish mountain range becomes the sort of stuff you couldn't make up for a movie.

The prostate trouble that flared up in Rochefort and threatened to keep him out of the movie strikes as soon as he gets on the horse, and the wince on his face from the pain is all too visible, causing a forty minute operation to get him off the horse and back to his trailer.

The crew has been warned that the location is adjacent to a rocket range belonging to the Spanish air force but that they'll only operate for an hour a day. So of course an F-16 buzzes the valleys nearby for hours on end, ruining any change of location sound.

Then a storm blows up, which means that any shots they've done early in the day in bright sunlight will have to be reshot or they'll have to abandon the afternoon's filming. While they debate the possibilities, the storm hits and floods wash everything away, the insurance company shutting everything down while they decide whether they're going to pay out for it.

Moving the shoot to another location just makes things worse, this time while 60 investors look on. It soon becomes apparent that, under doctors orders, Rocehfort is not coming back. So barely a fortnight in, the AD quits before he gets fired and one of the French producers intones to the camera crew 'Abandonded' when asked the status of the film.

The guys who made the movie were obviously there to capture material for the DVD release, and they must have been the only happy ones on the short-lived set, knowing the gods were writing their ticket while they rained all over everyone else.

We're used to movies going well because of the regularity with which they arrive on our screens despite featuring dogs, kids, external locations, etc. But for lessons one through ten in the role chance plays in filmmaking, this is essential viewing.

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