The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys is a candid look at the creative process of one of the cinema’s most irreverent talents. Employing verite and interview footage gathered over a year of shooting in Philadelphia, Baltimore, London, and New York the documentary chronicles Terry Gilliam’s struggle to make what he calls “a European art film within the Hollywood system.”
The Hamster Factor captures the filmmaking process at its most dynamic—as the often tenuous combination of the director’s personal vision, the ensuing collaboration with the cast and crew, and the pressures of a marketplace economy. These facets are particularly well played out on a production directed by Gilliam – a director whose career has been burdened with studio battles and who openly embraces the film industry’s paradoxes by attempting to produce challenging and highly personal films within the Hollywood system.
Candid interviews with Gilliam throughout the course of production find the director grappling with these as well as other issues: his fears of selling out, his difficulties handling the celebrity status of lead actors Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, his attempt to honor the complexity of 12 Monkeys without losing the audience, and his effort to fight the market testing system which so often acknowledges mass appeal over creative merit.
While the “making of” genre is riddled with films which mystify the glamour of Hollywood feature filmmaking, we take as our precedents documentaries such as Eleanor Coppola’s Hearts of Darkness and Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams – films which show how the grandiosity of film production can often result in creative compromise and moral dilemma. Branching off from these films’ emphasis on the dynamics of the set, The Hamster Factor focuses on the rarely documented moments of pre- and post-production which we feel better characterize the blending of directorial vision, collaboration, and economics. Early meetings with Gilliam and his creative staff, as well as rehearsals with the lead actors trace the development of the film’s complex ideas; and in-depth coverage of editing room conversations, marketing meetings, test screenings, and premieres reveal the sometimes uncomfortable process of funneling these ideas into simple, salable commodities. —smart.co.uk