Interview With Theresa Shell From The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus Support Site

I managed to stop Theresa Shell, curator of The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus Support Site for a while and had a lovely chat. Below is the result.

BRWC: How did it all start for you? How did we get to the support website for Dr. Parnassus?

Theresa: I’m a screenwriter and producer of indies myself and my daughter is an actor and when I started reading in March about the issues with US distribution, I knew that a lot of it was that the global public didn’t know the movie existed. How can fans want to see a movie if they don’t know it exists? So I decided that we had to let them know this amazing film existed. I deal with the same thing with my own projects. If you don’t have a big studio behind you then you have to take the laboring oar. People tended to think it was just the US who didn’t know about the movie but it was the globe. I’m proactive by nature so I thought, well, then let’s just get it out there. This is too important to not tell people. This is going to be an incredible picture. They still don’t know in a great deal of the world. We have to tell them.

BRWC: Distribution seem to be one of the recurring problems filmmakers face, even more so for Gilliam. How do you overcome that? The website is helping big time… Is the United States the problem? The UK and most of Europe seem more interested in this film. Is that an unfair thing to say?

Theresa: Distribution is a problem for any small independent film. Even one with a stellar cast. In this economy it’s even worse. Distributors are leaning toward the big budget, cookie cutter films that they keep regurgitating by the fistful and because of this the landscape is changing for all special-division and small indie films. It’s terrible. If we do not speak up now and change this then we may not have these amazing films to share with generations to come. There would be no Slumdog Millionaires, no Brokeback Mountains, No Capotes. That is a tragedy beyond measure in my book. A lot of people think the US has been the big sticking point with this movie, but that’s not the case. Terry told our site in an interview just last Friday that they made the decision not to wait for America but to concentrate on Europe. America will have to catch up, but it did not stop or slow them down.

Is US distribution important. ABSOLUTELY. We’re talking almost half of the world’s film market being the US. But more importantly than that is the US citizens want the opportunity to see this film. Not in only big cities and tiny arthouse theaters. They want to see it all over the USA. Europe and Australia are onboard with the film, but only in the last couple of months really. Since Lionsgate and Hoyts started announcing dates and promoting the film. As a whole the global population is still very much in the dark as to its existence.

BRWC: Terry is an awesome, world renowned filmmaker, responsible for some wonderful movies, The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, Brazil, Tideland… I would have thought his name attached as director would be enough. And you mention the credit crunch, that should be another reason for the studios to embrace Gilliam’s latest. Or is he unlucky/cursed!?

Theresa: LOL, I knew this question was coming. I’m smiling. I think this “unlucky or cursed” thing folks have tagged on to Terry is just not true. Everyone has rough times in life, all of us, it’s just that Terry or any “celebrity” lives their lives in the public eye and with society talking about so many things on the internet, they tend to only talk about the sensational things and not the normal everyday things that go right in these people’s lives. They don’t find the normal things as exciting as the things that go wrong. So no I don’t think he’s unlucky or cursed. As for distribution being connected to his being a world renowned director, that’s the way the business is in this economy. For instance one would think that with a cast of Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger, Colin Farrell, Jude Law and the great Christopher Plummer, distribution would be a given. It’s just not. A good example of that was Johnny Depp’s The Libertine. FABULOUS movie. One of his best. The movie almost didn’t get seen. The distributors want the most $$ for the least investment. Who made the movie or the cast has a lot less bearing on it than the public realizes. If they can continue to feed the audience the same diet of the same movies and make mega bucks off it. They will. The public isn’t stupid though. They are tiring of it.

If I may say one more thing on that. The distributors/studios take on what they consider wise usage of their funds (in this economy) escapes me. Instead of investing reasonable in amazing films like Dr. Parnassus, they will spend obscene amounts of money to make and promote a movie that turns out to be a disaster. Then when called on the carpet by it by the public, cry economic hard times as being the reason they cannot support truly creative, artistic film.

BRWC: The whole studio those baffles me sometimes. They let pointless people like Michael Bay run riot on film, yet films like this one and even Tideland are neglected. Tideland I liked a lot. I had to wait until it release on DVD. Did you think it needed a site like yours?

Theresa: The whole Tideland distribution debacle makes me sad. What a great film. It is pure theater at its best. I do think that it could have used a place to bring it to the public. I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to who never even knew there was such a film. I wish someone could please explain to me how you can call any project a failure when it has never been given appropriate exposure to the public. It’s ridiculous. Tideland is brilliant.

I echo Terry’s feelings that the audience isn’t as dumb as the studios/distributors treat them. It’s just that they are given no choice. They need to quit dumbing down their audiences with mush. Give them a substantial meal and they will grow stronger and be challenged and attend movies more and with more enthusiasm. The audiences tend to become lethargic from lack of proper creative nourishment.

BRWC: Tideland is wonderful. Most of his films are. Any there any of Gilliam’s work you particularly lean to? Which one have you seen the most and why? I didn’t like The Brothers Grimm by the way!

Theresa: Ha, ha, I loved The Brothers Grimm. Loved it. My grandchildren watch it and are totally mesmerized by it. They adore it. I would have to say The Fisher King is my favorite. It just touches my heart so much. I love the film.

In a film, I look for something that really affects me, either with humor, poignancy, anger, fantasy. I don’t want to see guns and getting blown up and that kind of tragedy simply because I can watch that every day of the week on CNN. It’s part of the very sad state of our world. I want something that makes me feel. That transports me. I feel like Grimm would have played much better with audiences, had it not been fooled with by those in control of the film’s destiny.

BRWC: So you’re not a fan of Brazil then?! It’s dystopia isn’t it? I think it’s my favorite of his work so far.

Theresa: Not a huge fan of it, however, I don’t dislike it. It’s just not my favorite. Now Parnassus! That one’s completely down my alley. I can’t wait for people to get a load of this film. I don’t think they have a clue how glorious it is going to be.

BRWC: Me too! Are you privy to more than the rest of us? Are you in contact with Terry at all? He does read the site… What does he think of the support site? If he walked in now, what would you ask him?

Theresa: Am I privy to more than the rest of you. Maybe just a little, LOL. I’ve read the screenplay and seen clips. I have friends in the industry who have seen the film and can’t stop talking about it. I love the screenplay. It’s very exciting, funny, heartwarming. I mean every emotion you can imagine. I’m not an expert by any means, I’m a fan, but I think we have something truly amazing on our hands. Pure, unadulterated Gilliam at his best. The site is completely unofficial. It’s by fans for fans. I do talk to Terry from time to time and he has been incredibly supportive of us. He’s a lovely man. So brilliant. So funny. So normal, lol. He held an hour long live online chat with our members and visitors after Comic-Con (I’ve got the transcript on the site) and he has judged a fan video contest for us. He has been so kind as to mention our site at Munich and at the BFI event and told Phil Stubbs that he comes to our site to find out what’s going on with his movie. That meant so much to me. But as far as “knowing” him, no I don’t though I do have the honor of speaking with him from time to time.

BRWC: How are the people who come to your site? Generally all nice? Have anyone given you anything of interest? Any gossip/rumours? Give BRWC an exclusive!

Theresa: Nothing short of amazing. They are just the most amazing people you could hope for. They awe me. I have received some information from some fans, however, I’m afraid we don’t do the gossip thing. Sorry, guys. I never print anything I can’t back up because I feel like you guys are depending on me for facts. Lord knows, there are rumors in abundance on the internet, what is in short supply is dependable information. Wish I could help you.

BRWC: What’s the most stupid, untrue rumour you have heard about the film, or Terry?

Theresa: To me, the most untrue rumor I’ve heard, has been that the US didn’t want to distribute the film. Many don’t know that Sony Classics was far from the only distributor in the game to distribute this movie. They wanted to announce the distribution deal at Comic-Con, but Samuel Hadaida, whom I think is just amazing, is so meticulous with contracts that he just wants to be sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed before the announcement. There is great enthusiasm for the film, but when the media doesn’t hear what they want to hear when they want to hear it they tend to spin it as something’s got to be wrong. Then the public reads it and believes it because they trust their media sources. It’s quite sad. But that has got to be the most untrue rumor.

Now as far as the type of distribution it gets in the US, that remains to be seen and will depend tremendously on the fans participation and appropriate publicity which is a weak point with Sony Classics

We need to be sure this film gets out of Los Angeles and NYC and gets into cities and towns all over the US. This is true of all other countries too. Distribution does not guarantee you’re going to see it in your home town. That’s the next step which is Exhibitors. The theaters owners. You can have distribution rights coming out your ears but if those exhibitors don’t buy your film to put in their theater, you’re out of luck. That’s where the audience comes in. They have to let these theater owners know they have an audience.

BRWC: What are you hoping for when the film’s released? What will you and the site do? Push for DVD/VOD?

Theresa: Wow! I have so many hopes for this movie and everyone involved. I am hoping that it will be shown in wide release around the world and that this world who deals with such sadness and hatred in their everyday lives will be given the opportunity to walk through the mirror into this beautifuly, funny, heartwarming fantasy. For us all to escape to that wonderful place that just amazes us. I hope it will be successful and that it and its cast will be appreciated for their contributions, not by awards, though they are wonderful, but by the appreciation of the audience, the public. This movie is such a labor of love for this cast and crew and Terry. I want them to be able to spread that generosity further to the world. As for DVD/VOD I definitely feel that it in its future, and I’m sure Sony will make a wonderful DVD available around the world. One thing I do know, lol, is there won’t be a director’s cut as Terry says he never does them. But you can count on it being something very very special.

BRWC: Ah director’s cuts… Are they a good idea? I always wonder if Terry would ever revisit Jabberwocky for example, or any of his films in 10,15,20 years from now.

Theresa: Good question. I think that people who are really into a specific film, that faction of the audience, adores them. But, at the same time I think a lot of the audience really don’t consider that when they purchase a DVD. I seriously don’t think Terry will revisit old completed projects. From everything he’s said of late when this type of thing comes up he gives me the impression he is quite looking forward to moving forward with new projects. I don’t know though. I guess anything is possible.

BRWC: What of his next projects are you looking forward to? Zero Theorem? I know nothing of this, expect Billy Bob is involved…

Theresa: I don’t have a preference actually, though I am so excited about Quixote. Terry has never failed to amaze me with his films, even when the film may not be one that is one of my favorites. His brilliance and imagination never disappoint. So, it’s very difficult for me to name a favorite. My daughter worked with Billy Bob in a film and says he’s just such a brilliant, natural actor. She really enjoyed working with him. Terry has scrapped his plans to do Zero Theorum however.

BRWC: Are they other filmmakers and films you love other than Terry? Anything that has stuck with you since you were a child?

Theresa: Oh Wow! Yes. Luke Davies’ Candy! I love this film. Love it. It’s brilliant. To Kill A Mocking Bird. I love the fabulous old Cecil B. DeMille films and absolute love Todd Haynes as a director as well. I’ve been on a personal mission over the last two years to see as many old classic films as I can and if I got into that list, I would drive you nuts, LOL. I also love Hitchcock. I think also that Catherine Hardwicke is going to be something special in the realm of directing. She’s got the most wonderful eye. That’s all I think.

BRWC: If someone who knew nothing about the site or indeed Terry’s work, what would they expect to get from clicking to you guys?

Theresa: Well, they would find us at our site or through our Twitter or lastly our facebook page. We are very active on the social networks to get the word out about the movie and are blessed that we have a good following on each. They would find out that we aren’t like most websites. We’re not just Terry Gilliam fans of Heath Ledger or Johnny Depp fans. We have been amalgamating sites for Terry, Johnny, Heath, Verne, Lily, Colin Farrell, everyone in the film. We carry all the current news and video for them

We also have a forum where fans can discuss topics about the stars, Terry, the movie, what’s going on with the film. We carry a total list of current release dates for all countries and update any date that changes and we Tweet them as well.

BRWC: How long has it been going for, it must take a lot of your time. Is their a team behind the site?

Theresa: We started in March with 10 members and right now are well on our way to over half a million hits since May. And hoping always for new members. We started the last week in March. I am the owner and administrator and I have a research admin, Jodelle, who helps me by gathering and organizing all our media (we have a gallery with over 300 pictures from the movie) and a head moderator for the forum. The members are very proactive though and we do numerous projects where everyone participates to spread the word around the internet. We are from every country you can imagine.

We have online brainstorming chats and set our course and each go about our assigned tasks from there. We have a global public awareness campaign in which fans from all over the world, including Terry, lol have sent in their photos holding signs telling the world about the movie and what country they are from. The Bulgarian Magazine BGFun dedicated their entire August issue to the site and campaign. And I’m proud to say that we are the only site Terry has recommended on his Twitter

BRWC: Do the member contribute in other ways? Have they sent you stuff? Any one involved in the film itself. An old friend of mine was involved in an ill fated documentary on the film’s making. Not sure if it will make the light of day. Hopefully we will see it. I also watched the vid from the awesome Brendon! It’s great to see people meeting the great man and giving your site the goods.

Theresa: I finance the site completely myself. Members give me the greatest donation of all and that is their time and participation. No more. Terry did donate drawings he did as prizes for our video contest. Other than than everyone’s incentive is their faith in this movie. Anything financial I take care of. We run no ads and generate no profit.

BRWC: Similar system we have here at BRWC. Just hard work and love. It’s great Terry loves your work enough to recommend it to his peers, that must mean a lot.

Theresa: Oh as for anyone at the movie giving anything, other than Terry’s drawings no. However, we did join the British Film Institute in a contest where together we gifted 5 winners with tickets to the Gilliam Season they are having throughout the month of August.

BRWC: Fingers crossed for you. I know your based in the US, but you have a lot of readers from all over, at moment a lot from Brazil! I’ve seen the photos! What is that about?

Theresa: It is totally our faith in this man, our love for great film and our faith in the cast. It’s also the fact that we think it’s time we made it clear that the audience wants this movie. We have chosen to speak up and we want to be heard. We fill those theater seats. We are international, yes. I love that, because we may have language barriers but we get on a translator and we communicate just fine. The Brazilians are just fabulous aren’t they. Such heart, such support we get from them. Their pictures are part of the ones from the worldwide global awareness campaign I mentioned about. How do you get the word out, you put yourself out there, and tell the world what you want, you tell the distributors and you tell the exhibitors and everyone. You stand up and speak. That’s what our photos are. We are putting a human face on the audience. We’re not some statistic, we are human beings. We’re showing them that.

We say it very clearly. Give us this movie in wide release around the world. You have an audience. Here we are, just waiting for it. You should go to our YouTube Channel and watch some of the videos they’ve made. They’re incredible.

BRWC: What sort of thing would we see on the YouTube channel?

Theresa: Oh my goodness, a little of everything. We have a lot of Terry’s old animations, interviews and other videos of the cast, interviews with Terry, festival footage, fan support videos, videos in support of US distribution. Some made with professional actors some with non-actors, montages, the High Definition trailer. You name it, it’s there. We have a channel and subchannel. It’s called Jodelle’s Imaginarium.

BRWC: Amazing, I’ll be looking later after this. The internet’s a powerful which could be used in different to support and promote film and its’ makers.

Theresa: I also have the HD movie clips on the main site. You can access them in the side bar along with HD photos and movie stills.

It’s been such a fun and gratifying experience. People have become so used to just accepting whatever the studios throw at them for movies and not being listened to. It needs to stop and we feel like this is the time to do that. We need to show them that we are here. It’s been such a joyful journey. Frustrating at times, but joyful

BRWC: You mention some frustration. What has that been? Any problems getting the support site up and running?

Theresa: The frustration is of course things like release dates or not seeing enough publicity for the film. Waiting for things to happen. We can’t sit and be angry that we don’t get to see the films we want to see if we don’t try to do something about it. We can’t be complacent, we have to make it happen. We can make it happen.

BRWC: I agree, and I love your site. Do you ever look at other sites, like Dreams? Sites like yours are there to promote this great man to more people. Do you ever talk to other sites, etc.?

Theresa: Oh Dreams is the mecca of Terry Gilliam sites and Phil Stubbs is one of my heroes. I’m very active on their forum and keep in touch with Phil. It’s a fantastic site. I keep a finger on the pulse of the movie on all kinds of sites and also keep very close touch with sites for all of the cast as well. We are in constant communication with a large group of sites, they contribute to our site and also carry links and information from our site. We have quite a network around the world of affiliates and links.

BRWC: Do you feel the publicity for the film will pick, especially when we get closer to the release date, whenever that is?! And what are your thoughts on the trailer?

Theresa: And for those of you out there who are interested, we are always looking for more members, member sites and affiliates to spread the word. We’d love to hear from you. I definitely feel as we get closer to TIFF and the kick off of release dates with the UK release of the film publicity will pick up. Lionsgate is doing a stellar job of promoting the film. Also I think we will see excellent promotion in France, Samuel Hadaida‘s home, and Australia is infamous for it’s excellent publicity for films and with Heath being their star, I think we will see wonderful things from Oz. Those people know how to promote a film. I think the US is going to be difficult. Sony Classics is known for under publicizing films. That is an area of concern. But I think with TIFF we’re really going to start seeing more.

As for the trailer – in a word – BREATHTAKING

BRWC: Have you thought about how your site will cover both TIFF and the film release?

Theresa: I’m already working with some of my folks to be at TIFF. We were at Munich, Terry joined us in an online chat the morning after he was at Comic-Con, we have someone going to Dragon*Con which he’ll be doing in Atlanta over Labor Day Weekend. We try to cover every event. We had someone at BFI as well. LOL, We’re everywhere, we’re everywhere! Or we try to be.

As for the film release in the UK, it is my great hope to have someone there, though I don’t know for sure at the moment. I’m doing my best on that one. Keep your fingers crossed for me. How about you? What are you doing that night?!

BRWC: I’ll see what I can do when it comes out! Theresa, you are gorgeous, wonderful and amazing. Thank you so much for your time.

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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