As the Monty Python crew reunites on stage at the Tribeca Film Festival today, their most recent film – a comedy Absolutely Anything – is getting its final touches as it readies to find distribution in North America. Outside of documentary films, the Monty Python troupe have not worked on a feature film together in a film since 1983 when The Meaning Of Life debuted, said the producers of the latest comedy film in which John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam provide the voices for alien overlords in the film about a man and his dog.
Deadline got a sneak peak at an unfinished trailer for the film, which stars Simon Pegg and a dog (voiced by the late Robin Williams), and it is, as expected, very funny. The film just completed and they will be screening for studios in the next two to three weeks.
Deadline interviewed the producers of the film to coincide with the Tribeca roundtable today and what we found was an interesting path to the screen that heavily involved pre-sales based on Robin Williams’ commitment.
Thanks to Williams attaching himself to the project, the film got traction and GFM’s Guy Collins and Michael Ryan were able to pre-sell the project which made it possible to make the picture.
Absolutely Anything was directed by Terry Jones from a script by Gavin Scott (and Jones). The property was pre-sold in every territory but the U.S. and South Korea. “No one has seen it so far,” said executive producer Mike Medavoy. “But we are going to screen it for all the studios shortly.” The project began when Medavoy called Jones and asked him what he had next up his sleeve.
“Originally I had spoken to Terry because we had already done two films together, and I asked him, ‘do you have anything you want do or anything hiding in a closet that you’ve been wanting to do and haven’t done yet?’ Medavoy had done two previous films with Jones: Erik The Viking (1989) and before that, The Life Of Brian in 1979 which George Harrison helped to produce (yep, that George Harrison). That one was released by the old Orion Classics.
Jones mentioned Absolutely Anything to Medavoy. Co-scripted over two decades by Jones and Scott, Absolutely Anything follows a school teacher who is granted the power to conjure “absolutely anything” by a band of scheming aliens. When the teacher gives his dog the ability to speak, it unleashes a manic stream of conscious thoughts.
Next to the party were producer Bill Jones and Ben Timlett. “Ben and I did a documentary and Robin (Williams) we were at the Emmy Awards and he was sitting in front of us. So we stopped over and said hello and we told him Terry Jones had this project and Robin was very interested and so emails were swapped. He was our first big attachment for the project.” Medavoy, in the meantime in his previous roles as an executive at Orion and TriStar, had already done five movies with the comedian.
Next up, came GFM who took hold of it and started pre-selling. Germany and Russia sold first and that financed the film and then with a UK investment that came in, everyone kind of followed, noted Timlett.
Once the money was in place, the film was on its way. No one knew at the time but it was to be the last film the late great Robin Williams ever did. In fact, he died only three weeks after he completed the film. “This movie is really an ensemble,” said Medavoy. The Monty Python guys play the aliens and Robin plays the dog. Pegg, Rob Riggle, Joanna Lumley, Eddie Izzard, and finally, Kate Beckinsale portrays the love interest.
“Beckinsale and Pegg is the romance, but Pegg and Williams — actually the dog’s name is Mojo, but in the movie, it’s Dennis — we knew the key would be the relationship between Simon and the dog as there is kind of a bromance going on,” said executive producer Chris Chesser.
Robin embraced the role. After meeting with Jones and Timlett outside of San Francisco, Williams rang the producers. “I remember that we were getting into a cab at San Francisco airport after seeing Robin and he called and said, I got the character (for the dog) now. I’m supposed to be a 16-year-old boy,” said Bill Jones. “We ended up recording him three times for the voice of the dog, and we actually used all three versions, one of which was done on Skype.”
“We had Robin’s work in the can before principal photography took place. Later on, Robin insisted on coming in to do more,” said Chesser.
Added Medavoy: “Robin called me just weeks before, and I remember, because I was on the highway and he said he had another good idea. We said we gotta get him on the phone with Terry. He really got into a character that he liked and he did so with this one.”
Williams, who talked to Terry Jones about his idea, died three weeks later.
One of the interesting things in the film is how well it seems the director got the dog to look straight into Pegg’s eyes. Timlett explained the secret: “When we first introduced Mojo to Simon, they had to get their relationship going. So Simon had to wear a pair of glasses with sausage stuck to it so Mojo would look into his eyes.”
Timlett then asked Medavoy: “He got paid minimum wage right?”
“Yeah but gross from first dollar,” Medavoy deadpanned.
“And no biscuits from craft service,” cracked Chesser. “By the way, Bill had his third child in mid-production during the shoot.”
“And my wife called and said get home now!” said Jones. “It was a boy. We named him Monty.” Yes, seriously.