Making a Gorillaz movie
Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlett, and dialogue writer Cass Browne, talk about the progress of the Gorillaz movie, from aborted project to the newly-rejuvenated idea for Gorillaz' next move in their masterplan for world domination...

G-U: So let's begin at the beginning. It's been well documented that a Gorillaz film was initially planned as the next thing after the first album. We've never really heard fully, what was your vision for the first film?

Jamie Hewlett (JH): We wrote a whole script for it, it was brilliant!

Cass Browne (CB): It was about three scripts for it really, the whole process was really long.

G-U: You've mentioned the film the Great Rock N Roll Swindle when describing the movie before, was that how you planned it, quite disjointed and sketch-based?

JH: No, no it was a story. It was kind of a bit like the old tv series Quatermass with John Mills. It was like the end of time, brought about by the sickness of celebrity, starring Gorillaz.

CB: THere is a paraphrasing of that, in the book.

JH: We wrote this script, and nobody really liked it. And we went to Dreamworks and I think the moment came when this guy from Dreamworks said [adopts thick American accent] 'We love these Gorillaz, we've got a brilliant idea for your movie. It's kinda like the Wizard of Oz, with these characters.' And at that moment, all of us had totally lost interest. It's all about it being exciting, being inspired and excited. And we all just looked at each other and said, you know what, I'm not excited about this, I don't want to do it. As soon as you've got people like that involved. And as soon as you've got film companies involved. All the fun just drains away. And for us, it's got to be that we're enjoying it. So although we were pleased with what we'd written, we just thought fuck it, we're not going to do it. And the moment we mugged it all off, the very next moment we got all excited and Demon Days got started, and so we poured all of those ideas into Demon Days.

G-U: So how influenced is Demon Days by the film?

JH: We wrote the film in the interim between the albums, Damon was doing Think Tank and Blur. So we got started, but he never actually got around to writing songs for it because we scrapped the whole thing before it got to that stage.

CB: But in a roundabout kind of way, a lot of the ideas from the original script, which are really beautiful images, even though they weren't drawn at the time, a lot of the images did go into the backstory of what happened to the charactersthey went into some of the artwork for the new album. .Not the specifics, but the darkness, this kind of driven-by-ego thing, and, as Damon said, the world being trapped in an endless night. There was a little bit of that thematic thing that was taken into his music. But I know a lot of Demon Days came about from Damon's journey back through China.

JH: He travelled through Mongolia and saw some pretty hairy shit, which depressed the shit out of him. And that went into it. So I guess it was all the stuff that happened after the first album, the stuff that happened to all of us. The Noodle stuff [from her Phase Two backstory] was all in the film. too.

G-U: So after you ditched the film idea, how did we end up with Demon Days?

JH: We all agreed, I remember it was around at my house, we were having a late night drinking session and we all said 'this isn't happening, I'm not excited about this' and we all agreed, let's make another album. Let's do what's least expected of us. Let's repeat the same process, but do it better. Because everyone thought it was a gimmick. If you do it again, it's no longer a gimmick, and if it works then we've proved a point. And instantly, all of us got excited.

CB: I remember that one night. That specific conversation. Purely because Gorillaz, first time round, were so brilliant and innovative, that there was this sort of underlying resentment that it was these two smartarses getting away with it and being a bit flash with their talent, and being like 'we can sell this off the back of that, and now we've done that we'll do a film', you know? But doing it a second time that proves that it was a valuable and legitimate statement. It made it valid. Without the second album, the first album wouldn't be as valid as it is, I don't think.

JH: And as soon as we said that, I can remember, everyone's faces just lit up and suddenly that spark was back. That. excitement to do it. And so we started on that, and so we did Demon Days. But we've always wanted to do a film about it.

G-U: So the film will be Phase Three?

JH: Yeah. We've got this idea - and I'm not going to tell you the idea because we have to keep some secrets. But I had this idea when I was driving in my car one day, then I told Cass, and he made it better, then we talked about it more, and we finished up by making it really good. We told Damon about it, and we all got really excited about it. It's just a perfect idea. If we weren't excited about it, we'd stop it immediately, as there's nothing worse than being accused of flogging a dead horse. And the soundtrack will be the third album. Damon will do the soundtrack, which will be the soundtrack, which will be the third album.

G-U: So do you think it'll be more of a score as opposed to a collection of pop songs?

JH: Well it'll be Damon's take on a score...

CB: ... which will probably be a mix of Saturday Night Fever and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

JH: [laughs] yeah. That's a very good description of what it could be! We don't want to go through the whole record industry thing again because it's the whole process is so hateful...

G-U: So the word is that you've been working with Terry Gilliam. Can you tell us any more about that?

JH: The way it's worked out is that there's a guy called Ray Cooper, who's the guy who, with George Harrison, got Life Of Brian made. They set up Handmade Films to release Life Of Brian because nobody would touch the script.

CB: I think we all forget how brave a move that film was in the early 70's. It's now perfectly acceptable to ridicule Christianity, and to make these icons seem ridiculous. We're not even quite sure what role Ray's going to be playing in the making of the film, but it's just getting that texture in the picture there.

JH: So Ray Cooper has been working with the Python lot for years. And he's an old friend of Damon's father. So he used push Damon around in a pram! So we met up with Ray Cooper recently, we went to this grand classics film event where they get people to show their favourite movies, and Terry Gilliam was showing Dr.Strangelove. We met Terry there, we were introduced by Ray. But that wasn't the first time we'd been in touch with him, we'd been in touch with him years ago [to work on Gorillaz things] but he was always too busy.

CB: He actually wanted to work with us on the first film [the aborted Celebrity Harvest]. He was actually really up for it. But then the Brothers Grimm thing came up, and that was that really. He'd been trying to get that off the ground for years apparently, so he had to take that opportunity.

JH: So we met Terry. And he knows all about Gorillaz. And we just told him we'd like to talk to him about the possibility of making a film. We've always wanted to make a film, we just didn't want to go down the obvious route. So the way it's going with Terry is like this; we've been out with him on quite a few occasions. We sat down with him, explained the story, and he said he was really interested. Terry's got us working in the same way as he used to work when they were doing Monty Python. They used to meet once a week, have a really nice dinner, loads of nice wine, get really pissed, talk about loads of fun shit, then everyone would go away, write everything up and then we'd meet up and discuss it.

CB: See, that works for me so well! [laughs]

JH: That works for me too, actually! So we're doing that with him. And there's no contracts, there's no fuss. We're just talking, and it's fun, and more ideas spring up, and they go in there. We've already got the idea. Actually, he's one of my favoutite directors.

G-U: You've said that you want to make a very English film, what did you mean by that?

JH: What we'd like to do, is a Gorillaz film, but in England. An English animated film that's not Wallace and Gromit for a change. No disrespect to Wallace and Gromit, because I think it's great, but I think this country has just got so much to offer, and apart from what goes on in Asia and Europe, with the Ghibli films and stuff, the West, America, puts out the worst animated films I've ever seen in my life. And I can't bear another film about animals with human hangups who live in a barnyard or a back garden...

CB: One of the most exciting things about it for me is that it's an English film, it'll have English sensibilities. Christ man, in every single capacity, in every single form, - without being jingoistic - this great cynicism and there's this kind of soul to it, and why isn't there a film that has that? There's a big wide gap for that kind of English animated film.

JH: There's a reason why we always use that quote 'Yellow Submarine crossed between The Great Rock N Roll Swindle' because Yellow Submarine was probably the last great English animated film. And if you watch it today, it's still great.

CB: It's these oddities, these strange things. Things that stick in your head when you're growing up. It's not going to be Ice Age, man. These films like Yellow Submarine have millions of little mistakes, millions of little split wires that don't quite work. And that links back to Monty Python and Terry Gilliam films - one of the best things about them is that the scripts aren't razor-sharp, all these off little interludes come up that don't quite work. Like Mr. Creosote [character from Monty Python's film 'The Meaning Of Life'] - that's an image that will stay with you forever.

JH: That's got to be *the* most quotable sketch of all time. "Fuck off I'm full" "Waafer thin mint" "I couldn't eat another thing". Brilliant. There wouldn't be the Fast Show without things like that. I watched Time Bandits the other night with my kids. And it's all brilliant. That's what, 1980? And it's still up there.

CB: It's the imagery. Like when that guy's pushing that wardrobe down that hall.

JH: It's the ideas. That's what there's a lack of. Good ideas. It's so easy to dress stuff up, churn out another CG animated film [affects US accent] 'with the voices of Tom Hanks! and Bruces Willis!'

CB: We can spoof that kind of thing with the Gorillaz film. Have someone say '..with the voice of Tom Hanks' and then Murdoc will come along and say 'Get out!'. Literally, they'll have about half a word before he's off. 'This is my film!'

G-U: So how long might it all take?

JH: Well we want to get the script done by the beginning of next year, the end of February. Then it depends on how many people you employ to animate it.

G-U: And some filmed footage in there, or just animation?

JH: It'll be fully animated. Traditonally animated.

G-U: Can you say anything more about the story?

JH: What we can say is that's not about Gorillaz, the story, at all. It's a completely different story. But they're acting in it. Like Bowie did in The Man Who Fell To Earth, or Mick Jagger did in Ned Kelly. So it's them as actors now.

CB: Doing it that way is better. With the first film, there was this element of how to shoehorn in the fact that they're four guys in a band, that's animated, so the film has to be about an animated band. I think that really would have been gimmicky, that really is like a Jose And The Pussycats type thing. I think the idea of having them as actors proves the main point of Gorillaz, which is that these guys are the best celebrities on the planet. They're the most stylish entities out there. They're so cool that they're even appearing in their own film. And of course there's massive potential for all the supporting stuff too, them doing interviews about being actors, etc

JH: Murdoc on the cover of Time, or Total Film, or Premiere, in his Top Gun flight jacket! The whole thing of them being actors is what excited us about it. 2D's going to do an Eddie Murphy and play six different parts...

CB: ... really badly!...

JH: ... with prosthetics on, so he'll be the fat mama, and he'll be other characters... but his acting will sound the same for each character! [laughs] He'll be a rubbish actor. So that's where we are with the film.

G-U: Might this be the last Phase for Gorillaz?

JH: Well we've got one more idea for now, that being the film. Then we'll see, in the future. See what ideas we have. There are other things to do. Me and Cass have written a few things together now, other ideas for films and tv shows and it's all just sitting on shelves, so there are other things to do, other than Gorillaz. But we think this film idea could work, and we're going to go forward with it.