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Bringing Graham Chapman back to life

Ben Timlett of Bill and Ben Productions talks about two very different projects: the dark comedic animated autobiography of a late Python, and a family film about football legend Matt Busby.

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London-based Bill and Ben Productions certainly can’t be pigeonholed according to the company’s two offerings at Toronto: First, there’s the idiosyncratic (and somewhat rude) 3D animated anti-biopic  A Liar’s Autobiography – The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman playing as a Special Presentation.

And in the market, Intandem is selling Theatre of Dreams, an earnest family film imagining Matt Busby as a mentor to young footballers.

Ben Timlett and Bill Jones of Bill and Ben direct Liar’s with Jeff Simpson (formerly of the BBC). Timlett and Jones (who is the son of Terry Jones) had already made an Emmy-nominated series about Monty Python, Monty Python: Almost The Truth. “We’d been wanting to do a Graham Chapman film for a while, and then we discovered the audio recordings through a meeting with David Sherlock [Chapman’s partner],” Timlett remembers. “Graham was a fascinating character… the basic idea was ‘How do we bring Graham back to life?’ We thought we could use his narration to build these scenes. That was a eureka moment.”

Don’t expect a straightforward narrative or biography. “It’s an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation,” Timlett says.

All the other Pythons except Eric Idle participated in the Chapman film, but Timlett notes it’s not a Python project. “There’s remarkably little Python in it,” he says. Even people who haven’t heard of Chapman might enjoy the dark comedy: “You don’t have to know who the hell he is, it’s the story of one man’s life told in an obscure, fascinating, wonderful way,” the co-director adds.

Timlett says the idea to involve multiple styles of animation “fit the style of writing, and keeps it interesting.” Fourteen different animation studios worked on the project, which took two years to pull together. “It was a mad, brave thing to attempt,” Timlett admits now, especially in 3D.

As for Theatre of Dreams, that family film (with backers including Dignity Film Finance) is directed by David Scheinmann. A fictional tale set in the 1980s, the story imagines Manchester United football manager Matt Busby (still haunted by the plane crash of 1958) helping a group of wayward boys to become a dream team. Brian Cox plays Busby and the cast also includes Natascha McElhone, Toby Stephens, Anne Reid and newcomer Jack Smith.

Timlett seems some common ground between the films despite the stylistic differences – “It is weirdly similar, a lot of taking historical characters and putting them in a fictional environment.”

The company is also developing a fictional TV series set against the world of Handmade Films in the UK.

A Liar’s Autobiography, sold by SC Films, starts screening today. The trailer can be viewed here.

 

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