Lost in La Mancha is a making-of turned documentary film directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe and released in 2002. Narration is provided by Jeff Bridges.
It chronicles director Terry Gilliam's disastrous first attempt at filming The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 2000. The project was a fantasy-adventure-comedy inspired by the Miguel de Cervantes novel The Ingenious Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha and was set to star Jean Rochefort as Don Quixote and Johnny Depp as Toby Grisoni.
It was shot with the purpose of being the film's making-of, but the failure in getting the movie made back then led it to be retitled Lost in la Mancha and to be released independently as a one-of-a-kind "unmaking-of" documentary.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote eventually resumed filming with a new cast in 2016 and was released in 2018, a testament to Terry Gilliam's sheer determination in finishing his passion project. A sequel to Lost in La Mancha, titled He dreamed of Giants, by the same directors and dealing with Gilliam's mindset and determination, was released in 2019.
Lost in La Mancha provides examples of the following tropes:
- Credits Gag: A "Coming soon" message was superimposed on the footage of the giants and put at the end of the documentary, maybe to twist the knife a bit further given how doomed the project seemed to be. The film would eventually come out... in 2018, although no one could predict that back in the day.
- Deleted Role: Vanessa Paradis originally played Dulcinea del Toboso, and some scenes with her were filmed. The role didn't make it to the 2018 movie.
- Finagle's Law: Think about everything that can go wrong during pre-production and on a movie set, and see it unfold before your eyes.
- Medium Blending: There are animated sections here and there at the beginning, which are made of animated storyboards to help visualize how Gilliam saw a scene and of Deranged Animation to explain Gilliam's situation in Hollywood.
- Movie-Making Mess: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is one of the most infamous examples of Troubled Production for the sheer amount of bad luck and unpreparedness involved. To wit:
- Filming was nearly cancelled due to production company shenanigans.
- In Madrid, Terry Gilliam wanted a sound stage and was given a "warehouse" (in his own words) with dreadful acoustics. It was anything but a sound stage.
- Jean Rochefort's arrival on set being delayed due to his prostate problems.
- The desert in which the crew filmed was a Spanish military training zone. F-16s of the Spanish Air Force flew over them constantly, which made sound recording impossible.
- An unexpected storm appeared over said desert, with rain then hail. And a resulting mud flood. And it was only the third day of filming. The dry and sunny desert Gilliam wanted for the film wasn't dry and sunny anymore.
- Jean Rochefort had a double spinal disc herniation, which made mounting the horse very difficult for him. He had to go back to France to see a doctor and underwent surgery, which delayed the filming of his scenes indefinitely. It was the final nail in the coffin of that version of the film.
- Johnny Depp dropping due to his loss of interest in the project and busy schedule.
- Endless insurance problems, especially with Jean Rochefort's health problems, which the crew tried to qualify as a case of "force majeure".
- The Narrator: Narration is provided by none other than Jeff Bridges.
- Tempting Fate: When the early production troubles start showing up, line producer José Luis Escolar states that he's sure that the The Man Who Killed Don Quixote still can't be a nightmare on the scale of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It ended up a much worse nightmare.