Inventing The Zero Theorem
Pat Rushin, who wrote the script for The Zero Theorem, talk
| The history of The Zero Theorem can be traced back to 1999,
when university professor Pat Rushin wrote a short story entitled
The Call. Rushin showed it to a filmmaker friend, who suggested that
he turn it into a screenplay. Rushin completed the script and submitted
it to Project Greenlight, a television series that Matt Damon and
Ben Affleck produced. It made the top 250, and then the script ended
up with Alicia Marotto at the Zanuck Company. She took it to Dean
Zanuck, who guided the script to its production at the end of 2012.
Rushin teaches creative writing in the English Department at the
University of Central Florida in Orlando. He has earned degrees from
the University of Dayton (1976), the Ohio State University (1979),
and the Johns Hopkins University (1982). His book of short stories,
Puzzling Through the News, was published by Galileo Press, and his
stories have appeared in various literary magazines. His short story
Speed of Light was made into a short film, called No Ordinary Sun,
in 2004. The Zero Theorem is Rushin's first feature film script to
Pat Rushin on set in Carol Park in Bucharest
Phil Stubbs: What is your role at University of Central Florida,
and what are its benefits and enjoyments?
Pat Rushin: I teach creative writing in the English Department at
UCF - have done so for the past 30 years - and for the past 15 years
or so, I've taught a lot of online classes. So, like Qohen Leth, I
sit in front of a computer screen much of the day "crunching
entities". The benefits? I'm my own boss. I say when and how
I work. Although I have a bunch of bosses a.k.a. students who don't
let me rest long between classes. The enjoyments? I get to read and
write all the livelong day. Pure bliss for me. 35 years ago I was
a factory worker who didn't even know how to spell professor properly.
Now I are one. Um, that's a joke, I hope.
What influences or experiences did you draw on when imagining
The Zero Theorem was inspired by a novella I wrote called The
Call, and that novella was inspired by the Book of Ecclesiastes,
which is the lament of a man who has lived a full and otherwise satisfying
life wondering what it all means if this is all there is, if there
is no afterlife. I attempted to adapt that novella into a screenplay,
but the screenplay form took me far afield from where I'd started.
When Terry Gilliam got involved in the project, I'd already gone through
six or seven major rewrites of the script for the Zanuck Company.
Terry asked to see the first draft of the script, and he also read
the novella. He said to me, "Pat, Hollywood has a way of taking
a good story and fucking it up." I will forever love Terry for
that attitude. He read that early draft, because of course I didn't
show him the FIRST, which was absolute shit, I showed him the first
rewrite I'd done for the Zanucks, and he suddenly had us working on
a concordance of the most recent draft with that early draft. I was
absolutely thrilled. We were cherry-picking the best parts from both
Can you describe the process of how your script was amended prior
I seem to be anticipating your questions in my previous answers.
The process was pure joy for me. Pure joy. Who wouldn't want to
have Terry Gilliam taking your story seriously? As I said, Terry
and I came up with a concordance of early draft and late draft.
That in itself was a joy I can't describe. I mean. I'd already rewritten
this thing how many times? But suddenly I was working with a kindred
spirit, not to mention a hero, who understood my ideas and presented
his own and treated me with absolute respect. It felt so good knowing
this was a Terry Gilliam movie. That was initially. Then Terry really
got into it. Picturing it. A party scene I wrote that was simply:
INT. PARTY - NIGHT
became this wild and thematically significant PARTY I'd never imagined.
I was there for the shooting of it, all these ear-budded people
dancing to their i-pods and i-pads, David Thewlis in a Tigger costume,
Melanie Thierry striking up a fake cigarette and blowing fake smoke
in Qohen's face
So, so sweet. The dialogue remains the same
as I wrote it. The action improves. Terry Gilliam, as you might
have suspected, is a fucking genius.
How did it feel to see your ideas solidly constructed?
Good. Better than good. As I said, Terry made this script his
own, but he always asked me first, gave me fair warning. Is this
OK? He's a real gentleman.
Can you describe your experiences on the set and appearing in
When I showed up Monday morning for the park scene, Terry took
one look at me and said, "Get this man to wardrobe!" He
did the same with my wife, and we ended up working two days as extras,
walking around in the background, sitting on a park bench in the background.
Terry said that as long as I was sitting, I might as well do some
writing. He needed some messages that Mancom would scroll across the
screens at the work stations - Mancom Motivationals we called them.
Things like "Pedal harder! Unemployment's catching up with you!"
So in the only scene where my wife and I survived the cutting room
floor, you can see us sitting in the background, Mary reading London's
Future News and me, briefcase propped on my lap, writing Mancom
Motivationals. I think Terry liked the postmodern irony of the writer
actually writing on film.
What are your views of the completed picture?
Actually, I think it's pretty brilliant. Everyone in the world
should see it.
Has your success with this script changed anything for you at
People have been taking notice. I've been interviewed by several
papers here, as well as the alumni magazine, and we recently had a
screening of Zip-T here on campus for the Florida Writers Conference,
where I got to do a Q&A after the movie. The recognition is nice,
but I think I need to get busy on the next script!
Pat Rushin with his wife Mary
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