The fact that The Zero Theorem started production in Autumn
2012 was as a result of the tenacity and support of two film producers:
Dean Zanuck and Nicolas Chartier. I interviewed them both via email
in order to obtain material to complete the Production Notes. Here
are their comments in full about The Zero Theorem...
Producers Dean and Richard Zanuck pictured
Phil Stubbs: How - and when - did you first get hold of Pat
Dean Zanuck: In early 2002, my assistant Alicia Marotto at The Zanuck
Company was submitted the screenplay, read it and recommended it
to me. After reading it myself, I wanted to produce it.
Nicolas Chartier: Around four years ago, I got a call from CAA and
met with Dean Zanuck. He and his father Richard Zanuck had developed
Pat's script and wanted to do it with Terry Gilliam and Billy Bob
Thornton. Brazil is my favourite movie, so I was really excited
about working on a film which I thought was close to Brazil.
What was it about the script that seized your attention?
Dean Zanuck: Its originality grabbed me at first. That's one of
the qualities I look for in a script. Of course, a story doesn't
succeed based on this alone. Fortunately, underneath the unique
world presented in The Zero Theorem, there was a humanity
presented in the characters' (especially Qohen's) experiences that
touched on feelings/themes that we can all relate to. This is what
I connected to the most, and made me commit to the long journey
it takes to produce a film. Especially a film like The Zero Theorem
because it is so outside-of-the-box and the conventional genres
that studios/financiers are focused on.
Nicolas Chartier: I just loved the universe. I like movies which
create worlds. Terry has an amazing relentless imagination and I
thought he could make this a crazy movie about a guy waiting for
a phone call to tell him the meaning of his life.
Please could you summarise the process from your getting hold
of the script to the project's green light
Dean Zanuck: This was the first script Pat Rushin had ever written
and, while its bones were strong, it was also very raw in other
parts and needed development. My brother Harrison Zanuck and I had
Pat do a good many rewrites - perhaps a half dozen or more. The
script was being refined each time to something closer to our ultimate
liking. A handful of directors prior to Terry were attached over
the course of the ten-year development period and they too would
have ideas on the screenplay which Pat would then incorporate. At
one point about four years in, Ewan McGregor became interested,
but we couldn't get any traction with financiers at the time.
It would take a very special combination of elements to pull off
this film, and about five years ago we thought we had found it.
The script was submitted to Terry directly by my Dad (Richard D.
Zanuck) who had a very good relationship with Terry over their recent
years spent in London. Terry responded favorably to the script and
spoke to the writer about changes which were made. Billy Bob Thornton
expressed interest as did other actors for other roles. At the same
time, we connected with the perfect financier/producer Nicolas Chartier
from Voltage Pictures - who happens to be a huge Terry fan and one
of his favorite films is Brazil.
Budgets were drawn up for various locations, excitement was high
and then poof
momentum vanished and Terry went off and made
Dr Parnassus! Despite the let-down, I had faith that someday
the pieces would fall together perfectly again, and they did this
past summer. A wonderful confluence of events took place. Terry
became available after Quixote hit a snag, Nicolas (randomly
but at the same time) had a conversation about The Zero Theorem
with Terry's agent and I hadn't attached any new director to the
script. It all became about landing the perfect lead and once that
took place we would have a movie. Within a month Christoph Waltz
signed on and we were off to the races in Romania! After a long
ten-year spell, the film could not have come together any quicker.
First discussions were in June, by early August preproduction began
in Bucharest, and we started production in October.
Nicolas Chartier: We took it to Berlin to sell the international
rights, and we sold it in five days. Then I called Terry's agent
and learnt he wanted to rewrite Don Quixote and not direct
The Zero Theorem. Two years went by, then one day my partner
is on the phone with Terry's agent and I told him "ask her
what Terry's up to", she answered he wants to do The Zero
Theorem. We were in April 2012. I said we'd do it that year
and we did.
Second time around, I got the script in April 2012, talked to Terry
who wanted to shoot in 2012, we had about a month/two months to
cast it to be able to shoot it on time. We went to Christoph and
thank God Christoph said yes. Then we tried to cast Management,
and Terry emailed Matt Damon, who said yes three days later. That's
the great thing about Terry - actors want to work with him. He met
with Christoph on a Friday, and on Monday we sent two people to
Romania and started week one of preparation. Two weeks later Terry
and all his crew went into Romania. It went incredibly fast in 2012.
What do you admire about the work of Terry Gilliam?
Nicolas Chartier: I love the visuals. I love seeing a world being
created. The process on The Zero Theorem was like going back to
film school. I had an idea of what the movie looked like from reading
the script: it was going to be Brazil 2. And then as Terry
worked with Dave Warren and Nicola his cinematographer, I discovered
a different world being created, and one day when I talked to him,
he told me "I already did Brazil, I wanted to do a different
world". And it is. Brazil is bleak, this movie is colourful.
They're both great comedies, great science-fiction movies.
The Zero Theorem has also evolved, as it got made, into a
love story. When I first saw the film, that's what I recall, "oh
my God, it's now a love story", and a beautiful one. And casting
is something I must congratulate Terry for. We had a lot of actresses
who wanted the part of Bainsley, and Terry's casting director found
Melanie Thierry. I wanted a more well-known actress, but Terry was
convinced Melanie was the one. And when I see the movie I can't
believe how right he was. She's the revelation of the movie. She'll
have a big international career after this film.
What are your views on the vision that the cast and crew have delivered?
Dean Zanuck: Outstanding. You certainly expect a grand wonderful
vision and an exceptional cast when working with Terry - but given
our limited resources to make the film I had no idea what we would
be able to achieve. It became clear once amazing actor after amazing
actor came on board that we had a great ensemble. Once I stepped
onto the various stages we had built our sets on, I was blown away
at the size, scale and production value we had - simply extraordinary.
It all starts with Terry, one of the few genius filmmakers, supported
by tremendous contributions from his department heads - Nicola Pecorini,
Dave Warren, and Carlo Poggioli.
Nicolas Chartier: I love it, I think Nicola is extremely gifted
visually, and works on a short hand manner with Terry which is really
interesting to watch. My favourites remain Dave Warren and Carlo
Poggioli. Dave created a full world for The Zero Theorem,
from the cars, the trashcans, the virtual islands. I would love
to have Dave on every movie I do; he's incredible. A really fun
process was with Carlo, the costume designer. He kept saying with
a lot of humour how having no budget allowed him to create costumes
out of shower curtains.
It was my second film in Romania in 2012 and it was such a pleasure.
The crews are great. MediaPro has been really helpful to us, and
I really enjoyed working there. Everyone worked so much on a small
budget to make a great visually stunning unique movie.
More on The Zero Theorem from Dreams