Terry Gilliam was asked to do a film class during the battle of this film at the University of Southern California. Terry agreed, and took advantage of the situation by preparing to bring an "audio visual aid", which was his cut of the film, which would have been allowed. Unfortunately, two days before the event, students advertised a free screening of the film. When he arrived, it was announced that Universal would not allow him to show the film. During his speech to the class, he was interrupted by studio executives' phone calls. They eventually allowed him to show a clip of the film. He showed the entire film, and repeated the screenings for over two weeks. It was during one of these screenings, that Los Angeles film critics saw the film, and awarded it the Best Picture of the Year award, which was responsible for getting the film released the way Gilliam wanted it.
Terry Gilliam and his crew were excited to have Robert De Niro on-board at first, but as time wore on, they found De Niro's need for "research", and obsession with details, increasingly irritating, with Gilliam saying that he "wanted to strangle him".
The myth behind the name of the film relates to Terry Gilliam being at a beach in the UK one day. Apparently the weather wasn't particularly great, but a man was sitting on the beach alone listening to the famous song (on a stereo) that we hear in the film. Gilliam was fascinated by the man sitting there despite all the "adversity", and this became the theme and name for the film.
During his trouble with the studio, Terry Gilliam asked Daily Variety for a full page ad, which cost around fifteen hundred dollars at the time. He had it bordered like a funeral invitation, and it said: "Dear Sid Sheinberg, when are you going to release my film? Signed: Terry Gilliam."
While most of the actors and actresses needed only two to three takes, Robert De Niro insisted on twenty-five to thirty takes for his character, and he still managed to forget his lines. His part was eventually filmed in two weeks, rather than the one week Terry Gilliam envisioned.
In the autumn of 1985, Terry Gilliam and Robert De Niro appeared on Good Morning America (1975) to promote this film which was finished, but not yet released. Gilliam was struggling with the studio and the studio head, Sid Sheinberg, quite publicly. De Niro rarely made television appearances, but agreed to help Gilliam out. According to Gilliam "Bobby (De Niro) said very little, he was talkative that day, so we might have gotten him to ten words." Host Joan Lunden asked Gilliam, "I hear you're having trouble with the studio, is this correct?" Gilliam responded with "No, I'm having trouble with Sid Sheinberg, here is an 8x10 photo of him", and showed the entire nation his photograph. Sheinberg was reportedly furious with this incident, and it helped Gilliam get the release of the film done the way he wanted.
An early title for this movie was "1984 and ½", an homage to Federico Fellini and 8½ (1963), but the film 1984 (1984) was released, and the idea was scrapped, as there would have been legal trouble with the George Orwell estate.
During the time when the studio was blocking the release of the film, and were re-editing it for the infamous "Love conquers all" version, copies of the Director's Cut were circulating on video around Hollywood. At one point, several critics began asking if a film that had been completed, but not released, could be eligible for a Best Picture Oscar. It's said that the potential embarrassment of this happening, forced the studio to release the original version, instead of their new one.
The odd little bubble-topped car that Sam (Jonathan Pryce) drives, is a three-wheeled, two-cycle, one cylinder Messerschmitt KR200 "Kabinroller" (covered scooter), built in Germany in the late 1950s until 1964.
This was River Phoenix's favorite movie, and he had been filming Dark Blood (2012) with Jonathan Pryce. As a gift, Pryce arranged for Phoenix to meet Terry Gilliam, his hero. The meeting was set to happen the day he died outside the Viper Room. Phoenix never met him.
Terry Gilliam was reported to have been rather unhappy with Kim Greist's performance, and as a result, many of her scenes were drastically cut or trimmed down. Some of these were added for the Sid Sheinberg "Love Conquers All" studio version.
Terry Gilliam tested more than half a dozen actresses to play the part of Jill, interviewing or testing Rosanna Arquette, Ellen Barkin, Jamie Lee Curtis, Rebecca De Mornay, Rae Dawn Chong, Kelly McGillis, Joanna Pacula, Kathleen Turner, and he even considered Madonna. Gilliam's personal favorite was Barkin, because he thought she had a great combination of sex appeal and toughness, that would work for the character. He stated later that while Kim Griest gave an excellent audition, and his close circle of friends and family advisors liked her, he mainly picked her for the role, because she had only one film credit to that date (C.H.U.D. (1984)), and this would enable her to create a truly original character for audiences, without any prior expectations. He also said that working with Griest, who was difficult on-set, and whose material had to be severely reduced to help the film, drove home that "experience really does count for something."
When Mr. Kurtzmann (Sir Ian Holm) discovers the cowboy movie playing on the computer monitors in the Records Department, the accompanying music is "Flying Messenger" by Oliver Armstrong, the same music used during Lancelot's attack on Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) which Terry Gilliam co-directed.
The dates, on Buttle's (Brian Miller's) paperwork, show he was received by the MOI on June 31, 1984. This would be another reference to it being called "1984 and a half", since it is half way through the year.
The dream scenes were initially meant to form just one long sequence in the middle of the film, but technical difficulties made this impossible. The most important part of the dream sequence was intended to be a scene where Sam flies over a field of eyes, which then start slowly moving to follow his descent on a pillar. The eyes were made of snooker balls with false irises added. The eye symbol is also seen in other Terry Gilliam films including Twelve Monkeys (1995). The decision was later made to split the remaining dream scenes to fill the "empty" spaces between chapters.
(At around twelve minutes) The poster which reads, "Information is the key to Prosperity / Ministry of Information", is a reference to a Soviet 1923 advertisement poster, "Rezinotrest", made by Vladimir Mayakovsky. The movie poster uses the same colors and style (half of the word "Prosperity" is green, half is red, similar to the word "Rezinotrest" on the original poster).
The technician who, right at the start of the film, swats the fly which falls into the printer, causing the fatal misprint, is Ray Cooper, the percussionist who, among other things, accompanied Sir Elton John on his famous Russian concerts in 1979.
The reference to form 27B/6, without which no work can be done by repairmen of the Department of Public Works, is a reference to George Orwell, who lived at Canonbury Square Apartment 27B, Floor 6, while writing parts of 1984.
Jonathan Pryce's role as Sam was written several years earlier with him in mind. The character was originally designed to be in his mid twenties (Pryce was only about thirty when Terry Gilliam was developing the script), but after many years in limbo, Gilliam changed the character's age to mid to late thirties, so that thirty-seven-year-old Pryce could still play the role.
Lots of significant names: - Mr. Kurtzman: (German for "short man"): small in stature and success. Named after the editor of "Help" (Harvey Kurtzman), a magazine, for which Terry Gilliam worked for in the mid 1960s. It was at a photo shoot for this magazine, that Gilliam met John Cleese, who would later invite him to join the Monty Python team. - Mr. Helpman: "helped" Sam - Mr. Warrenn: works in a rabbit-warren style place: a maze of corridors - Harvey Lime: possibly a reference to Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949).
Robert De Niro originally went uncredited, despite playing a major character, because he was under contract elsewhere. He took a role that he had not sought, and did it for free, because he really wanted to be in the film.
Although a huge new Paris apartment complex called Marne la Vallee provided the setting for Sam's Tower Block (De Niro leaps up on a balcony and disappears down a wire cable fourteen stories up), the little figure of Harry Tuttle zipping down a cable was an inch-high lead figure dropping along a wire through a two-foot-high building model.
Gilliam credits Tom Stoppard with the idea of having a dead beetle fall into the computer and cause the typographical mistake that leads to a man's death, and the entire sequence of events in the film.
During the opening scene, where you see the paperwork floor with all of the runners dropping and picking up receipts, there is actually only one row of typing stations. The actors and actresses just pass forward and backward along the same set of stations.
Robert De Niro, pulled in by Producer friend Arnon Milchan, as well as his love for Monty Python, was paid six hundred sixty thousand dollars for his two weeks out of the scheduled twenty-two weeks of shooting: three times what Jonathan Pryce received. Universal ponied up three hundred fifty thousand dollars, and 20th Century Fox paid two hundred fifty thousand dollars for his marketable name on the project.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Universal Executive Sid Sheinberg didn't want the film released, because he thought it was too pessimistic, the ending was downbeat, and it was not commercial enough for mainstream acceptance. Terry Gilliam refused to back down, and showed the film to several Los Angeles film critics. They declared it the best film of the year. Gilliam eventually won out, and Sheinberg, rather than face embarrassment at keeping such a lauded film from the public, gave in to Gilliam's demands. It's especially ironic, given the film's themes of an individual standing up to the system. The only difference is Lowry lost, and Gilliam won. The struggle is recounted in The Battle for Brazil: Terry Gilliam v. Universal Pictures, written by Jack Matthews in 1987.
Terry Gilliam had trouble with studio producers over the dark ending he wanted on the film. The producers wanted a "happy Hollywood" film, which eliminated (among other things) the final transition, and a critical line of dialogue, which reveals the tragic fate of Jill. These changes were made, and this "butchered" version was shown on U.S. television at least once. Gilliam threatened to disown the film, and consequently the cinematic release, and all videotape versions show the film essentially as he intended it to be seen (although the U.S. cinematic release still omitted the line about Jill).
When Harry (Robert De Niro) rescues Sam (Jonathan Pryce) from the Ministry of Information, as they escape through the lobby, the Security Police walk in unison down the stairs in a single rank firing their guns. Meanwhile, a vacuum cleaner rolls down the stairs ahead one step at a time. This is an homage to Battleship Potemkin (1925), and the massacre by the Cossacks of the people on the Odessa steps, while a baby carriage rolled unharmed down the steps in the midst of the ensuing carnage.
When Mr. Helpmann (Peter Vaughan) spells out the code that Sam's father used to get to Helpmann's floor on the elevator, the letters are ERE I AM JH. When you rearrange those letters it spells JEREMIAH, Sam's father's name.
The "Brazil" theme is heard several times within the film. When Sam types "Ere I am JH" into the secret elevator's control panel, it plays the first eight notes. This is also what he hums when he sends the refund check up the pneumatic tube at Mr. Kurtzmann's office. It is playing on the radio in his car, and Tuttle whistles in his flat.
Terry Gilliam admitted that the conclusion of the movie was the first idea that came to him. He asked himself what kind of story would have a man going insane as a happy ending. But he felt that in refusing to give in to an inhumane system, and going into a state where he cannot be further hurt via torture or death or anything else, was a redemptive victory after a cold, awful life for Sam Lowry.
The rails embedded in the walkway, out to the middle of the torture chamber, were actually functional, and were used to dolly the camera back and forth, seen when the camera rapidly pulls back from a close-up of Sam's head, to a wide shot of the chamber.
During the escape sequence towards the end, the S.W.A.T. team walks into the secretary's room, who is still typing what the person says during the torture, this person being Sam. This shows, before the reveal at the end, that Sam is still being tortured, and this is a hallucination induced by Sam's brain, to cope with the torture. The fact that the sequence is fake, becomes increasingly apparent throughout the sequence, allowing viewers to catch on, before the bleak truth is revealed.