The Zero Theorem (2013) Poster


The name "Qohen Leth" references "Qoheleth" (sometimes transliterated as "Qohelethin" or "Koheleth"), the original Hebrew name (and presumed author) of Ecclesiastes--the Bible book that investigates the meaning of life.
In order to select the locations, Terry Gilliam used Google Earth: "I'd got most of the locations sorted out by using Google Earth before I first went to Romania. This is how we do location scouting these days."
There's a character named Bob, who also calls everyone Bob. A similar character appears in Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys (1995) as a voice that speaks to Bruce Willis' character.
The billboard for the Church of Batman the Redeemer has a QR code that when scanned decodes as "bat-man is the messiah".
The film's production budget used to be $20 million, when it was planned to shoot in London, UK. Later it was decided to move the production to Bucharest, Romania, and the movie finally could be made for only $8.5 million.
Cinematographer Nicola Pecorini decided to shoot on film rather than digitally: "Both Terry and I were convinced that the best way to capture the image was on film. It gives you the latitude; it gives you the greatest palette to work with." The 35mm negative was processed and digitized overnight by Kodak Cinelabs Romania located nearby in the center of Bucharest. Digital rushes were available to view in the morning.
According to director Terry Gilliam, Matt Damon and Ben Whishaw worked for scale just to be in this film, thus bringing the production in on schedule for a fraction of its original budget.
The "futuristic" little cars that make crossing the street difficult for Qohen Leth (near the beginning of the movie) are called "Twizy", made by Renault, and were released in 2011. The Renault Twizy is a completely electric car.
The shooting schedule comprised of 36 shooting days, which involved 28 days in the studio, and 8 days on-location using 9 different places. Pre-production in Bucharest officially began on Monday 13 August 2012. Principal photography began on Monday 22 October 2012 and ended on the 4th December 2012. The production shot for 37 days and only went one day over schedule.
In pre-production, Terry Gilliam suggested that his team should study the work of contemporary German painter Neo Rauch, whose surreal works contain a rich blend of colour. Production Designer David Warren recalled the initial instruction: "I remember getting an email from Terry: Neo Rauch plus Ukelele equals The Zero Theorem (2013). In fact Rauch's work was pinned up on the walls of the art department, and every time Terry used to come in, he asked 'Well, can you get Neo Rauch in?' I said,'I'm trying really hard mate!'" The inspiration from Rauch was indirect according to Gilliam: "His work has so many things crammed in - elements from different centuries, and different colours - that normally you would think were disconnected, and that aspect is here in the film. We mix styles: It's in the near future, but it's also very retro. There are parts that are very garish, and like Neo Rauch, they are shocking, yet quite wonderfully beautiful."
Academy Award-winning producer Nicolas Chartier already shot Charlie Countryman (2013) in Romania. According to Terry Gilliam: "It's the best, cheapest place in Europe to work right now."
The film was finished in a 16:9 aspect ratio instead of the usual 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 to ensure that it would look exactly the same on the screen of any device. Additionally, it has round edges on the frame corners like a vintage movie. Together this creates a very distinct-looking image, a unique mix of 'old' and 'new' aspect ratio designs.
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Director Terry Gilliam praised the creative costume designs by Carlo Poggioli: "Carlo has been amazing. And had it not been for Bucharest, we wouldn't have found the Chinese market, where he has been buying all his fabrics. The costumes are quite extraordinary: man-made fibres that are extraordinary looking, but painfully miserably to wear! We wanted to create this happy world, so with these mate rials we have colours, textures, reflectivity and transparency."
Many of the actors were on set for only a single day, Terry Gilliam remembered: "Tilda Swinton: one day; Ben Whishaw: one day; Peter Stormare... all three of them, one day. Matt Damon we had for four. I think David Thewlis was a week. Lucas, Christoph and Melanie were running through the whole thing. And that's really how we made it." [2014]
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Scriptwriter Pat Rushin and his wife Mary can be seen as extras in one scene set in a park. They're visible in the background, sitting on a park bench. Mary is reading a newspaper and Pat is writing on a briefcase. He's actually writing lines for the scrolling "Mancom Motivational" messages seen throughout the film. The scene was shot in the Carol Park in Bucharest, Romania.
The virtual reality beach scenes that Bainsley created for Qohen are reminiscent of the classic film From Here to Eternity (1953).
Many were convinced that Robin Williams appears on one of the billboards at the beginning of the movie (at around 4 mins) as the spokesman for the Church of Batman the Redeemer, but Terry Gilliam has since said that it's definitely not him. It might instead be percussionist Ray Cooper who has worked with Gilliam before and has been mentioned as having been involved in The Zero Theorem.
Leth may refer to Lethe. In Greek mythology, Lethe is both a goddess of oblivion and a river of forgetfulness in Hades.
According to the Sunday Times, Bill Murray was offered a role but had to decline because of scheduling conflicts.
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In 2015 Christoph Waltz and Ben Whishaw were cast again in Spectre (2015). They both have the nickname "Q" in one of the films.
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The cast includes three Academy Award winners: Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton and Matt Damon. Lucas Hedges later got an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Manchester by the Sea (2016).
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Qohen has 2 nicknames in the film: Quinn (by Mr. Joby) and Q (by Bob). Rupert Friend, who appears on a billboard in the beginning of the movie, plays a character named (Peter) Quinn in Homeland (2011) and Ben Whishaw, one of the doctors, plays Q in Skyfall (2012).
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The ambulance in the street scene is a Barkas B 1000, built in East Germany 1961-1990. Common for East German cars, it was powered by a two-stroke engine.
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