EXCLUSIVE: While I was exiting a panel at Comic-Con in San Diego last month, a voice over the loudspeaker in Hall H said there was going to be a surprise look at The Zero Theorem, the new film by Terry Gilliam. After a conspiratorial intro in which Gilliam said he’d been kidnapped and laid out the plot, he proceeded to show the first 10 minutes of his movie. It introduced a brightly colored, high-tech futuristic world and a hairless protagonist (Christoph Waltz) who wants only to be away from the bombardment of messages and find a purpose in this noisy world. David Thewlis, newcomer Melanie Thierry also star, and Matt Damon’s in the movie too. The images were textbook Gilliam, but the circumstances were highly unusual. Film distributors usually lobby to get Hall H space at the Con; this film was financed by Voltage’s Nicolas Chartier after Gilliam failed yet another attempt to make his film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. A distributor probably won’t be in place until after the film premieres at Venice. Gilliam and cohorts arranged Comic-Con with a phone call: Whether for his Monty Python artistry, 12 Monkeys, Time Bandits or Brazil, Gilliam is an icon to the geek crowd. Intrigued, I seized the chance to talk with him about the film. Gilliam is no stranger to struggling with studios and budgets (The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, for instance), but he finds today’s Hollywood summer film gambles to be dizzying. And at a time when production and marketing costs have hit unimaginable heights, Gilliam made The Zero Theorem for closer to what he spent directing Monty Python And The Holy Grail back in 1975 than the going price of a blockbuster these days.

DEADLINE: That 10minutes of The Zero Theorem you showed at Comic-Con established a world where the protagonist is assaulted by advertising messages that speak directly to him. Aren’t we already being assaulted that way?
GILLIAM: It’s a pain in the ass, all this technology. It’s all around you. In some ways, it’s good. Just yesterday, we were doing work — people in several different countries, working on the same project at the same time, communicating with others. That intrigues me.

DEADLINE: It also plays well into the totalitarian themes you’ve occasionally explored. Brazil seems like old-school repression compared to what is possible in a tech world where you can’t hide.
GILLIAM: That obsesses me of late. How can you be alone? I have a house in Italy; we’re up on a hilltop. There is no phone, no television and no Internet. We have to drive down to the local village and go to the local bar, which has Wi-Fi, to look at email. I prefer this, but when making films, this technology couldn’t be better for us. It makes life simpler, makes it possible for a guy who is a good matte painter to not have to be in the office next to me. He can do it in his log cabin in Oregon. But the other side is having the NSA keeping tabs on everything you do. And there’s Amazon, constantly suggesting to me all the things I need to buy. Fuck off! (more…)