Terry Gilliam was asked to do a film class during the filming of this movie 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 movie, which would have been allowed. Unfortunately, two days before the event, students advertised a free screening of the movie. When he arrived, it was announced that Universal Pictures would not allow him to show it. During his speech to the class, he was interrupted by studio executives' phone calls. They eventually allowed him to show a clip. He showed the entire movie, and repeated the screenings for over two weeks. It was during one of these screenings, that Los Angeles, California movie critics saw it, and awarded it the Best Picture of the Year award, which was responsible for getting it released the way Gilliam wanted it.
Robert De Niro wanted to play the role of Jack Lint, but Terry Gilliam had already promised this to Sir Michael Palin. De Niro still wanted to be in this movie, so he was cast as Harry Tuttle instead.
Writer and director 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 second in Terry Gilliam's "Trilogy of Imagination". The first was Time Bandits (1981), and the third was The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). All three movies are about escapes from an awkward, ordered society, seen through the eyes of a child, a man in his thirties, and an elderly man.
Despite the problems Terry Gilliam had directing Robert De Niro, De Niro said he had a wonderful time on the production and would gladly work with Gilliam again.
The myth behind the name of the movie relates to writer and director Terry Gilliam being at a beach in the U.K. 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 this movie. Gilliam was fascinated by the man sitting there, despite all of the "adversity", and this became the theme and name for this movie.
While most of the actors and actresses needed only two to three takes, Robert De Niro insisted on 25 to 30 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.
When the studio was blocking the release of this movie and was 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 movie 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.
In the autumn of 1985, Terry Gilliam and Robert De Niro appeared on Good Morning America (1975) to promote this movie, 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 movie done the way he wanted.
An early title for this movie was "1984 and ½", a clear reference to George Orwell's dystopian novel '1984' spoofed in this movie, and an homage to Federico Fellini and 8½ (1963). However, then 1984 (1984) was released, and the idea was scrapped, as there would have been legal trouble with the Orwell estate.
The creepy mask Sir Michael Palin wears was inspired by a similar mask director Terry Gilliam's mother gave him once.
During his trouble with the studio, Terry Gilliam asked Daily Variety for a full-page ad, which cost around $1500 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."
The samurai sequence was originally conceived to reflect Terry Gilliam's love for Akira Kurosawa movies.
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.
According to Terry Gilliam in the book "The Battle of Brazil: Terry Gilliam v. Universal Pictures in the Fight to the Final Cut", the toolbelt worn by Harry Tuttle, and all of its gadgets, were supplied by Robert De Niro.
Terry Gilliam credits Tom Stoppard with the idea of having a dead beetle fall into the computer, causing the typographical mistake that leads to a man's death and the entire sequence of events in the movie.
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 movie.
Almost all of the soundtrack music is a variation of the main melody song "Brazil".
The odd little bubble-topped car that Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) drives is a three-wheeled, two-cycle, one cylinder Messerschmitt KR200 "Kabinenroller" (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.
In preparation for the role, Robert De Niro witnessed neurologists performing brain surgery, because he likened his character's job to that of a brain surgeon.
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.
In 2013, Terry Gilliam called this the first installment of a dystopian satire trilogy it forms with 12 Monkeys (1995) and The Zero Theorem (2013).
When Mr. Helpmann (Peter Vaughan) spells out Sam's father's code 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.
According to Maxim magazine, Terry Gilliam was reportedly so stressed during filming that he lost all feeling in his legs for a week.
According to writer and director Terry Gilliam, several people walked out of screenings of this movie.
Mrs. Veronica Buttle (Sheila Reid) never blinks during the extended monologue that Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) gives when he comes over to her apartment.
In the commentary, Terry Gilliam states that the restaurant bombing scene was inspired by the I.R.A. bombings that occurred in London when he lived there.
Terry Gilliam admitted that this movie was inspired by George Orwell's 1984, although he never actually read the book. He jokingly referred to it as "1984 and a half."
At around 12 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 dream scenes that ended up in the movie were initially meant to be one long opening sequence. Another dream sequence was scripted and filmed in which 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 movies, including 12 Monkeys (1995). However, the makers agreed that although the idea was good, it didn't work for the movie, so the decision was later made to divide the opening dream sequences over the movie, to fill the "empty" spaces between chapters.
Terry Gilliam tested more than half a dozen actresses to play the part of Jill Layton, 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 Greist 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 movie 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 Greist, who was difficult on set, and whose material had to be severely reduced to help the movie, drove home that "experience really does count for something."
Although a huge new Paris apartment complex called Marne la Vallee provided the setting for Sam's tower block (Robert De Niro leaps up on a balcony and disappears down a wire cable 14 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.
Writer and director Terry Gilliam wrote the initial drafts of the screenplay with Charles Alverson (who remained uncredited), but sought the help of Tom Stoppard in re-writes. However, the collaboration turned out differently than Gilliam had hoped, as he preferred to have frequent discussions with his co-writer, while Stoppard insisted on working alone and handing in his version after a several weeks. Gilliam then took Stoppard's version to Charles McKeown to collaborate on the final version. Stoppard can be heard saying on the behind-the-scenes documentary What Is Brazil? (1985) that he has no idea whether any parts of his screenplay actually ended up in the movie. McKeown wrote most of the propaganda slogans that can be seen in the background throughout the movie, and also played Harvey Lime.
The "Brazil" theme is heard several times within this movie. When Sam Lowry 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.
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.
When Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) goes to see Jack Lint (Sir Michael Palin), the elevator in Information Retrieval goes up to floor 84, as in 1984.
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 Sir Launcelot's attack on Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), which Terry Gilliam co-wrote and co-directed.
According to Katherine Helmond, Terry Gilliam called her and said, "I have a part for you, and I want you to come over and do it, but you're not going to look very nice in it."
The dates on Mr. Archibald Buttle's (Brian Miller's) paperwork show that 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 halfway through the year.
Terry Gilliam lured Bob Hoskins away from the set of Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club (1984) in New York City to cameo as Spoor.
Working titles for the movie included "The Ministry", "The Ministry of Torture", "How I Learned to Live with the System - So Far", and "So That's Why the Bourgeoisie Sucks".
Despite a 20-week shooting schedule, it took nine months to finish filming. One reason was Terry Gilliam's notorious perfectionism, causing delays in the filming of the special effects (especially the dream sequences of Sam flying). The movie just about came in under budget.
Tom Cruise was considered for the role of Sam Lowry, back when the character was meant to be younger, but he didn't want to test for it.
The sound effects used for the computer terminals are identical to those used for the MU/TH/UR 6000 computer on-board the U.S.C.S.S. Nostromo in Alien (1979). Sir Ian Holm appeared in both movies.
Jonathan Pryce's role as Sam Lowry was written several years earlier with him in mind. The character was originally designed to be in his mid-20s, but when Terry Gilliam finally finished the script after many years in limbo, Pryce was already 37 years old and Gilliam was hesitant to cast him. However, after a screentest, Gilliam felt that Pryce exactly embodied Sam Lowry as he imagined him, so he changed the character's age to mid- to late-30s so that 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 in the mid-1960s. At a photoshoot for this magazine, Gilliam met John Cleese, who invited him to join the Monty Python team. Mr. Helpman "helped" Sam Lowry. 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).
In one of the final scenes of the movie, amongst Jack Lint's (Sir Michael Palin's) instruments of torture, can clearly be seen a rubber bouncy ball and a pacifier.
The hands seen manipulating Tuttle's tools belonged to writer and director Terry Gilliam, not Robert De Niro.
Jonathan Pryce has described the role of Sam Lowry as the highlight of his career, along with that of Lytton Strachey in Carrington (1995).
Right at the start of the movie, the technician who swats the fly which falls into the printer, causing the fatal misprint, is Ray Cooper, the percussionist who accompanied Sir Elton John at his famous Russian concerts in 1979, among other things.
Jill Layton wears a bandage on one of her hands. According to Terry Gilliam, it was added to give her "more personality".
DIRECAMEO(Terry Gilliam): The smoker in the Shangri-La tower who bumps into Sam Lowry.
The samurai warrior's suit was covered in electronic components such as resistors and volume knobs. In an early version of the movie, all of the samurai warrior's scenes were in one block.
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.
During production, Katherine Helmond spent 10 hours a day with a mask glued to her face. Her scenes had to be postponed due to the blisters this caused.
Archibald Buttle's wife's name is Veronica, a reference to Archie and Veronica of Archie Comics.
Despite prominent billing, Robert De Niro and Bob Hoskins had small roles in this movie.
DIRETRADE(Terry Gilliam): (cages): Many characters are in cages throughout this movie.
The first movie Terry Gilliam made after officially breaking with the Monty Python troupe. However, Sir Michael Palin has a part in this movie.
The mask used by Jack Lint (Sir Michael Palin) also appeared used by several extras in the 1994 music video "Basket Case" by Green Day.
Kim Greist was mistakenly billed as "Kim Griest" in various locations, including the early DVD packaging. In the Criterion single-disc re-issue of this movie, the error is corrected.
In the Christmas shopping scene, a woman is carrying a banner outside the store with a cross that says "Consumers for Christ".
Robert De Niro, pulled in by producer friend Arnon Milchan, as well as his love for Monty Python, was paid $660,000 for his two weeks out of the scheduled 22 weeks of shooting: three times what Jonathan Pryce received. Universal Pictures ponied up $350,000, and Twentieth Century Fox paid $250,000 for his marketable name on the project.
Terry Gilliam has said on several occasions that Brazil isn't supposed to be set in the future, despite the special effects and bizarre set decoration hinting at a futuristic setting. He said that the film is about "the way we live now."
The cast includes two Oscar winners: Robert De Niro and Jim Broadbent; and five Oscar nominees: Sir Ian Holm, Terry Gilliam, Charles McKeown, Bob Hoskins, and Jonathan Pryce.
Included amongst the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Archibald Buttle's death was partly inspired by a mix-up which occurred during 1934's Night of the Long Knives, in which various enemies of Adolf Hitler were arrested and executed. One of the people marked for death was an SA officer named Willi Schmidt, but Hitler's men mistakenly killed a music journalist named Willi Schmid. Unlike in this movie, where Buttle's death is dismissed as an administrative error and his widow is merely refunded the fines he was given, Hitler sent his deputy Rudolf Hess to personally apologize to Schmid's widow, and granted her the equivalent of a military widow's pension.
While cast as friends in this movie, Jonathan Pryce and Robert De Niro played enemies in Ronin (1998).
Sir Michael Palin, Sir Ian Holm, Katherine Helmond, Peter Vaughan, and Jim Broadbent appeared in Time Bandits (1981).
Included in the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
Peter Vaughan, Jonathan Pryce, and Jim Broadbent appeared on Game of Thrones (2011).
In Jack Lint's office, the mechanism he uses on his face is an Oster Scientific Massage Instrument.
When Mr. Kurtzmann switches to the Western movie on the television, the musical clip is the same as was used in the Crimson Permanent Assurance in the Meaning of Life.
Instrumental rock band This Will Destroy You got one of their song titles, "Happiness: We're All In It Together", from a billboard in this movie.
Lee International Studios Wembley was the name attached to the very same studio buildings complex, in its second "film studio" period, that a few owners previously, had been the Wembley studios for Associated-Rediffusion/Rediffusion London, the same regional ITV television company that had at least two shows which would have a cast that would form the basis of Monty Python. (The same studio complex was also known over various periods as LWT London Weekend Television Wembley, Limehouse Television Wembley, and Fountain, which at various times also had other Python links)
During the Terry Gilliam versus Sid Sheinberg battle over the final cut, producer Arnon Milchan proposed buying the distribution rights back from Universal Pictures so that Gilliam would be able to have his preferred cut released. Milchan then took the movie to TriStar Pictures, whose executives were enthusiastic about it, and attempted to negotiate a deal with Sheinberg to sell it to TriStar Pictures in exchange for Universal Pictures retaining a piece of the profits. Sheinberg rejected it under the belief that Universal Pictures would be not able to recoup its budget with the percentage of the profits they were to receive.
Oddly enough, Sir Michael Palin, known for making travel documentaries all over the world since 1989, didn't visit Brazil until 2012, despite being in a movie called "Brazil".