This movie's opening prologue states: "Between 1953 & 1964 the British Government exploded nine atomic bombs on the Australian mainland. In the years that followed there were numerous reports of illness and death as a result of widespread exposure to nuclear radiation. In 1984, a Royal Commission of Inquiry was convened to investigate these reports and allegation of a cover up by the British and Australian governments".
After this movie was made, this film was specially screened at England's House of Commons Parliament for the British Government of the day.
This movie was mainly filmed during June and July 1986 with some filming still being done right up until September 1986.
Third theatrical feature film directed by Michael Pattinson. Pattinson's first two movies, Moving Out (1983) and Street Hero (1984), both starred Vince Colosimo.
This movie's music score composed by Chris Neal was replaced with a new score by composer Tom Bähler for its North American release in the USA. According to the book 'The Avocado Plantation: Boom and Bust in the Australian Film Industry' (1990) by David Stratton, the American distributor Avenue Pictures "insisted on replacing Chris Neal's subtle score with more obvious music by Tom Bähler."
Simon Chilvers' role as the Commission President was based on Jim McLelland, the real life Chairman Commissioner of the 1984 Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia. The real life inquiry was also know as the McClelland Royal Commission.
When this movie thriller based on the British nuclear tests at Maralinga was about to go into production, the McClelland Royal Commission investigating the British nuclear tests at Maralinga was still going.
This film featured actual original black-and-white archival newsreel footage relating to nuclear tests.
Harvey Denton (Colin Friels)'s nickname for Agent Trebilcock ('Jack Thompson') was Treblecock.
The final half day of principal photography was on the last Saturday in September 1986 and star Colin Friels and co-writer / co-director Bruce Myles wanted to get it done because they were going to the VFL Grand Final between Carlton and Hawthorn the latter of whom won the match which was lucky for the duo as that was the Australian Rules football team they supported.
The closing credits state that ''atomic test photographs reproduced with permission of the British Ministry of Defence, AWRE Aldermaston.'' The acronym AWRE stands for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment who were the British government body who conducted the actual atom bomb testing in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s.
One of at least half a dozen film or television collaborations of screenwriter Jan Sardi and director Michael Pattinson.
Portraying detectives in minor roles in the movie were actors Kim Gyngell and Mark Mitchell who around this time were about to be seen regularly and popularly on Australian television in the series 'The Comedy Company' (1988-1990).
In the DVD featurette 'Ground Zero: An Important Story - Jack Thompson in Conversation' (2008), actor Jack Thompson says he was interested in doing this movie because of his own personal interest in political activism.
Star Jack Thompson prepared for his part as Trebilcock by meeting with ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) intelligence agents and researching the background to these roles.
About exactly twenty years later the movie's two top billed lead cast, Colin Friels and Jack Thompson, both appeared in the television mini-series 'Bastard Boys' (2007).
Debut produced screenplay of television writer Mac Gudgeon who co-penned the movie's script with screenwriter Jan Sardi.
The film was selected to screen in competition for the prestigious Golden Bear award at the 38th Berlin International Film Festival in 1988 but lost out to Zhang Yimou's 'Red Sorghum' (1988) (aka 'Hong gao lian') .
The film in 1987 was nominated for 9 AFI (Australian Film Institute) Awards including Best Film, Best Director (Bruce Myles & Michael Pattinson), Best Actor (Colin Friels), Best Supporting Actor (Donald Pleasence), and Best Original Screenplay. In the end, the film won 4 AFI Awards, all in technical and craft categories, these being for Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Production Design.
Michael Pattinson, one of the film's two co-directors, had previously directed the movie's other co-director, actor Bruce Myles, in the 'Winners' series tele-movie 'Just Friends' (1985), which was also written by this film's co-screenwriter Jan Sardi.
The initial impetus for this picture was that co-director Michael Pattinson and regular collaborator co-screenwriter Jan Sardi basically wanted to make a thriller with something to say. Pattinson says on the DVD's audio-commentary: ''We wanted to move on, do something in a different genre, so we'd been kicking around various ideas. We kept coming back to stories of an anti-nuclear theme, and we wanted to make a thriller...because we just wanted to make a thriller.''
According to the Australian 'Oz Movies' website, ''the film's high budget and fees were part of the controversy surrounding the financing of films under [the] 10BA'' 1980s Australian government feature film financing incentives scheme.
The movie's screenplay was developed and re-written over a period of about eighteen months prior to the picture being green lit.
Real life indigenous Aboriginal Australians who had witnessed first hand the British atomic tests bombings made cameos in the movie so they could tell their stories during the commission of inquiry scenes.
The movie did not utilize the services of a casting director to cast the parts in the film. Instead, actor and co-director Bruce Myles, who had many thespian contacts in the film and theatre worlds in Australia, co-ordinated the casting of the movie roles.
The meaning of the film's ''ground zero'' title phrase, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, is ''the point directly above, below, or at which a nuclear explosion occurs.''
Footage was shot about Harvey Denton (Colin Friels)'s family and his relationship with his son but these scenes were cut out of the finished movie. Moreover, a number of scenes with Trebilcock (Jack Thompson) were also cut out of the movie for the final cut of the picture.
Whilst researching the film, the movie's two directors got on a light aircraft and flew to far west South Australia to visit the Maralinga bomb test sites where upon arrival they were greeted by two Australian Federal Police officers who greeted them by saying: ''Welcome to the Maralinga Hilton''.
Scenes featuring a real film laboratory with real film lab equipment were shot at a an actual film laboratory which was Cinevex in Melbourne.
Actors Jack Thompson and Donald Pleasence about sixteen years earlier had both starred in Ted Kotcheff's Australian outback dramatic thriller 'Wake in Fright' (1971) making 'Ground Zero' (1987) their second (and final) feature film collaboration.
''It was a very easy script to write, because we had a very strong idea about the story. A contemporary story about the Maralinga nuclear test, and we knew what our position would be on the subject. We worked out the storyline very quickly, because it all fell together. The characters in the film were based on a great deal of research,'' co-director Michael Pattinson once said about the writing and development of the film's screenplay.
Actor Jack Thompson and co-screenwriter Mac Gudgeon had previously collaborated a few years earlier on the Australian television mini-series 'Waterfront' (1984).
According to the 'Starring the Computer' website, makes and models of computers seen in the film include a Commodore 64 and a Sony SMC-70G.
The bush and outback locations were filmed in the environs of Coober Pedy in far northern South Australia which to the chagrin of the production became unusually less arid and much more greener after the location recce to survey the Australian desert locales.
Real life British atomic tests used and referred to in the film included ones on the Montebello Islands in Western Australia as part of Operation Hurricane and 'Taranaki' (1957) on the Maralinga Range in South Australia as part of Operation Antler as well as 'Totem 1' as part of Operation Totem on Emu Field in the Great Victoria Desert of South Australia. The latter was especially used because the bombing involved 'wind change' which was a visual and dramatic plot point for the picture.
The movie was developed with the assistance of the Burrowes Film Group whilst its screenplay was developed with the assistance of Film Victoria.
The made-up newsreels featuring test footage were aged by utilizing optical effects to age the celluloid so as to make the film look twenty to thirty years older.
Co-director Michael Pattinson says of the making of the movie on the film's DVD audio commentary: ''At the time we were kicking things around the Royal Commission into the aftermath of the British Atomic Tests was taking place. It was being chaired by an ex-politician, a judge whose name was Jim McClelland, 'Diamond' Jim McLelland and the newspapers were full on most days with different accounts of extraordinary sorts of evidence that was given before the Commission...all of it pretty fertile material for a drama...and so we started moving our thoughts towards developing something about the atomic tests.''
According to the book 'Burnum Burnum: A Warrior for Peace' (1999) by Marlene Norst, the film was specially broadcast on indigenous Australian television station 'Imparja' as a special tribute to indigenous Australian actor 'Burnum Burnum' after his passing away in 1997.
Colin Friels received top / first billing, Jack Thompson received second billing and Donald Pleasence received third billing.
Third and final movie that British actor Donald Pleasence made in Australia. The earlier films had been Wake in Fright (1971) about sixteen years earlier and then Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974).
The film was part of a 1980s cycle of films about atomic bombs and nuclear warfare which had started in 1979 with The China Syndrome (1979). The films included Silkwood (1983), Testament (1983), Threads (1984), WarGames (1983), The Day After (1983), The Atomic Cafe (1982), The Manhattan Project (1986), Whoops Apocalypse (1982), Special Bulletin (1983), Ground Zero (1987), Barefoot Gen (Barefoot Gen (1983)), Rules of Engagement (1989), When the Wind Blows (1986), Letters from a Dead Man (Dead Man's Letters (1986)), Memoirs of a Survivor (1981) and The Chain Reaction (1980).