Featuring four examples of artwork from The Zero Theorem
On day 28 of the shooting schedule of The Zero Theorem, the main crew was at the ICPE laboratory in city centre Bucharest, to shoot the sequence where Qohen (Christoph Waltz) discusses his condition with a panel of three doctors. Meanwhile, Production Designer David Warren was working with his team preparing the exterior of Qohen’s chapel for the next day’s shooting.
The interior chapel scenes were shot in the MediaPro studios, but the chapel exterior was shot at 41 Strada Grigore Cobălcescu in Bucharest. This is where David found a few moments to talk about his work on the project.
Phil Stubbs: What have you been working on today?
Anyway… I went to set early; we handed over the set to the director, which was the very nice health board laboratory set, I’m sure he liked it. And now I’ve come here to Cobălcescu, which is where Qohen’s chapel exterior is. As you can see behind me, we are still scuttling around putting things into place and painting it and dressing it, things like that. This is our world. Some of it you can see, some of it we put in ourselves. Look, there’s smoke there already. The apartment block was here already, I have to admit. The little chapel, we put that in. The graffiti is ours, which has changed the character of the alleyway to our world, or as we like to phrase it… “Terry’s vision”, which is very colourful in this film.
What experience did you have at the Athenaeum, where you filmed Qohen’s office?
We started at 4am and going until 4pm because we had to avoid the concerts. And every now and then we had to pack our stuff away because you’d see all these people in penguin suits with their programmes on the way to watch a bit of Brahms and Liszt. Yes it got built; I think Terry was very happy. Everybody seems to be very happy with our stuff, or if they’re not, they’re not telling me!
Can you tell me about the challenges in building the chapel?
So it has got an Orthodox Church interior feel. But the actual way it is planned out and plotted out is more like an Anglican church: it has got an organ loft, a high altar at one end, and an entrance vestibule at another end.
How long did it take to build the chapel?
How did you reach the design for of Mancom, the large computer?
Obviously at the moment thanks to (God rest his soul) Mr Jobs, everybody else out there is trying to make computers tiny: little phones with fantastic cameras. We thought what if in the future it all goes the other way, and size becomes really important, and computers are maximal, they’re fat, and chunky, with big screens. If Mancom had the biggest one of the lot, it should be colossal, because it is meant to hold all this entity information. The whole planet, the whole population, all their wants, desires, needs, products – everything is inside this thing, so we thought it’s got to be big. Let’s say it’s steam-powered, it’s iron, concrete, it’s made out of old materials, this thing was probably built 50 years ago, and it’s still there pumping away, trying to get all this stuff inside it.
We referenced Mancom very strongly to this blast furnace, and we ended up building it as a set with a green screen around it, just to have something operational we could work with, something we could adapt. It blows up at one point, and it’s a very difficult thing to do when it really is made of concrete so that’s why we went in that direction. And I think it was to buck the trend of miniaturisation. Why do you want a little computer like that when you can have something the size of the Titanic?
What has working with Terry been like on this project?
Has it been enjoyable?
We are working within margins, and you always have to work within margins. Even if you are doing films that are ten or fifteen times the size of this one, you still have limits you’ve got to work to and I think our limits are very tight, which means in producer-speak, “you have to think creatively”. You need to make the money stretch like a thin cream of UHT milk over an infinite table-top, which I suppose is what we’ve done.
They’ve been a terrific gang, they really have [the Art Department]. Everything we’ve wanted to do… it’s interesting because when you read the script, the Carol Park, the exterior park – this is what working with Terry is like… You could say park, trees, kids… give me some stuff.
We ended up shooting at a massive post-war communist war memorial, and we filled it with huge inflatable blue arches and spikes and we had pederasts walking around, and a guy dressed in a clown suit with a huge hot dog stand and Christ knows what else, and that is what working with Terry is like because he goes there. This is an astonishingly strange location, nobody has seen it before, and then we are going to make it more weird, so whatever is written on the page… all you need to read is exterior park. Don’t read the stage direction, because we are going to do this now. And that’s what happened. We’ll have a guy selling balloons.
Then a kid buys a lot of balloons and then he goes up in the air with one. I remember that as well and thinking it’s not written in the script. But that is what it is like: you just say yes, how many balloons do you want? Good, we’ll do it. And that’s the way you do it really, and we keep going. We all go home hopefully. He’s still got to do postproduction – and my phone will be off!