During a recent interview, Brazil director Terry Gilliam revealed that Robert De Niro helped save the film from being shelved by Universal.
Could you imagine a world where Terry Gilliam’s Brazil doesn’t exist? It’s a dark territory, I know. Would you believe Universal almost shelved the filmmaker’s dystopian sci-fi drama in America before one of its stars, Robert De Niro, rescued the film from cancelation? According to Gilliam, the brilliant director behind films like The Fisher King and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Universal balked at the film and demanded significant changes before it could open in theaters. After an exhausting back and forth between Gilliam and then-Universal chief Sid Sheinberg, De Niro used his connections to push the film’s fate in a more positive direction.
Speaking on The Hollywood Reporter‘s It Happened in Hollywood podcast, Gilliam said, “The studio did not like the movie at all.” Gilliam says he was on pins and needles during a screening where Universal executives looked pensive and distraught about Brazil. After the screening, Sheinberg said Gilliam needed to change the film significantly for the project to see the light of day in America. When Gilliam refused, Sheinberg said the studio would not release the movie.
Knowing he couldn’t fight Universal’s army of lawyers, Gilliam decided to campaign for his film differently. He began by taking out a full-page ad in Variety, reading, “Dear Sid Sheinberg: When are you going to release my film, ‘Brazil’? Terry Gilliam.” This gesture did little to move the needle in a positive direction.
“That’s when the shit hit the fan,” Gilliam recalls. “They literally did everything to stop [the release].”
Gilliam scoured the papers for journalists with integrity to combat the unfortunate events. Brazil was doing well in Europe, but American audiences had yet to experience his bizarre take on high society. While Gilliam and Sheinberg didn’t interact directly, they exchanged messages hoping to find common ground. “I had the good luck of meeting a guy named Jack Mathews, a reporter for the LA Times arts section, and he saw the film and he really liked it. He started making noise about it,” Gilliam recalls. “He maintained a conversation between me and Sid Sheinberg.”
When Gilliam needed a final push to get Universal to back down, De Niro came to the film’s rescue by tapping some of his influential contacts.
“Maria Shriver was running that show Good Morning America. They had wanted to interview De Niro for a very long time. Bobby never did publicity for films. That’s why he’s a hero to me. But he said, ‘OK, they want to talk to me. We’ll go on the show — you and me,’” Gilliam recalls.
During the interview, Shriver turned to Gilliam, seated beside De Niro, and said, “Terry, I understand you’re having a problem with the studio.”
“I said, ‘I’m not having a problem with the studio. I’m having a problem with one man. His name is Sid Sheinberg and he looks like this,’” Gilliam said boldly as a photo of his nemesis emerged from his pocket. “And I pulled out an 8×10 glossy and shared Sid with the world. This was me just having fun and being outrageous and getting more and more publicity.”
After the Good Morning America interview, more positive reviews, and the LA Film Critics Association voting Gilliam’s Brazil best picture, screenplay, and best director for Gilliam, Sheinberg conceded the fight.
Way to go, Bobby! It’s great when people in power use their influence for good! I’m positive that scores of fans are thankful he intervened.
Are you a fan of Gilliam’s Brazil? What do you think is Gilliam’s best film? Feel free to let us know in the comments below.