In 1995, Peter Weir was looking for his next project but found every script that crossed his desk to be "either predictable or derivative" (Weinraub). Then, a special project caught his interest - Andrew Niccol's screenplay for The Truman Show, via producer Scott Rudin (who bought the screenplay on spec for over $1 million). Rudin thought that Weir would be perfect to direct the film because of his "ability 'to create worlds simultaneously believable and also surreal'" (Weinraub). Niccol had been inspired to write the screenplay after watching an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Special Service." He said, "I think everyone questions the authenticity of their lives at certain points. It's like when kids ask if they're adopted" (Johnston).
Weir found himself inspired by the unique concept and Niccol's sharp dialogue, but wondered if audiences would be amenable to the "subversive" form and overt metaphors. Then, Jim Carrey came along. Carrey was already one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood, having made his name in broad comedy hits like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb and Dumber, but now he was ready to take on a more serious role. When Rudin first suggested Carrey, the comedian's resume gave Weir pause, but when the two creatives met, Weir says, they "hit it off" right from the start.
Paramount and Rudin were excited about Weir's involvement in the film, but also nervous about their investment in what they were calling "the most expensive art film ever made." Therefore, Niccol's script needed some tweaking to bring the projected budget from $80 million to $60 million. Niccol, a New Zealander, was best known for writing and directing the 1997 science fiction hit Gattaca. He had imagined Truman's world to be a version of Manhattan. However, as the price tag for Niccol's dark, urban vision was much too high, the setting became the suburban utopia of Seahaven Island.
Weir based Truman's world on classic American sitcoms like "Ozzie and Harriet" and "I Love Lucy." Originally, the plan was to build the set on a studio backlot. Eventually, though, [The Truman Show] was shot in Seaside in Florida's Gulf Coast because it looked more idealized. Douglas A Cunningham calls Seahaven "an experiment in 'neo-traditionalist community design.'"
Weir was interested in blurring the line between reality and fiction. He cites Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove as an influence for the film's tone, which "walked the line" between humor and drama (Blackwelder). Although Peter Weir signed on to the project in 1995, Jim Carrey's schedule forced them to wait a year to actually start production. During that time, Weir guided Niccol through 12 rewrites of the script and created a fictionalized book about all the "Truman Show" actors and their characters.
When The Truman Show came out, the New York Times' Bernard Weinraub wrote, "it is bound to stir controversy and serve as a touchstone for cultural debate, as Network did more than 20 years ago." Controversy aside, audiences flocked to see the film and critics celebrated it. Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times called it the best movie of 1998. The Truman Show was nominated for a number of awards; both Weir and Niccol received BAFTAs for their work, and Carrey and Harris took home acting prizes at the Golden Globe Awards. The Truman Show, which cost $60 million to make, earned over $250 million in global box office receipts.
In addition, The Truman Show has entered popular culture in many ways, and many writers, scholars, and social critics see the film as far before its time, even prophetic. Hamza Shaban wonders what "The Truman Show" might have been like if, like the drama- chasing Real Housewives and numerous Real World cast-members, Truman Burbank actually knew he was being filmed. In a time when the "digitizing of narcissism" drives many normal people to create a "tiny universe of prominence" by carefully crafting our identities through social media - we seem to be embracing, even chasing the spotlight that Truman was so eager to escape. We believe that fame brings us importance. Like Truman, though, we want to be in control of our own narratives, which is why we see so many reality TV stars eager to get on camera and tell "their side of the story," citing the producers' desire for manipulation and drama as a veil over the "truth."
Although there are a number of different interpretations of the film (rap star Kanye West has recently been calling his life "The Truman Show" whenever he disagrees with the media), it remains a beloved and important cinematic work. The Guardian's film critic, David Thomson, calls The Truman Show his favorite film, writing "what I [see] is a metaphor for the movies and their show and the notion that the beautiful controlled life under the dome was hiding a wilder, less comfortable life outside. And Truman had to go for the true. It changed my life - unless there's a yet another dome farther out."