Christopher Nolan — you know him as the well-dressed and refined, scarf-wearing filmmaker of Batman films like “The Dark Knight Rises” — recently sat down the the Director’s Guild Of America (DGA) for a lengthy chat about, well, almost every aspect of filmmaking. You literally need to print this one out, pull down the blinds and shut everything out to fully give this one your undivided attention, so we did the wise thing and broke it down into five highlights for you.
1. Jeffrey Robinov and the suits at the studio would have loved “The Dark Knight Rises” to take in those extra 3D dollars.
“Warner Bros. would have been very happy, but I said to the guys there that I wanted it to be stylistically consistent with the first two films and we were really going to push the IMAX thing to create a very high-quality image. I find stereoscopic imaging too small scale and intimate in its effect. 3-D is a misnomer. Films are 3-D.” So there.
2. Nolan’s never had to do reshoots on any of his films ever.
“It all comes down to editing, just craft, just hammering it with my editor every day, trying radical cuts, pulling things out, abandoning bits of exposition, saying, ‘OK, does the audience really need to understand this? What if they don’t?’ I always overwrite the exposition in my scripts so that I’ve got multiple ways to get a point across. If you tell the audience something three times they won’t understand it, but if you tell them only once, they will. It’s an odd thing. So a lot of cutting for time is, for me, cutting for clarity. It’s finding where you can just pull dialogue out that you have overwritten, so you can find that one simple way an audience can get the right point.”
3. Budding filmmakers of the world. If you want to study or learn the key elements of Nolan’s filmmaking: it’s all about the POV
“Whether in the pure camera blocking or even the writing, it’s all about point of view. I can’t cut a scene if I haven’t already figured out whose point of view I’m looking at, and I can’t shoot the scene in a neutral way. I’ve tried to use more objective camera techniques—a longer lens, flattening things out, using multi-camera—but they don’t work. It’s funny, you were asking about 3-D and one of the things that happened when the craze came back was various aspects of conversion. The way I shoot film is actually very conducive to converting to 3-D because I’m always thinking of the camera as a participant. I don’t use zoom lenses, for example, so I don’t reframe using the zoom. Instead, we always move the camera physically closer and put a different focal length on. Stylistically, something that runs through my films is the shot that walks into a room behind a character, because to me, that takes me inside the way that the character enters. I think those point-of-view issues are very important.”
4. Nolan thinks digital film is deeply inferior to good old fashioned celluloid and he hopes to hold out as long as possible.
“For the last 10 years, I’ve felt increasing pressure to stop shooting film and start shooting video, but I’ve never understood why. It’s cheaper to work on film, it’s far better looking, it’s the technology that’s been known and understood for a hundred years, and it’s extremely reliable. I think, truthfully, it boils down to the economic interest of manufacturers and [a production] industry that makes more money through change rather than through maintaining the status quo. We save a lot of money shooting on film and projecting film and not doing digital intermediates. In fact, I’ve never done a digital intermediate. Photochemically, you can time film with a good timer in three or four passes, which takes about 12 to 14 hours as opposed to seven or eight weeks in a DI suite. That’s the way everyone was doing it 10 years ago, and I’ve just carried on making films in the way that works best and waiting until there’s a good reason to change. But I haven’t seen that reason yet.” Note: Christopher Nolan speaks about this at length and very articulately in the documentary “Side By Side,” which features Keanu Reeves asking filmmakers about this very debate (read our review here; here’s the trailer).
5. Nolan likes to get dressed up, thank you very much.
“I went to a boarding school where we had to wear a uniform, and I got used to using all the pockets in my jacket. It’s just what I’m comfortable in. I don’t like to think about what to wear, so I just wear the same thing every day. When I first started shooting with a crew on Memento I remember trying to pick up a sandbag and everyone was shouting at me that I wasn’t allowed to do that because there were specific people for that job. As much as I’d like to be able to get my hands dirty, I don’t usually get to do so. So I dress the way I would for a day at the office. It’s just easier that way.”