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Denis Villeneuve’s Great Admiration For Christopher Nolan, and Why He Wants to Make ‘Dune’

Villeneuve talks about "losing his virginity" in managing the massive "Blade Runner 2049" production and how he finds his way into such big movies.

Denis Villeneuve on the set of "Blade Runner 2049"

Denis Villeneuve on the set of “Blade Runner 2049”

Stephen Vaughan

Like many filmmakers with a new film in 2017, “Blade Runner 2049” director Denis Villeneuve saw virtually none of his peers’ movie this year. Yet this summer, while neck deep trying to finish his “Blade Runner” sequel, there was one film Villeneuve made sure not to miss. “‘Dunkirk’ has been designed for the big screen,” said Villeneuve in an interview with IndieWire. “I didn’t want to make any concession with that movie.”

Villeneuve is a cinephile whose influences run vast and run deep, yet when asked what filmmaker’s career he looks to as model when thinking about his own career trajectory he turned to one of his contemporaries. “Christopher Nolan is a very impressive filmmaker, because he is able to keep his identity and create his own universe in that large scope,” he said. “To bring intellectual concepts and to bring them in that scope to the screen right now — it’s very rare. Every movie that he comes out with, I have more admiration for his work.”

That respect grew only deeper when Villeneuve took on the massive job of building the world of “Blade Runner” 32 years into the future. Villeneuve relished creating the rules of how the futuristic world evolved, and how that would dictate the film’s visual design, but implementing that vision with a small army of technicians was daunting.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Warner Bros

“I lost my virginity with ‘Blade Runner,’” Villeneuve said. “It was a really intense experience, it was just so massive. I’m used to working with a small crew, but to influence and dictate and inform and to inspire that many people to walk in the same direction — I learned a lot about how to manage the creativity of hundreds, thousands of people. And now I want to find more efficient ways of communication for the future.”

A foundational element “Blade Runner” — as with all of Villeneuve’s films — is light, specifically identifying what how natural light in “2049” would look and feel. It was also a way for the French-Canadian filmmaker to find a personal way into the enormous sequel of a cinematic hero’s film.

“The light is grey — that silver winter light that could peek through and be present in some of the scenes instead of being a total black like the first ‘Blade Runner,’” said Villeneuve. “It looks like Montreal right now. To bring that light into the movie is a way for me to bring the movie close to me. It’s light from home. Also, it’s strangely made Ridley’s dream mine.”

Another thing that gave Villeneuve the confidence in reinventing Scott’s world was working with his cinematographer, Roger Deakins, earlier in the process. “I was doing ‘Arrival’ at the time, so in order to push the gas and make things happen faster I had to create a dialogue with Roger very early on so things would shift into gear,” said Villeneuve. “I was in dialogue rather than dreaming alone, which can be very long in my case. He understood the dream and thought about how to bring it to the screen. So I had allies, but still it requires a lot of energy to do a movie like that.”

Ryan Gosling and Denis Villeneuve on the set of "Blade Runner 2049"

Ryan Gosling and Denis Villeneuve on the set of “Blade Runner 2049”

Stephen Vaughan

With the announcement that he would make “Dune” — another piece of legendary sci-fi IP — Villeneuve is trying to set the rule of not talking about it while it’s still in the early stages. With that having been said, he gave IndieWire some insight into what drew him to Frank Herbert’s book.

“One of the things is it was a story that stayed with me through time,” said Villeneuve. “It resonates in a lot of ways. It is a very accurate portrait of society of today. The intricate relationship between religion and power, also how someone has to deal with their genetic background, the voices coming out from the past. I deeply love that story. It’s very powerful and that it is still talking to me after all these years, it’s worth the risk to do it.”

This risk Villeneuve refers to is the enormous demands and expectations that come with an iconic project. The approach he took with “Blade Runner 2049,” and will repeat with “Dune,” is the risk is only worth it if he’s so passionate about making the film he’s prepared for it to be his last.

Dune

“Dune” (1984)

Universal/REX/Shutterstock

What he doesn’t bother with is the idea that making big or small films defines him as a director. Villeneuve learned an important lesson about himself as a filmmaker when he was in his early 20s, and a TV show gave him a camera and plane tickets to travel around the world and make 20 five-minute short documentaries over six months.

“I remember doing 20 of these, trying always to do a different movie,” said Villeneuve. “Trying always to approach reality in a different way with a different approach, different ideas about editing and about shooting. And when I came back, I watched the 20 movies back-to-back and they are all the same. That was crazy. I was surprised.”

Villeneuve said he no longer tries to say his new film will be so different than the previous (though he believes it will be), nor does he bother much with self-evaluation about filmmaking voice. He’d rather turn to the long list of directors whose career and films he feeds on for nourishment. “There’s two filmmakers that are massive sources of inspiration for me: Ingmar Bergman and Steven Spielberg, for different reasons,” said Villeneuve. “Ingmar was one of the big artistic shocks in my life. Spielberg because, from the beginning, I was inspired by his genius as a film director.”

Asked if he saw himself as being somewhat a combination of his two, very different inspirations, Villeneuve smiled and shrugged. Next question.

Because finally, the thing that’s been most exhausting about “Blade Runner 2049” was — from the minute it was announced — people wanted to talk about it. “It’s a privilege. Coming from the indie world, I know [the] curse of releasing a movie that no one wants to talk about,” said Villeneuve. “So I don’t complain, but at the same time I’m no Martin Scorsese who can talk about cinema forever. Honestly, I’d like to shut up.”

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