Christopher Nolan Says Fellow Directors Have Called to Complain About His ‘Inaudible’ Sound

"Interstellar" sound backlash left Nolan "a little shocked" at how "conservative people are when it comes to sound."
Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan
Melissa Moseley/©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

The sound design in Christopher Nolan’s movies is known to generate frustration among moviegoers, but it turns out Nolan’s fellow filmmakers have also expressed annoyance with being unable to hear the director’s dialogue. Most Nolan releases, from “Interstellar” to “The Dark Knight Rises” to this year’s “Tenet,” spark the question: are Nolan movies too loud? The director has defended his sound design in the past, and he says in Tom Shone’s new book “The Nolan Variations” that he’s surprised how “conservative” moviegoers are about cinematic sound.

“We got a lot of complaints,” Nolan said about the “Interstellar” sound design. “I actually got calls from other filmmakers who would say, ‘I just saw your film, and the dialogue is inaudible.’ Some people thought maybe the music’s too loud, but the truth was it was kind of the whole enchilada of how we had chosen to mix it.”

“It was a very, very radical mix,” the director continued. “I was a little shocked to realize how conservative people are when it comes to sound. Because you can make a film that looks like anything, you can shoot on your iPhone, no one’s going to complain. But if you mix the sound a certain way, or if you use certain sub-frequencies, people get up in arms.”

Nolan added “there’s a wonderful feeling of scale” that can come by experimenting with sound design and “a wonderful feeling of physicality to sound that on ‘Interstellar’ we pushed further than I think anyone ever has.” For “Interstellar,” Nolan and his team “tapped into the idea of the sub-channel, where you can just get a lot of vibration.”

“A lot of it was the music where Hans [Zimmer] had this organ and he used the absolutely lowest note, which would literally make your chest drop,” Nolan continued. “There’s certain low end frequencies that automatically get filtered out by the software. He took all of those controls off, so there are all those sub-frequencies there. And we did the same on the dub stage. It’s a pretty fascinating sound mix. If you see it particularly in an IMAX theater, projected, it’s pretty remarkable.”

Moviegoers might think Nolan movies are too loud, but Nolan movies sound exactly the way Nolan wants them to sound. Read the excerpt on Nolan’s sound design below, courtesy of Trailer Track founder Anton Volkov. Shore’s “The Nolan Variations” is now available for purchase.

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