Christopher Nolan’s Interview with DGA Quarterly

A long interview with Chris Nolan in DGA Quarterly (DGA is Directors Guild of America. Very interesting and worth reading in full. Some interesting tidbits:

On his fascination with non-linear storytelling:

When I was 16 I read a Graham Swift novel, Waterland, that did incredible things with parallel timelines, and told a story in different dimensions that was extremely coherent. Around the same time, I remember Alan Parker’s The Wall on television, which does a very similar thing purely with imagery, using memories and dreams crossing over to other dreams and so forth.

On his favorite film, Blade Runner:

The atmosphere of Blade Runner was also important, that feeling that there was this whole world outside the frame of the scene. You really felt there were things going on outside of those rooms where you’ve seen the film take place. That’s something I’ve always tried to carry with me. Every film should have its own world, a logic and feel to it that expands beyond the exact image that the audience is seeing.

On working with actors, and trusting their instincts:

I learned lots of things on Memento, but one thing I’ve always adhered to since then is letting actors perform as many takes as they want. I’ve come to realize that the lighting and camera setups, the technical things, take all the time, but running another take generally only adds a couple of minutes. I was shooting a very important scene with Guy Pearce in which his character is extremely upset, and it’s the lead-in to where Carrie-Anne Moss’ character takes Pearce’s shirt off and sees all the tattoos on his chest. That day, the financier of the film just happened to be visiting the set and was literally standing right behind me. We did a take that I thought was very good, and I knew we were out of time. So I asked Guy if he felt he’d gotten it, and he said, ‘No, we should do it again.’ I remember having a ‘What do I do?’ moment. Do I let him do it and risk running over? Or do I insist that we move on, which Guy would have done, because he’s flexible and professional? But I let him do another take, and that’s the one used in the film. It was very special, beyond what he had done previously, and way beyond what I had imagined was even possible for the scene. I’ve carried that with me ever since: If an actor tells me they can do something more with a scene, I give them the chance, because it’s not going to cost that much time. It can’t all be about the technical issues.

On 3D:

I find stereoscopic imaging too small scale and intimate in its effect. 3-D is a misnomer. Films are 3-D. The whole point of photography is that it’s three-dimensional. The thing with stereoscopic imaging is it gives each audience member an individual perspective. It’s well suited to video games and other immersive technologies, but if you’re looking for an audience experience, stereoscopic is hard to embrace. I prefer the big canvas, looking up at an enormous screen and at an image that feels larger than life.

On not working with a second unit director:

Let me put it this way: If I don’t need to be directing the shots that go in the movie, why do I need to be there at all? The screen is the same size for every shot. The little shot of, say, a watch on someone’s wrist, will occupy the same screen size as the shot of a thousand people running down the street. Everything is equally weighted and needs to be considered with equal care, I really do believe that. I don’t understand the criteria for parceling things off. Many action films embrace a second unit taking on all of the action. For me, that’s odd because then why did you want to do an action film? Having said that, there are fantastic filmmakers who use second and third units successfully. So it all comes back to the question of defining what a director does.

On how he has managed to avoid reshoots in all his movies so far:

I’ve never done a re-shoot, knock on wood. 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.

There are also interesting photos with the article, but this one is my favorite. That’s really Christian Bale on the ledge, right? Not a stuntman?


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