Last night, we took a piece of the Christopher Nolan interview from the Hero Complex Film Festival that intrigued us the most – that of Batman 3‘s potential to be released in 3D. Today, we are here to present the entire interview.
Talk ranges from Robin Williams’ performance in Insomnia to Nolan’s favorite scene in The Dark Knight. While the filmmaker is a stoic, stone-cold interview, he cracks a joke here and there with an unmistakably sly demeanor.
I took a seat in the third row of the Mann’s Chinese 6 Theater – prime position to see the 39-year-old director discuss his impressive career. But first, the audience was treated to a screening of the highly underrated thriller, Insomnia.
When the last reel finished, a dark theater sat in silence, anticipating the appearance of Nolan. Suddenly there was a loud boom from the screen that everybody in attendance instantly recognized – it was the Inception trailer. The entire audience erupted into applause. That applause was one-upped only moments later by a standing ovation for the entrance of Christopher Nolan.
The interview is lengthy, but if you want to skip around:
- Nolan discusses his early work
- Nolan talks Inception
- Nolan talks Batman & Superman
- Nolan does Q&A and talks 3D
After a gracious thank you to Geoff Boucher for the invitation, Nolan asked the audience what they thought of Insomnia after all these years. The curiosity was greeted with another rousing applause, and deservedly so, for a truly underrated film.
The interview began with a related question on the performance of Robin Williams, who took a hard 180 on his comedic career to portray the villain in Insomnia. Said Nolan:
“…What I thought of Robin, was, well he is an extraordinary guy to work with and he really gave what I consider to be a flawless performance. I wound up watching the film hundreds of times as we cut it, and I never hit that point with the performance where you start to see the acting. Most performances, at a point, bits start to peel off and away, but with Robin’s he was very much in that character. Not that he’s a very dark person to work with – he’s very lively and friendly and amusing to work with. He really found something within himself. I think it’s a very underrated bit of work on his part.”
Next was the issue of timing and how it may have affected his other work. After all, The Prestige was forced to battle another magic-related film of that year, The Illusionist. Nolan was respectful to the other films that have come along during his career, stating that every film anybody makes will have competition of a similar nature.
“…When I was shopping Memento around in script form, there was this script with very similar premise at the same time that was going to be a big film. It’s called The Lookout. It wound up not getting made at the same time. It got made a few years later with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who I just worked with, and that was very fortunate for us. There’s always something else out there. Certainly, when we were doing Batman Begins there was no shortage of superhero movies that may be too close to you. At a point you just have to take a leap of faith and say, ‘We are going to do this and hope we can find our space in the marketplace.’”
Christopher Nolan has repeatedly announced his affinity for the editing process in filmmaking. While he is known better as a writer/director, he spends a lot of time in the editing suite tightening his films in post-production.
Though he enjoys every aspect of directing, he can’t help but notice how tedious it becomes. Nolan mentions that by the end of production, he is essentially worn down and that “you’re really almost doing some paint by numbers.”
Geoff Boucher then got into the good stuff. He asked if Warner Bros. was knocking at the door for Inception.
“We are just getting off the dub stage – just finished the last reels’ sound work for our early screenings. I’ve got about another week finishing it off.”
Boucher followed this up with a query on the status of CG in films today. It is the driving force for blockbusters and rakes in the big bucks, but Nolan has managed to protect the integrity of his work by using practical effects and in-camera tricks.
“Inception has a lot of physical effects in it, as did The Dark Knight and Batman Begins. I think I’ve always had a belief that however sophisticated the process of animation is, the audience can always tell the difference between something that has been photographed and something that has been animated by an artist.”
“…If you can photograph something for real – you know, there’s a shot in the trailer for Inception of massive buildings crumbling into the sea and even that, we took the actors up to Morocco, we shot the beach with waves coming in and some small representation of buildings there, just to give them something to start with. We always knew it was going to be a massive CG affair, but just to have lighting to match, textures to match, they were able to do much, much better work.”
Nolan went on to explain the history behind Inception and how it came to be a $160 million production. He essentially reiterated points made in earlier interviews about his initial pitch to Warner Bros., including the complicated screenplay.
Another recycled answer was given regarding Leonardo DiCaprio’s involvement at every stage of the filmmaking process. DiCaprio apparently had a tremendous impact on the screenplay, which took a decade to complete. The actor brought the essential heart and “emotional shifts” to a character that had too much of a classically superficial heist film narrative. Said Nolan:
“…The people we are showing them to early certainly seem to be able to connect with the material emotionally and not just on the level of being a clever, clever puzzle box film.”
Boucher asked Nolan about the director’s favorite scene in The Dark Knight – the interrogation scene. The extended answer from Nolan delves into both the technical and personal side of shooting the sequence.
“I think for me, the scene means a lot to me for all kinds of different reasons. On a technical level, I was able to do the scene very much in the way I wanted. I worked very early with Nathan Crowley, my designer with the look of the room. We actually shot screen tests for Heath’s makeup and the new batsuit. We sort of put the guys together and put the wall coloring that we wanted to use and got Wally Pfister, my DP, to experiment with these incredibly hot overkeys, with five stops over with lighting. It took a lot of convincing, because instead of doing a dark, traditional interrogation scene we wanted to throw the lights on and have it be the opposite. There was a big technical challenge with that, firstly with making the batsuit look good. We could never have done that scene with the batsuit we used for Batman Begins. It simply didn’t have the quality of the one we built for TDK. We put it up very early in the schedule because I felt like doing one of the biggest Joker scenes early on as a way of breaking the ice and giving him and all of us the confidence that we knew what we were doing with the character.
So, we shot it in the second week and [Heath] was up to it and threw himself into it with a great passion. Heath was in awe of Gary [Oldman] as all young actors are. So, just having him involved added a level of professionalism and seriousness to it all. It really just came off very well. It was everything I wanted it to be and so much more because the actors just brought so much to it. I think it was one of the first times, and I’m sure Christian feels the same way, on Batman we were really able to show how driven by rage he is. It was something we tried to get into Batman Begins in other ways, but the material didn’t really sustain it. This was a situation where we were able to show the dark side of that character.”
Boucher followed this up with a question about the lasting memories of Heath Ledger. Nolan apparently worked in the same location as that interrogation scene for part of Inception and it is always a pleasure to hear him honor the legacy Ledger left with The Joker.
Somehow, Nolan did not even know he had six Oscar nominees under his direction for Inception. When Boucher brought it up, Nolan was surprised, but gave tremendous credit to the relative newbies on set.
“I hadn’t actually noticed. It is an incredible cast. I’ve been very fortunate on my films to work with true ensembles, but this is spectacular and there are some newer talents with Ellen and Joe and Tom Hardy. These guys are just incredible. It is really fun to see them come together as an ensemble. It is very much the story in the film as well. Very good energy.”
Later on Nolan explained why he chose Pink Floyd’s The Wall to screen for his Inception cast and crew.
“…I like to screen movies and watch it with the crew and see if it inspires anything related to what we are going to do…As far as The Wall, what I was showing everybody is it is a film I saw as a teenager that I found really influential in terms of the non-linear nature of the storytelling. It is very non-narrative in the traditional sense. There is no dialogue, except for two lines. Everything is all music or image. And what he does is he connects different timelines through imagery – through symbolism. It was something very influential to me and I think once again it is something I’ve taken in a more verbal narrative direction. It is extremely visual in that film, it is extremely extraordinary…It is a very creepy film.”
The question many of us were hoping to hear was next – What is Nolan’s involvement with the Superman project? However, the tight-lipped director again repeated a statement from months ago: He simply explained his role as the film’s producer and how impressed he was by David Goyer’s original pitch.
Connecting Superman and Batman was actually less of a stretch than one would imagine. Nolan’s Batman franchise is directly influenced by the Superman of old. And if you ever wanted to know Nolan’s opinion of the Tim Burton version of Batman, here is your chance.
“I drew a line straight from it. I literally pitched to the studio my take on Batman by saying I wanted to make the Batman film that had never been made in 1978 or ’79, because I think what Tim Burton did with Batman was extraordinary, but it is very idiosyncratic. It is a very mad studio film when you really look at it. As much as I enjoyed that, I felt like there was a gap there. That is to say we’ve never done a kind of Dick Donner version of Batman, where it’s a kind of ordinary world with an extraordinary hero at the center of it. There are the textures of the real world with this very surprising figure in the middle of it – then this origin story, which hadn’t been touched.
I very specifically said that is what I had in mind and I want to do some location shooting in an American city and then move to the English studios, literally the way they did. I said I wanted to cast it the way they did, because if you look at that ensemble – now with all these superhero films coming out you see these great casts – but when we did Batman Begins, I was looking back to that movie that had Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman and Glenn Ford – just an incredible cast around the principals. That’s how we sort of got permission, if you like, from the studio to sort of cast up. Now you see it all the time in superhero films, which is fun. It is great to see talented people apply themselves to different sorts of characters.”
Nolan is a massive fan of Blade Runner, constantly referring to it in interviews and directly influenced by it in his work. It would seem he is quite the fan of Ridley Scott, as he also mentions the perfection of Alien.
“I’ve seen [Blade Runner] hundreds of times. I’m one of those people, and I’m sure there are some in the audience, who knows every single detail of that film. But I saw it at a particular age, I was probably 13, where it really spoke to me in terms of what I wanted to do as a filmmaker, which is to sometimes imagine a world. It is a film I’ve sort of carried with me ever since, really. Purely, that is, in a sensory way, that is to say, it has this sort of density to it visually. That isn’t really something I’ve tried to pack into my own films, but I’ve always really enjoyed watching that film and the notion of it being filmed rewards multiple viewings. You come back to it and see something else in it every time. I think I try to do that in a different way, sort of more narratively than visually in a sense. But I’ve always loved Ridley Scott’s work. You are showing Alien as well, that is a very, very perfect movie.”
Of course, we have gotten used to seeing Chris Nolan work with actors on multiple films. One in particular is Michael Caine. The working relationship between the two definitely surpasses the professional quality of the product.
“He claims to be my lucky charm. The problem I faced, and the reason he is in Inception, is that once somebody has said that to you, what are you gonna do? So, he’ll always have a part from now on. He is actually just a terrific person to work with. His movie star charisma is extraordinary. But he is just a lovely, professional guy to work with. He makes everybody on the set behave much better when he is around.”
Caine’s role as Alfred in Nolan’s Batman franchise still wins the hearts of viewers. But the director has always been impressed by his leading man, Christian Bale. He was asked why he picked the actor and how his performance stands up to the other Batmen.
The details are quite in-depth, but if you watch the special features of both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, you’ll get the same insight on the casting process that led to Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow as well.
Boucher then asked Nolan about his opinion on the endless Internet ramblings of casting rumors. He even went on to poke fun at a few, including one involving Cher. Nolan’s response earns the respect he has accrued over his career.
“Honestly, I don’t really look at the Internet. I think at a very early stage in taking on Batman I realized that it wasn’t going to be helpful. I’ve always taken the view that everybody feels very passionate about these characters and have a lot of ideas and thoughts on what should you have done. But I think underlying all you can do as a filmmaker is try to do what you feel is going to be the best film to make. Beyond that, you are never going to be able to make everyone happy. No, actually I don’t have e-mail or a cell phone. It gives me a little more time to think.”
Audience members then got a chance to ask a few questions. First up was comic book artist, Ed Brubaker (Captain America). He asked about Nolan’s screenwriting process that leads to scripts that he called “bulletproof.”
Nolan made some interesting points, like the fact he wrote Following in chronological order. The film is much like The Prestige in its non-linear structure, yet he placed the pieces in that final order after it was written. Of course, he found that process to be extremely difficult. When it came to Memento, he wrote it exactly as you see it – backwards.
But Nolan’s writing process takes on a few other patterns as well, like when he battled with The Joker’s backstory in The Dark Knight.
“…With The Dark Knight, with the Joker, his origin story I wrote a couple of times. With that I tend to just write very, very free form, very, very long. I just sort of splurge through three or four pages. Then I spend days and days just editing it down to make it into something, but trying not to stop an idea before it has a chance to be born.
Another audience member asked about the tremendous success of The Dark Knight and if it caught Nolan by surprise. While he was humbled by the success, he gave much of the credit to Batman Begins for giving people the confidence in his vision. Nolan also gave credit to the wonderful performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker.
Boucher then got back on the microphone to ask Nolan about his opinion on 3D. His answer is making the rounds on the Internet as we speak and with good reason – 3D is a massive part of the evolution of the film industry. His answer was tremendously in depth, but I’ll leave out his jargon that left much of the audience in awe of his technical prowess.
“I’m not a huge fan of 3D, really. There is no question that if audiences want to watch films in stereoscopic imaging, that is what the studios will be doing and that is what I’ll be doing. The truth is, I think it is a misnomer to call it 3D versus 2D, because the whole point of cinematic imagery is that it is 3D imagery – we work in three dimensions. You know, 95% of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution and so forth. So, the idea of calling a 2D movie a 2D movie is a little misleading.
I don’t know, we did test some of Inception in post-conversion processes and they worked very well. It is quite easy to do, in fact. But it takes a little time and we didn’t have time to do it up to the standards that I would have been happy with. But it was fascinating technology. On a technical level I think it is fascinating. There are just enormous compromises. Post-conversion processes are probably, for me, the way of the future. But, really it is up to audiences to decide what they want to see and how they want to watch their films. Certainly, I am quite pleased with Inception and the way it is presented – very bright, very clear. So, as the technology improves, those differences may change. Really, it’s going to be up to audiences. [Later, in an unrelated moment] I find it impossible to forget as a viewer that I am watching a film at times [with 3D].”
The 45-minute interview with Christopher Nolan flew by, even though nothing crazy was revealed. Those in attendance were given a fantastic look at the creative genius of Nolan – his combination of technical expertise, careful care for the fans and overall passion for movies shines through in his articulate responses.
I wish I was there for Sunday’s conversation with Ridley Scott – held in between screenings of Alien and Blade Runner – but I had to catch a flight back home to Chicago. Head over to the Hero Complex blog and check out Geoff Boucher’s rundown of the interview.
Inception releases in theaters and IMAX on July 16th, 2010.
Batman 3 and Superman are both scheduled for 2012 releases.