Chris Nolan Discusses 3D, Shooting on Film & More in DGA Interview
"You're never going to learn something as profoundly as when it's purely out of curiosity." Sometimes we come across a fantastic interview that we just have to feature. This time it's with Christopher Nolan, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers in general, and while he doesn't speak much with online press, he did do an interview with the Directors Guild of America which has been posted on DGA.org. Nolan does talk briefly about The Dark Knight Rises, but also discusses his opinion on still shooting on film, plus 3D, why he loves shooting with IMAX, and so much more, which is what makes this such a worth-reading interview.
The article is titled "The Traditionalist" and was an interview conducted at his house while editing TDKR, covering a complete range of topics, presenting an intimate and fantastic look at what makes him who he is, what his passions/interests are. It's a fantastic read in a full, but one of my favorite quotes was about Blade Runner, and how important its atmosphere was to the world. "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." But this was only a small bit of Nolan's brilliance on display in the DGA article.
First up, one topic that is continuously discussed in the industry, is the film to digital switch, which Nolan remains one of the strongest hold outs on. He makes his case on why he still continues to shoot with film:
"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."
That is the perfect answer to lead us into some of the other meaty parts of his interview, including his discussion on IMAX and why he likes that format. I absolutely love it, but he explains it better than anyone:
"We shot 5-perf 65 mm for a few scenes in Inception and I liked the results a lot, plus you can use sound with it. But IMAX has three times the negative area of that format. It’s such a leap up in terms of quality that if you’re working on a film that’s such a large-scale production you can embrace the more cumbersome technology, and allow for it and build it into your production process, then what you get in terms of quality when you’re shooting is pretty extraordinary. For The Dark Knight Rises we were on Wall Street with a thousand extras, and you can see everybody’s face in the frame. In some ways, I feel it takes me back almost to the silent film era, when they had those huge cameras. Trying to do things in more of a tableau fashion, it changes the way I direct a film, it changes the way I block the camera movement because of the size of the thing. The resulting image has so much power that you don’t need to cut in the same way, you can frame the shot slightly differently, you wind up with a slightly different feel."
One of the other topics that Nolan makes a poignant comment about is CGI, which he definitely uses in his films, but he explains how he uses it completely differently than all the other CGI spectacles we often see:
"The thing with computer-generated imagery is that it’s an incredibly powerful tool for making better visual effects. But I believe in an absolute difference between animation and photography. However sophisticated your computer-generated imagery is, if it’s been created from no physical elements and you haven’t shot anything, it’s going to feel like animation. There are usually two different goals in a visual effects movie. One is to fool the audience into seeing something seamless, and that’s how I try to use it. The other is to impress the audience with the amount of money spent on the spectacle of the visual effect, and that, I have no interest in. We try to enhance our stunt work and floor effects with extraordinary CGI tools like wire and rig removals. If you put a lot of time and effort into matching your original film elements, the kind of enhancements you can put into the frames can really trick the eye, offering results far beyond what was possible 20 years ago. The problem for me is if you don’t first shoot something with the camera on which to base the shot, the visual effect is going to stick out if the film you’re making has a realistic style or patina. I prefer films that feel more like real life, so any CGI has to be very carefully handled to fit into that."
What an elegant way of saying big CGI movies like Transformers suck. In terms of another movie trend that he thinks "sucks", Nolan states his thoughts on 3D, answering a question about WB wanting TDKR in 3D:
"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. 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. When you treat that stereoscopically, and we've tried a lot of tests, you shrink the size so the image becomes a much smaller window in front of you. So the effect of it, and the relationship of the image to the audience, has to be very carefully considered. And I feel that in the initial wave to embrace it, that wasn’t considered in the slightest."
The full interview is filled with endlessly amusing, inspiring, informational, brilliant quotes from Nolan, so I highly suggest visiting DGA.org to read the full thing. I honestly love hearing Nolan speak, he's a genius filmmaker for a reason, and just hearing what he has to say about any topics is interesting. I'm sure we'll be hearing plenty more from Mr. Nolan in the coming months leading up to The Dark Knight Rises release on July 20th. Another one of my favorite quotes, Nolan's last comment on why he really uses IMAX: "As a filmmaker who’s been given sizable budgets with which to work, I feel a responsibility to the audience to be shooting with the absolute highest quality technology that I can and make the film in a way that I want."