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Christopher Nolan Speaks on Need to Improve Theatrical Experience

by
October 14, 2015
Source: The Guardian

Christopher Nolan

Last week at the BFI London Film Festival, English filmmaker Christopher Nolan showed up for a few interesting discussions on film and filmmaking. During one of his chats about the importance of continuing to use real film, as opposed to digital, he briefly commented on the topic of the theatrical experience and how bad it has become. If there's anyone who knows about and should be listened to when it comes to the theatrical experience, it's Christopher Nolan, as he has always valued the big screen experience as much as the story, and that's why his films have such a cinematic feeling. "For some reason, it has become acceptable to say [to audiences] we are providing this empty room with a TV in it and just watch a film." Oh so true.

Nolan is referring to the way movie theaters now operate without much care or concern for the theatrical experience. Pretty much every movie theater chain the world over only offers a screen and seats, and some overpriced concession. Once the movie starts, the few minimum-wage staff on hand all head elsewhere and no one makes sure the actual experience is up to par. Nor do they make sure there are no talkers, texters, or other issues. Nolan emphasizes: "That has to change and if it doesn’t change, forget film, forget digital, if that experience for the audience is not valued… people stop going." He's right, and it's already happening, even though everyone (especially the theaters) try to pretend it's not. This isn't just some petty complaint.

Some may try to brush off his concerns as the typical "the times are changing and I don't like it!" plight, but I believe he is much smarter and aware than that. The Guardian, where these quotes are from, adds that Nolan said the surveys about young people not valuing going to the cinema were "complete bollocks… the experience has to be something great or of course people don’t want to come." No, he doesn't mean creating special texting-allowed theaters or be-an-asshole-and-get-away-with-it showtimes, he's genuinely talking about the fact that everyone can recognize the value of a perfect, big screen cinematic experience. Including learning to put away their damn cell phones as long as the footage on the screen can keep their attention.

Of course, Nolan also commented on film and encouraged cinephiles to focus on film as much as possible. This is such a great quote: "I have conversations with studio heads and at some point when I'm passionately advocating using film they'll say 'at the end of the day doesn't storytelling trump everything?' I say 'no it doesn’t, otherwise we'd be making radio plays, it would be a lot cheaper.'" Damn. And he's right about that. That may be a hard pill to swallow for some screenwriters and story purists, but he's right - stories come in all forms, including printed in books, as well as the radio. But the movies are all about the big screen, the cinema, the palace where we all go and sit together in a dark room and watch light bounce off of a screen.

If there's any one movie theater chain that understands the importance of the experience, it's the Alamo Drafthouse. They care about the experience as much as the movie as much as the concessions and as much as everything else. And they will happily kick out texters and talkers (the right way to do it). The other movie theater chain that seems to put an emphasis on the experience is Arclight, mostly still based around Los Angeles and Southern California. So there are places out there that do care about the experience, but they're spread thin, and all the other theater chains have a lot of work to do if they want to catch up. It's a relief to see Christopher Nolan speaking up about the need to improve the theatrical experience. Hear hear.

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  • Jon Odishaw
    Interstellar itself was an improved theatrical experience
    • Zack Snyder
      THIS! ABSOLUTELY THIS! Interstellar was designed to be witnessed in a theater. Sure the film was great but the experience just isn't the same outside of an IMAX theater.
  • Ronin
    For me his best, perfect movie was INCEPTION! I love his Batman triology, Memento, Interstellar and The Prestige, but INCEPTION was and is his masterpiece!
    • Cyberdine
      Id have to agree. Inception was truly remarkable.
  • Zack Snyder
    Dear Christopher Nolan... TELL US WHAT YOUR NEXT FILM IS ABOUT!
  • txJM
    Step number one: stop producing crap like Man of Steel.
    • Jon Odishaw
      Loves man of steel. Plz produce more mr Nolan
  • bumboclot
    I agree 100% with Nolan. Never mind the talkers, texters and idiots you see almost EVERY time you go to a movie now, but last weekend I even found puddles of soda and trash on the floor under my feet. How does that make you want to come back? When I went to see Man of Steel, I had to walk out of the theater about 5 minutes into the movie and look for a manager and ask the guy to turn the lights off! Can you imagine? What a joke!
  • MaqueeStalker
    I completely respect Nolan as a storyteller and film maker. However he like a lot of people are way off base when it comes to "The Theatrical Experience". Really at the end of the day its an economic decision. Theaters pay TONS of money to show the movies! Equipment, Royalties, Rent, Staff, ect.. How else do you expect them to make money? They have to pack everyone in like sardines, and charge an arm and a leg for popcorn and soda just to make a buck. There is no competition because the barriers to entry in the market are HUGE! If there were more competition out there maybe we would have theaters catering to the experience but we don't, so quit bitching like a overpaid child. If he wanted to actually do something about it he would be talking to the studio heads NOT the regular peeps.
  • EmagSamurai
    I can't tell the difference between digital and film unless they're side-by-side. I go to watch a movie, not worry about the technical aspects of how it was made.
    • TigerClaw305
      Its interesting, cause even if movies were shot on film, They are still converted to digital because of the theaters having digital screens. On top of that, they clean up the films once they were scanned digitally, so you don't see the film grain that you see in older films.
  • Zack Snyder
    Interstellar... MEH. Dark Knight Rises... JOKE. Inception... just OK considering he took 10 years to write it. Dark Knight... Should have been titled Joker film. Insomnia... ZZzzz -_- Nolan needs to get off his high horse.
    • Wes Draven
      Interstellar - Great The Dark Knight Rises - Good Batman Begins - Decent Insomnia - Good The Dark Knight - Great Inception - Good The Following - Bad Memento - Great See, we all have opinions....
    • Charles Knowlton
      300 - boring Watchman - stupid Legend of the Guardians - embarrassing Suckerpunch - childish, boring AND stupid Man of Steal - nothing more needs to be said here Batman vs Superman - yeah, can't wait for that one
  • Bo
    Well, here's my 2 cents worth. I don't care for any of Nolan's films and never have. Having said that, he's right about the 'theatrical experience', but wrong about how or what to do about it. Today's so-called 'theatrical experience' is simply very different than it used to be. With all the social media coming into the equation audiences simply are not, at least collectively, as sophisticated as they once were. Meaning they used go to a film to see and listen and quietly experience films that were meaningful and artistic and creative and intelligent. Where are those types of films today? What difference does it make, today, if people in the audience talk or text or whatever while watching mass appeal films like Iron Man (1,2, 3 ad nauseum) or Spider Man or Superman or even these Batman movies? They are all super hero, comic books and who cares? The present day, and usually young, audiences today seem to enjoy watching these movies while talking with each other or twittering to their friends or texting them in the moment. Whose to say that's wrong and they need to be censored or suppressed if that's the way they want to watch movies today? I don't care to have that experience and I don't care to watch super hero comic book movies so I simply do not go to them. Let the young audiences and those that love these big super hero movies watch them the way they want to watch them. If you don't like it...well tough! It's their right to have fun and enjoy themselves if this is the way they chose to. Trying to change them, collectively, is a bit controlling and silly and setting yourself up for failure. And who says you have the right to make that demand and take action to have it the way you think it ought to be. Leave 'em be to enjoy these movies and don't go with hopes of having a 'theatrical experience' different from what's occurring. Let it be. Go with the flow...etc., etc., etc.....blah blah blah...lol...it's all so silly!
  • DAVIDPD
    Theaters need to keep ushers in the theater to kick out people on their phones. The experience would be 50% better without those annoying little screens to distract the viewer.
  • Ian
    Absolutism is a dangerous thing. Unfortunately many of our best directors have fallen prey to it.
  • Aero
    I agree and disagree with this, but it is a good discussion. I'm not really bothered by texting or phones in a theater, but personally I don't like being in a theater with a lot of people. I've walked out of movies if they're crowded and gone to see something less crowded instead, and I'm afraid that is where movie theaters and the audience are diverging into several wrong directions. As a culture we're becoming more individualistic and private, meaning we stay home more and prefer to be able to control our content and surroundings. Theaters really aren't adapting to that at all, and what they're trying to do is actually the opposite. Bigger screens, more fancy "digital" "HD" gimics, and perhaps worst of all is the "Movie Tavern" restaurant style theaters. Lately where I live there's this awful trend of assigned seating where you have to pick your seat like you would at a concert before you go into the theater. I absolutely hate it and won't return to the theaters that have instituted this idea. My favorite theater just switched and I went 3 times and in each instance there was someone in the seat I didn't want to sit in necessarily anyway so I sat somewhere else, and eventually someone comes in who wants their seat and the last time I went nearly 20 people had to get up and play seat roulette so this one idiot could have "his" seat. It lasted the entire first 10 minutes of the movie. I ended up leaving and asking for my money back and won't go back. The restaurant serving food trend in the theater is bad enough. All the little blue lights on each seat, the noise of the leather seats reclining back and forth, and a server coming up to see if you need anything every 15 min or so through the whole film is obnoxious. I'd rather stay home and watch it on my TV....which ironically is what the theaters are trying to lure me away from. I think what is going to have to happen is theaters are going to have to adopt identities for the 2 identities of movie watchers. There's going to have to be traditional movie theaters with regular seats and no bells and whistles where the purists go to just enjoy a movie minus all the chaos, and then there's going to have to be event theaters with recliners, servers, crazy food, and all the extra crap that belongs more at a theme park attraction....where texting and chatting aren't really a big deal. In some ways Nolan is wrong about the movie watching experience because I don't think youth want what he says people want. They want to be able to just "hang out" at the movie theater like they would at home. They're not going to be open to just watching a movie and hollywood will lose that demographic if the theater experience doesn't match their idea of "experience." But Nolan is spot on with people who appreciate movies. There's a romance and a relationship with the movie going experience that can't be watered down by tech Gimics that water down the spectacle of real cinema.
  • Butchy Butch
    but first, improve your scripts man
  • Charles Knowlton
    The theatrical experience is a lost cause. Theaters let it go long ago. They still seem to be making gobs and gobs of money though, so SOMEONE is going. Or is it that the high prices have offset the low numbers of attendees? I stopped going to the theater about 15 years ago and have no desire to go back. It's not only the texting, it's more the lack of respect people have for everyone else. Talking, noisy candy wrappers, people who comment out loud for reactions. Films projecting out of focus and no one able to fix it. Don't forget the commercials. No, I don't miss it at all. I slowly built up a great home theater with a digital projector (that's ALWAYS in focus) a 12 foot screen and NO CELLPHONES ALLOWED in my theater. No, I'll never, ever set foot in one again.

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