Today: February 24, 2024

Interview Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan, the man behind the most talked-about movie – Inception. Chris Patmore meets the revered director who is also responsible for the likes of The Dark Knight and Memento.

Christopher Nolan, the man behind the most talked-about movie – Inception. Chris Patmore meets the revered director who is also responsible for the likes of The Dark Knight and Memento.

You were developing this film for decade, can you tell us
a bit about how you got it from a concept in your mind and onto the screen?

CN: I’d always
wanted to address dreams in filmmaking and do something set in this world.
About ten years ago I focused in on the idea of exploring a technology that
allows people to share dreams, and the uses and abuses of that, and came up
with this idea of really trying to tell the story of a heist – a heist film –
set in the world of dreams, with a technology that would allow somebody to
penetrate someone else’s subconscious. The idea was to always tell a
large-scale action film, with an unusual twist to the world in which it takes

inceptionDid the success of The Dark Knight help to sell this
story to the studio?

CN: Having had the
success we did with The Dark Knight,
which we were extremely happy with, and surprised by frankly, it certainly made
it a lot easier to go to the studio with something very different and get the
backing of the studio. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that I went to
them with the concept nine years earlier and they were definitely up for it. It
was actually me who said I want to wait; I’m not ready to make this yet. I
don’t know how to finish the script; I don’t know how to do this kind of film
yet. A lot of things came into play, including me growing into the film.

When the film was being made it was kept under a very
tight veil of secrecy. How difficult was it to achieve?

CN: It’s difficult
to keep anything fresh for an audience these days, with technology being what
it is. People seem to know everything about a film before you’ve even made it.
For me, as a filmgoer, I like nothing more than to sit in the cinema and have
the lights go down, and not know what I’m about to see unfold on screen. Every
time we go to make a film, we do everything we can to just systematise things
so that we’re able to make a film in private. When it’s finished, it’s for the
audience to make of it what they will.

What are the challenges of making this movie, which is
shot in six countries and filled with spectacular practical effects?

CN: For me, the
underlying tone of the thing is best summed up by Leo’s character in the film
when he says, “The dreams feel real while we’re in them”. So
everything we did in a production sense was aimed at trying to retain a tactile
sense of reality to the world of the dreams, so they felt like possible worlds
even as impossible things were happening. That posed a lot of challenges for certain departments in
terms of things like a freight train barreling down the street and smashing
into cars and things. We wanted to do these things for real, so they would feel
possible to the audience and we wouldn’t have an obviously surreal quality to
things. That’s why we traveled to real locations and went all around the world,
and shot in blizzards and so forth. Hopefully that all adds up to some greater
sense of reality to the world of dreams.

Do you see a similarity between filmmaking and dream

CN: From my point of
view as a director it is certainly the case, now that I look at Inception as a
finished film, it is probably as close as I want to get to making a film about
filmmaking. In writing the script and trying to imagine a creative process
whereby you would create an alternative reality for someone within the story, I
naturally gravitated towards the creative process that I know, which is when
you try to create an alternative reality for an audience. You put together a
team of very talented people and you have them figure out their particular
angle on the reality you are trying to put together. When I’m watching the
scenes when the team is putting the whole plan together, it reminds me very
much of the processes we go through in filmmaking.

Chris, you’re an old school filmmaker, how long do you
plan to survive in the digital realm? And can you tell us more about working
with IMAX, and what you think about the latest fad for 3D?

CN: That’s a lot of
technical issues to cover and I wouldn’t want to bore you with it. People who
know me know I can passionately speak about these things for hours. The bottom
line is, this film was made in a traditional way: we shot film; we cut the
negative; we photo-chemically timed the film. The reason I do that is it is
still the best way to get the quality in the shortest amount of time for the
least amount of money. In my opinion, it is the best way of doing things
technically. It gets better and better as fewer and fewer people do it because
you go to the lab and they give you a lot of attention.

When I started out, a struggling 16mm filmmaker, it was all
you could do to get your film processed. As far as future developments – things
like, I’d love to see IMAX develop smaller, lighter cameras, but at the same
time the R & D costs are extensive, considering how few people shoot with
those cameras. 3D is something I’m looking at, but I see significant technical
limitations to the presentation format. Most of it to do with the dimness of
the image and the fact that we have to wear those glasses. The post conversion
process can be done very effectively – we actually did tests on it for this
film – but decided we didn’t have time to get it to the standard we wanted, but
it is perfectly possible to do it if you are acquiring on a high-quality film
format, you should be able to do a very good post conversion, with enough time.

What about the use of the Piaf song in the film?

CN: The song was
always in the script. For ten years it’s been in the script. Marion Cotillard
coming into the project was a nice coincidence. I thought about changing it,
knowing I would get this question every time I talked about the film. Maybe I’m
a bit of a fatalist, but I kind of liked the idea of the connection, but it is
a pure coincidence. I don’t know why I chose that song. I just wanted something
with a very distinctive opening that could be used in the way it is.

You obviously spent a lot of time setting up the world
and its rules. How was that compared with the more realistic films you’ve made,
including the Batman ones? And would you like to revisit the world of Inception
again, at a later date?

CN: With every film
you take on, you try and establish, if not the rules of a world particularly,
but the arena and tone of what you are working with. In taking on the idea of
dreams you have a burden on the rules of the film because you have to set some
sort of limitations, because dreams are infinite and have infinite potential,
which is the thing that makes them fascinating in the first place, but it also
makes them hard to address in drama. Because anything can happen, how does
anything matter? The rules of the world were designed to put limits on the

The key thing in my head was to make it the story of a con –
the story of fooling another character. As soon as you’re talking about trying
to fool somebody, or taking on the heist idea of trying to create a reality for
someone else, then naturally the team must adhere to certain rules, certain
limitations on what they could be doing in the dream so that they don’t
fracture the illusion of reality. That’s really the basis of the rule set. My interest in the world is in creating one that you feel
could have infinite possibilities through its rule set, through its geography
if you like. Certainly what I want for the audience is I want them to leave the
cinema with a feeling of potential and a feeling of possibility for that world.

Which was the most challenging action sequence, of the
many there are, for you to direct?

CN: I think the most
challenging were the zero gravity ones, and we were very fortunate to have Joe
(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) do them. Not only is he naturally acrobatic, but he is
also very dedicated to making that illusion work. The difficulty of what he was
doing was extraordinary, hanging upside-down for hours at a time, and
choreographing fight scenes that way but he makes it look extremely natural and
extremely easy, and that’s why those illusions work.

For me, I was taking a huge risk in building these sets in
this way with these rigs because if Joe hadn’t wanted to do it or been as good
at it as he was, we’d have been in terrible trouble. I have no idea what I
would have done at that point. That’s what I thought would be the hardest, but
Joe made it go very easily.

What really turned out to be the hardest, simply because it
was the most ambitious, was we had to shoot all these scenes in heavy rain, and
specifically scripted in heavy rain, and we had to shoot them in Los Angeles in
the middle of summer and that proved to be really tough. We didn’t want to do
it all through visual effects, so we had to put rain towers on tops of
buildings. Dealing with conditions like that, whether you’re creating them
yourself, or they’re imposed on you by Mother Nature, makes everything very,
very tricky. Just in terms of the equipment, in terms of keeping people dry
when they need to be dry, etc, etc, proves to be very challenging.

inceptionDo you think we will ever have the technology to access
each others dreams?

CN: I don’t think we
will. Whilst I enjoyed playing with the idea as a science-fiction idea, and as
a jumping off point for a story, I came away from the experience thinking it is
extremely valuable that our dreams are private and we have the opportunity
every night to look at our lives in a different way and process them with no
consequences. I don’t think it would be a good thing. Also, when you start
thinking about the potential of the human mind, and it’s ability to create an
entire world and perceive it at the same time – things like that, I come away
feeling that our minds are not remotely understood by science, which makes it
very unlikely such a technology could exist.

There are quite a few references to Greek mythology, such
as Ellen Page’s character being called Ariadne. Was there a specific intention
with that?

CN: I didn’t put too
much thought into it really. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of mazes
and labyrinths, and the mythology that relates to that, and the idea of the
Minotaur and the labyrinth, and Ariadne is the guide through that was just
something I gravitated towards. I try not to analyse too much and be too
self-conscious. There are a lot of references in the names of the characters to
things, like the character of Eames, for example, was a reference to the
designers. There are things like that that I like to put in the film, almost to
acknowledge the influences on the film, and Ariadne is a clear example of that.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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