Christopher Nolan Talks Inception, Batman, Superman, and 3-D

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Movie maestro Christopher Nolan, who in my book can never do any wrong, screened a double feature of Insomnia and The Dark Knight at the Hero Complex Film Festival in LA this past weekend. In between the two films, he was gracious enough to participate in a Q&A about his movies past, present, and future.

With all the buzz behind Inception, Batman 3, and the Superman reboot gaining traction–most recently the rumor about fan favorite Joseph Gordon-Levitt being pegged as The Riddler–I’ll take whatever words from the man himself that I can get. After the jump, check out some of the interesting tidbits:

On Batman films:

  • He prefers using practical effects to CGI, no matter how “sophisticated,” when he can, because he believes audiences can tell the difference. Nolan shot Bale landing at the bottom of the staircase in Arkham Asylum and challenged the CG team to match it. “I could tell which one was the effect…which upset them a little bit,” he said.
  • His favorite scene from The Dark Knight is the interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker. He didn’t want to do the stereotypical interrogation steeped in shadows, so instead he insisted on very hot key lighting. The scene was shot in the second week of production, as a way to break the ice and give the film crew confidence about the direction with the Joker character.
  • Of Tim Burton‘s original Batman film, Nolan calls it an “absolutely extraordinary…mad studio film,” but “very idiosyncratic.”
  • Cillian Murphy reportedly gave such an impressive screen test reading for Batman, that when Nolan suggested him as the villain, the studio okayed the choice immediately, despite Murphy’s relative low profile at the time.
  • Cher is not in the next Batman movie. Aw, man: She would’ve made a great Clayface.
  • Nolan attributes The Dark Knight‘s colossal success to Heath Ledger‘s performance and people liking Batman Begins, despite the new idea of rebooting a franchise at the time, as well as distrust from audiences about then-recent Batman films.

On the Superman films and the reboot:

  • Richard Donner’s original Superman heavily influenced Nolan during the production of Batman Begins: “I literally pitched the studio my take on Batman by saying I wanted to make the Batman film that had never been made in 1978 or 1979.” He was taken by the notion of “an extraordinary hero in an ordinary world.”
  • He also talks about how the precedent for incredible ensemble casts, a normal occurence in today’s superhero films, started with Superman and Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando, and Glenn Ford.
  • He says “obviously I’m not directing it“–is this a confirmation his duty remains only as producer?
  • He had been trying to decide on a direction for the next Batman film, when he and David Goyer decided “kind of out of the blue one day” that they had a “great idea” for the Superman property. Nolan says, “I just felt like I didn’t want it to not get done,” and convinced studios to set another film into motion.

On Inception:

  • The scene in the mindboggling Inception trailer during which the room spins slowly around was filmed in an actual room. The shot where buildings crumble into the sea is a combination of both CG and practical effects. Nolan flew to Morocco, first shot the actors walking up from the water with the waves lapping toward them and a substitute representation for the buildings.
  • He pitched Inception to Warner Brothers after directing Insomnia, a highly overlooked thriller starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams from 2002. They liked it, and wanted him to write it, but he realized he would have to first pen a spec script. Obviously, he then found himself occupied in the meantime with Batman Begins, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight: “So, I went off to write it figuring it would take me a couple of months and it took me ten years!”
  • It took him a long time to find an emotional core to the film, as he considers heist films to be “deliberately superficial…glamorous and fun and procedural-based.” Like he did with Guy Pearce in the excellent Memento, Nolan spent months with Leonardo DiCaprio “finding the emotional truth” to his character and noting his motivation through the story’s progression.
  • Nolan screened Pink Floyd‘s The Wall for his crew before they started work on Inception.
  • He needs one more week to put on finishing touches to Inception.

On 3-D film:

  • Nolan is not particularly an enthusiast of 3-D (a statement which apparently was received with a lot of cheers). On a technical level, he finds it “fascinating,” but on an experiential level, he finds “the dimness of the image extremely alienating.”
  • But if 3-D is what people want to see, he recognizes that’s what the studios are going to make and that’s what he’ll be doing. However, he can only see himself working with the format of post-conversion 3-D, as shooting in 3-D requires “enormous compromises.”
  • People shouldn’t call normal cinema “2-D.” Says Nolan: “The whole point of cinematic imagery is that it is three dimensional. We work in three dimensions.”
  • They tried post-conversion tests with Inception, and Nolan describes the result as working “quite well, actually.” However, as the process is time-consuming, the film would not reach the standard he would be satisfied with.

Perhaps Nolan should take a page from Wyck Godfrey‘s playbook, producer of the Twilight films, and use the 3-D medium for profound artistry: FEARnet reports that the second part of Breaking Dawn may use the format, to reflect Bella’s new vampire state.

Read more about Nolan’s thoughts on Insomnia, Memento, and the screenwriting process at Ain’t It Cool.

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