Time for THE film of the summer and to go along with it with have an interview with the big man himself, director Christopher Nolan who was kind enough to sit down to a press conference to talk about his big mystery project Inception starring Leonardo DiCaprio (read interview). The film is about dreams and Nolan is was a dream to make after ten years of trying. With the success of The Dark Knight Warner Brothers gave him the reins to finally create the film he’s always wanted to.
Check out what went into making Inception below…
Have you been fascinated by dreams in your lifetime? Have you viewed them differently since working on this film?
Christopher Nolan: I’ve been fascinated by dreams really my whole life – since I was a kid. I think the relationship between movies and dreams is something that has always interested me. I like the idea of trying to portray dreams on film. I’ve been working on the script for sometime; really about 10 years in the form that you’ve seen it in where there is this idea of a heist structure. I think really, for me, the primary interest in dreams and in making this film is this notion that your mind, while you are asleep, you can create this entire world that you are also experiencing without realizing that you are doing that. I think that says a lot about the potential of the human mind, particularly the creative potential. It is something I found fascinating.
You have done a great job at keeping this film mysterious. We have all known it is coming out, it there a danger where secrecy becomes a form of hype and how do you balance that with what you want people to know about this film?
CN: Well, it is certainly difficult to balance marketing a film and putting it out there to everybody with wanting to keep it fresh for the audience. My most enjoyable movie- going experiences have always been going to a movie theater, sitting there, the lights go down and a film comes on the screen that you don’t know everything about, and you don’t know every plot turn and character movement that’s going to happen. I want to be surprised and entertained by a movie. So, that’s what we are trying to do for the audience. Obviously, we also have to sell the film and that’s a balance that I think Warner is just striking very well. I suppose, yes, at a point keeping something secret does lend itself to its own degree of hype, but I don’t really think of it as secrecy. I just think of it as an appropriate – we invite the audience to come and see it based on some of the imagery and some of the plot ideas and premise, but we don’t want to give everything away. I think too much is given away too often in movie marketing these days.
The sound design and the score on this film are phenomenal. It is almost like another character. Can you comment on that at all?
CN: Well, I like films where the music and the sound design, at times, are almost indistinguishable. One of the interesting things that happened early on is the Edith Piaf song, that’s in the film, was always indicated in the script long before Marion [Cotillard] came on the film. It had always been that choice of song. Right at the beginning of our post-production process, I had to make the decision of: do I get the sound department or do I get the music guys? Do I get Hans [Zimmer] to manipulate that track for where it sort of sounds as if you are hearing it through the dream and slows down and gets massive and all the rest. It was an interesting way to go. What I decided to do was to give it to Hans and let him run with it and see if, in some way, it might inform elements of the score because we always knew, we talked in early conversations about towards the action climax of the film, there was going to be a need for the score to interweave seamlessly with this source queue, which is an extremely difficult technical thing to do.
What was it like working with Ken Watanabe?
CN: I had worked with Ken on Batman Begins and I had such a good time in the days we worked together. I really wanted find something else to do where I could work with him for longer and give him a bigger thing to do. Really, it’s been just a complete pleasure. He is just a wonderful actor to work with and I think his work in the film is extraordinary and really adds immeasurably to what Inception is.
Can you talk about the training for the kind of Fred Astaire fight sequence and the zero gravity situation in the elevator?
CN: Well I’ll leave Joe to tell you the bad stuff. Really, the thing I just want to point out that the people might not be aware of watching it is that we had a stunt guy, who looks exactly like Joe made up perfectly, and he stood there on set every day for three weeks and didn’t do a thing because Joe insisted on doing absolutely everything himself, apart from one shot. There is one shot where the stunt guy performed. Everything else he did himself and did just the most incredible job with these bizarre rigs and bizarre sort of torture devices.
You have listed Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” as an influence. Those dreams are more sexual, which doesn’t appear in this film. Is that something you tried to stay away from?
CN: Well there are certain areas when you are talking about dreams – the analysis of dreams, how you might examine those in the film – that you do want to avoid because they’d probably be either too disturbing for the sort action film genre that we are working in or funny. So one of the things, tonally, we talked a lot about – I talked with Leo about in the period we were looking at the script very closely – is never tipping over into comedy; the sort of funny version. One of the things all these guys have done in their performances, that I think is extraordinary, is they’ve created very subtly differences in the way the characters appear in the dream levels and then in reality. They’ve never made it funny. They’ve never taken it to that comedic place and, certainly, I think there is a great comedy version of this movie somewhere, but I don’t want to make it [laughs].
Was the concept of cinema as dream something that you always wanted to touch on as another layer of our dream existence?
CN: I think for me, when you look at the idea of being able to create a limitless world and use it as almost a playground for action and adventure, I naturally gravitate towards cinematic worlds whether it’s the Bond films or things like that, so without being too self-conscious about it or without too much intention as I was writing it I certainly allowed my mind to wander where it would naturally. I think a lot the tropes from different genres of movies – heist films, spy films…that kind of thing – they therefore set up naturally.
Can you talk about some of your due diligence into the scientific aspect of dreams? How did you come to the notion that architects and their designs would be so intrinsic to the development of these dreamscapes?
CN: I don’t actually tend to do a lot of research when I’m writing. I took the approach in writing Inception that I did when I was writing Momento, about memory and memory loss, which is I tend to examine my own process of, in this case dreaming and in Momento’s case, memory, and try and analyze how that works and how that might be changed or manipulated; how a rule set might emerge from my own process and I do that because I think a lot of what I find, you wind up doing with research. It’s just confirming things you want to do. And if the research contradicts what you want to do, you tend to do it anyway. So at a certain point I realized that I think if you are trying to reach an audience, being as subjective as possible and really trying to write from something genuine is the way to go. So really, it is from my own process; from my own experience.
Were you able to bring this in time and on budget? You went through so many different things that we don’t see often.
CN: Yeah we do. We actually – we had a very, very efficient crew, this very, very professional bunch of actors. We were able to hammer through it and we finished early and we finished under budget, so we really brought the thing off very, very smoothly which was great. We tried to be as efficient as possible because I think, in my process that actually helps the work. I like having the pressure of time and money, and really trying to stick to the parameters we’ve been given, so yeah, it went very smoothly.
You alluded to the Bond aspect of the third dream down, were you able to get a Bond movie sort of out of your system through that scene?
CN: Quite a bit of it, yeah [laughs].
There have been rumors of you doing this movie in 3D. Can you talk about that and what went into that decision?
CN: Yeah, sure. We looked at shooting on various different formats before we went to shooting including 3D technology, but also show scan and 65 mil, which we eventually fixed on. Then when we edited the film, we looked at the post-conversion process and did some very good tests, but when I really looked at the time period we had and where my attention needed to be in finishing the film, I decided I didn’t have enough time to do it to the standard I would have liked. I think the question of 3D is really for audiences, in a sense. The tests we looked at – it’s perfectly possible to post-convert a film very well. I like not having glasses when I watch a movie and I like being able to see a very bright, immersive image. So I think, at the end of the day, I’m extremely happy to be putting the film out with 35 mil film prints – very brightly projected – with the highest possible image quality. That’s really what excites me.
I read that you started pitching this film around the time you did Insomnia. Can you share how your pitch changed once you had the script written?
CN: When I first pitched the studio the project, it was about ten years ago. I had just finished Insomnia. Really the pitch was the movie you have seen, except I hadn’t yet really figured out the emotional core of the story, and that took me a long time to do. I think I sort of grew into the film in a sense. I had the heist thing. I had the relationship between architecture and dreams; the idea that you would use an architect to design a dream for somebody else and all of that.
All of those things were in place for several years, but it took me a long time to sort of find this idea of emotionally connecting with the story because when I look at heist movies, and I knew I wanted it to feel like a heist movie, they tend to be almost deliberately superficial – they tend to not have high emotional stakes – and what I realized over the years, and the thing I got stuck on, was that doesn’t work when you’re talking about dreams. The whole thing about the human mind and dreams is it has to have emotional consequences and resonances. That was really the process over the years was finding my relationship with the love story, with the tragedy of it, the emotional side.
This is your first major film that is based on your own material. How does it differ putting out a major film of your own material versus another person’s material?
CN: Well I think the thing some people find surprising about source material, if you will, whether it’s a comic book adaptation, remake of another film, or a sequel – these are things I’ve done before – the interesting thing about an original concept is that, particularly with the ten year gap it took me from my initial set of ideas and then finishing the screenplay, by the time you get there you have lived with those ideas for so long it really isn’t very different from working from somebody else’s story. As with Memento, when I adapted my brother’s short story, the same thing happens. You take on this story as your own and because the screenwriting process is a very long one for me, it takes years really to put a script together, by the time you get there at the end it starts to feel a little bit irrelevant as to where you started from. So, the experience has been quite similar in fact.
This type of film seems like it only could get made because of your past commercial successes, but does that freedom embolden you to test the boundaries of what you want and can do? Or does it put more pressure on you to fit within a more traditional structure?
CN: Well I’m asked a lot whether after The Dark Knight I felt a particular pressure on the next film, and that’s not really the case. I put it this way, I felt a responsibility because it’s not that often that you get to have a large commercial success and then something you want to do, that you can excite people about, and so it’s a great opportunity and the responsibility we felt in doing that was to make what we felt was the best film possible – the most interesting film possible because, obviously, with the success of The Dark Knight, we were in a position where the studio was prepared to put a lot of faith in us and trust us to really do something special. Those opportunities are very rare for filmmakers and so I felt a responsibility to really do something memorable with it.
How has your fillmmaking process change over time?
CN: As far as my filmmaking approach, the thing I always say – it might be hard for people to understand… I don’t know – for me the filmmaking process has been exactly the same. When I was doing Following, for example, which was shot with friends, you know, one day a week for a year and put the film together that way. It was exactly the same process and I think, for me, what I’m doing on set is I’m just watching things happen as an audience member and trying to just look at what’s the image we’re photographing. How will that advance the story? And what will the image be. That process really hasn’t changed for me and it’s strangely similar no matter how big the film gets.
Check out Inception in theaters July 16th!