Christopher Nolan, the writer-director who was nominated several times for Oscars and renowned for his innovative cinema, opened up about his experiences as a director in one of the masterclasses held at the Cannes Film Festival.
He was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd who stood for hours awaiting the event. The British director spoke about his very focused approach to cinema, in the company of French historian and critic Philippe Rouye.
He also talked about the restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. He said, “after filming Dunkirk last summer, I wanted to collaborate with Warner Bros on a 4K version of one of my films. While working with different projectors, I discovered two reels of Kubrick’s feature film that the company was working on. This is how I got the idea of restoring it. I told myself that reintroducing the film as it was projected in cinemas at that time would be a wonderful gift to offer the public.”
Nolan discovered the film at the age of seven when his father took him to see it in 70 mm at Leicester Square Theatre in London. The instant the screen lit up, he said he felt himself going on a voyage, one from which he has never returned. “The film made me realise that with cinema anything was possible,” he said.
About the film’s format, he said that they decided to keep it in its original condition, in 70mm, and reproduce the picture as Kubrick had imagined it.
Nolan also spoke about his experience with learning cinema. “It’s not that I didn’t want to go to film school, it’s that film school didn’t want me to go,” he said, adding, “I finally pursued a degree in English literature, which actually came in handy, especially for comprehending a screenwriter’s intentions in a screenplay or understanding the origin of metaphors. In the end, I don’t think I was cut out for film school.”
He told the young audience and passionate filmmakers, “Stanley Kubrick said that the best way to learn how to make a film was to make a film.”
Nolan directed his film, Following, with his friends, which meant he had to do everything himself in case someone failed to turn up. “In order to be able to justify your exacting demands in a profession, you must be able to understand the tricks of the trade. What I recommend to young film directors is to touch everything. That also keeps you from being at the mercy of others; instead, you’re their equal,” he said.
Nolan has been one of the directors to perfect the usage of IMAX. He said that he first experienced IMAX through the documentaries he saw in museums when he was a teen. he found it fascinating and was curious about how to apply it to his films due to the size and detail of the image. He said he used IMAX cameras for some scenes in The Dark Knight, but since the image was three times bigger, they couldn’t film more than 90 seconds per reel. He added that all the filming depended on this factor. As for Dunkirk, he fulfilled his teenage dream by filming it entirely in IMAX.
On his philosophy of sound editing, he told the audience that he always wanted to try to marry sound editing with music editing. In Dunkirk, this happened right from the writing stage, where he resorted to using a progression that the sound engineers called the octatonic scale, which involves composing notes so that a gradual, endless progression is achieved.
He cited Hans Zimmer, whose team was able to produce Dunkirk’s entire musical score using this progression. “You can thus hear a sort of continuous ticking throughout various real sound effects such as those of the ship engines or the running of soldiers. This consequently allowed us to convey dramatic intensity through both music and sound,” he said.
One of the questions which was raised in the discussion was the legacy of his trilogy the Dark Knight. “What distinguished my approach to Batman from everything I had ever done before was the profound dark side that permeated him,” he said, commenting on why people fell in love with the villains. “As for the villain, he served to define the film’s genre. Making a sequel is only pertinent if you succeed in introducing a new dimension, and it is for this reason that the three films belong to different genres.”