Christopher Nolan is best known for reviving the Batman film franchise and for directing the blockbusters Inception and Dunkirk. His films have taken nearly $5 billion at the box office. Born in London in 1970 to an English father and an American mother, he discovered film-making at the age of seven. In what he describes as "a leap of faith", his father lent him his Super 8 camera - and he's not stopped making films since. From youthful experiments, manipulating his action figures and shooting stop motion animations, he progressed to making short films at university where he read English - although he spent more time at University College London's Bloomsbury Theatre, home to the film society, than the lecture theatre. His first feature film, Following, had enough festival exposure and critical success to secure him his first official budget of $4.5 million to make his next film, Memento. In 2005 he was hailed for reinventing the Caped Crusader in the dark and gritty Batman Begins. He regularly works with the same actors and production team including his long-time producer, his wife, Emma Thomas. The couple's latest film, Dunkirk, is nominated in the best picture category of the Oscars this year and Christopher has a nomination for Best Director. Presenter: Kirsty Young Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is the bbc, hello, I'm doing avi, and before you settle down with this forecast, I want to tell you about another one that you might like. It's called, fortunately myself and feet lover: yes! Well, I don't encourage a too much, but she is on it. We shall stories from behind the scenes of broadcasting with our very very special and informative guess. We ve had the likes of tom carriage by building. Unknit knows, fortunately with the and jane you can find it wherever you found this hello, I'm kirsty young welcome to desert island discs. Where every week I asked my guests to choose the eight tracks, the book and the luxury item that they want to take with them if they were cast away on a desert island for rights reasons, the music on these podcast versions is shorter than in the original broadcast. You can find over
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Doing this week is the film maker, Christopher Nolan, if its cinematic spectacle your after he's most. Certainly your man proving time and time again that there is such a thing as a credible blockbuster from his batman, trilogy to interstellar to dunkirk, his movies revel in scale existential axed and intricate into place with the nature of time. He made us first feature film on a shoestring budget of three thousand pines these days. That would barely cover the catering bill for the crews, lunch, the dark night rises, reputedly cost two hundred and fifty million dollars to make and took over a billion at the box office. Mindboggling amounts that have cemented his status as a true tinsel ten tightened, but here's the thing the way he makes those movies seems curiously cosy. He bashers out a one page synopsis on an ancient manual typewriter, often going on to write the screenplays with his brother, his wife's his producer and
husband into personally hand, delivers scripts to the doorsteps of movie. Legends. Add to that the scandalous rumour that he often finishes films ahead of time and under budget, and he scarcely seems very hollywood at all. He says simply as a director. I try to show people things they ve never seen before. So here's to that christopher known. I wonder then, about this idea of watching the unfamiliar and yet it helps us to understand more about what is familiar to us. Why do you choose to do things that we find what I think when you're looking to create cinematic? At a time when you, when you're lucky to transport the audience- as a filmmaker thing, you're really reaching back into your past experience of watching films. When you were a kid
The challenge is always to give the organs of fresh experience to make them. I suppose newly appreciate the feeling of having a screen open, open and take to another world, and I think, for me, one of the weapons in any rational is is to find a way to give a fresh spin on the familiar, because with mainstream a there's always that tension between wanting to fulfil audience expectations, but also wanting to challenge them and showed him something you I mentioned that you are known to have delivered film scripts too. I'm thinkin Michael, came here that story that you went to his front door knocked on the door and said I ve got something I want you to read and then you take it away. I wanted to be true. Visit to wear well, I'm in like all Michael stories. It's it's true and it's not watch absolutely true. Is that and he was a little surprised by this- we did deliver him the script and then say well. Can we have it back in a couple of attracting okay, and why did he need it back in a couple of hours? Well,
really it's just about the privacy main film, and so we tightly control scripts in burma begins with first film, where really felt the need, because of such interest from fan base for that character, and you know when you work judged prematurely, sir. His if the handle of the script sat with Michael talk to him about it and then asked to take away the script at the end of that, and he was very gracious better and quite amused by the whole process. I am famously. I read that you, you never sit down and set you to have one of those directors tears that says crystal on the back and also you carry a little flask of tea around with you, and you have just opened up such a flask on the desk. Next to me, what quantity is it? It's, oh grey S, l granted man and tell me about your first check, then what what are we going to hear today? Why have you chosen this
The first track, we're hearing is HANS. Zimmer's journey to the line hands is a is a composer that I've worked with a lot, and this, I think, is one of his best bits of film school. It's from Terrence malick's film, the thin red line. It's very carefully structured, minimalist piece of compensate and it just as wonderful ability to make whatever images is under seem more vital, and I think for me all the work done with hand since some ways is it was trying to get back to the simple power of his cue,
the handsome. His journey to the line from the original send track of the thin red line, and chris Renault and you ve made a loss of movies. Of course, you very often work with the same people. People like christian bail, I caught a yard and half away the cinematography woolly fist production design a niece incredibly, not to mention of course, as I said in my introduction, your brother, you often call right scripts with, and your wife, who is here
long term, producer why'd, you do that are in the baseline, when you work with somebody who's good at what they do and you enjoy the experience you want to repeat repeated emma and I met on the first day of university and I involved. Her in the films are, is doing. She came down from the film society at you, yes, sir, we ve always had films is part of our lives together. I think, on top of that, there is an ease of communication that develops with people leave. What with before and part of that communication is about surrounding us off with people who understand or support what it is you're trying to do, but are afraid to criticise, to call you on things that you ve done that aren't gonna work or inadequate. You know you you're looking for, honest treatment without an agenda and work in the same way when particular working with families is a very important part of making sure that the only agenda there is making the best from possible
are you know. Honesty is a very vexed issue. It seems right now for the film industry and and post weinstein's. You know, there's a lot of not just in the pointing and finger wagging that people wondering if there's something rotten at the heart of la la land. Do you think it is an industry that needs a written branch reform that some people are calling for? While it certainly reform. I mean that's very clear and I think people are seizing the moment and working without nets. I suppose the silver lining and I've been very fortunate with the success of my films to be able to surround myself with people. a long time. We trust and, to a certain extent, I've been working in my own city bubble, so revelations command made to feel slightly naive us, but that's easy, I'm wondering if, if one of them maybe many reasons that you ve worked in that bubble, because there were elements of it that didn't quite sit comfortably with he with the actual sort of structure, And- mechanism of old style hollywood, if you will, that was uncovered,
to you? Well, I think, even on a creative love, when you come to hollywood, you ve heard all of the horror stories over the years about creativity. And so you looking to insulate yourself to a degree as a creator as far as the cultural generally, I'm in hollywood. Is it international language is also a community of people and its men of people of all different nationalities, exciting. You know in a sense its representatives the world. Actually very many of your films they have, deeply flawed meal protagonists in a way Hearing people now say that what we need to see are more strong female characters. More female writers more women heading up talent, agencies and so one it. Given you pause for thought about your own creative process and what you want to represent on screen. Well, I
it's interesting because in the question you conflate two very different things. One is about what should be on screen and the other is about who should be putting it on screen. I think you know that keeping your eye on the prize is about equality of opportunity. It's about getting more diverse voices making. the films, let's have some more music christopher Nolan, we're going to use your second track of the day. Just tell me a little bit about this choice. This track is one of my favorites of radiohead. It came out In writing. I seven just as I moved to LOS angeles. No was it in time in my life and I actually went first was looking for music bologna endive momentum identified. screenings using this track on the engineer, consumer rights- but I think, was rigid three songs, the band put together and it, an extraordinary use of repose, if seeming melody, to really address something a lot darker.
that was radiohead and unsatisfying me shorts, paranoid, android, sorry about that Chris Supernova, You once said I dont want people's knew anything about. Me the more you know about somebody who makes films the less you can just watch the movies? I wonder. To what extent am I going to be pushing my shoulder against a firmly shut
Today. I asked you about your life. Well, I did agree to do the motorcade. Well, let's have to meet our answer. Your brother said, if you your long term collaborator Jonathan, he said everything in front of him. Christopher is always under the microscope. Was it ever thus, I ve always been analytical. I've never wanted to take things at face value of always try to to look on and eat them, and ask why I mean the way kids do. I think that sir healthy way of looking at the world where europeans then always happy did they always have the time? to answer the question why they was at the time but they certainly never discouraged not very encouraging to me an unvarying card european film making a It's very very young. I was seven years old and my dad. Let me his super eight camera which, when I look at that now, having had kids of my own, that was an expensive piece of kit to give us
And indeed, in my teenage years I did manage to destroy that camera. My strapping it to the bottom of a car, fellow and I've always felt very lucky to be really the last of the super generation to think about separate film as you had, these cartridges resembled a load, but as two and a half minutes of film, if silent, you can't record sound because the cameras are too noisy in a funny sort of way. I'm I'm still working the same way. I was when I was seven years old. Yes, I mean you are one of very few people, you don't shoot digitally you still shoot on film. I do it's the way I've always worked and I have a tremendous passion for it and, as it's come under increasing threat in recent years, it's something that myself and other filmmakers like me have had to really fight, for you have a passion for, It's just briefly why it's really the best imaging format that have been developed
has the best color reproduction has the best resolution in terms of what's the best tool for storytelling. What must evocative too? I don't think film has ever been ever been battered. I've read, you went with it and if it is just your father but citizen one, and it made a very significant impression port, wasn't you connected with star wars have been this incredible success too. We were all obsessed with spaceships science fiction, so they re released cubits, mouthpiece and its such an abstract film, but it is pure cinema, and I think I responded to it a very pure way, and I remember that we went to see it at the Leicester square theatre screen was obscene enormous and it just was this feeling of being taken away two worlds beyond hours when I was, I was very young when I went was please because it was, it was spit Melanie but interstellar was actually the last film to play. Atlas square it before the knock down. We showed a seventy mill. Pretty much like the one I got to work
as of two thousand and one when I was a kid too, there's a nice symmetry to that, and where did he set somewhere similar? No, I was in the back sweating, I wasn't sitting over the audience. Crispin only hear some worthy music, then we're gonna go to your set. One tell me a little bit about this. Choice should be: fantasia for piano. Foreheads is It's a duet and my father who was obsessed with music? He worked in marking, but I think you always want to be a conductor here play this with a friend of his some years ago
for he died, and the thing I really remember about it is hearing to talented amateurs. Damages plainness has very strong theme and then the parts wander off in two different places and come back for the theme, and I just remember that they would attack the theme of great gusto, as these two souls can united again hmm the, yeah
the the she bit spent easier for piano four hands in F minor played. They are not by your father but by my variety and rapidly to aunt Christopher Nolan. Let's talk a little bit more about your batman than you. Your father was english, your mother american? If you a costume if your own life, who would play a mother gosh
probably a younger than close. Yes, smart strongly how much creative freedom did she gives you as a child. I once had a brilliant story, Steven Spielberg, his is mother, saying that you know well stephen wants to paint the kitchen black, so I gave him a pot of paint. You know, isn't that kind of up bringing you have very much. I think she always valued creativity in in her kids, and I dont know if she put it, we want to make me feel my gonna grow up of visual enemy, in architect, as I recall, but- and you were a talented artist, you want an art scholarship to school. That helps pay the fees. I did yes and the drawing was always my thing as a kid but really from a very young age. Filmmaking was the thing in fact, I think, for the agriculture budget submitted a couple, a little short films and separate. Let me By that time your family was based in amerika. You were sent back to the uk to go to boarding school and even if you're, not crossing a notion to do that's real sink or swim stuff when you're eleven so had you stay afloat, did it suits you to be a boarding school? It did shoot me in medicine
consumers are very darwinian environment and you are the thriving me or not. I had an older brother at school with me, and I think that was a huge help and I was big for my age. I was good at sports. I play rugby and I was good at rugby and I think you need something like that to give you a bit of an edge. In our environment and those little films that you say, you submitted what what was the contents of them mushy little experiments in animation pixelation. You know you can do it with claymation, so the models all with a human being and in our good friend of mine and have them move into a different position and take a frame and move a little more take a frame, and you get the illusion of them floating down a pavement cycle as things at that I just always had Greg of of the moving image. Let's face it. The music was renowned. Tell me about this, we're on your fourth track of the morning. I think Vangelis is a great composer. Great film, composer and chariots of fire was one of the first soundtracks that I ever owned and when I was away at boarding school after lights out to sneak out your walkman.
hope he had enough batteries to run the hours of the day. So those were the days you know, you'd put the batteries on the radiator and see if you can reenergize him a bit and it's a remarkable piece of film school because it's done in a very futurist way, but it's a film about the past and a form of nostalgic. So in a way this is sort of nostalgia for the future. An interesting concept the the the I the the and
The mandela's five circles from the original sunshine of chariots of fire? Renewing you have an industry reputation for being fantastically prepared by the time. You start shoot and, as I mentioned in the introduction- and I dont know this It's true, but coming in under budget, do sometimes come in under budget ob, usually, actually emma and myself is the pride ourselves on being as efficient as we can. If I were come on budget and on schedule, nobody has any reason to scrutinise what it is doing and I don't want to give them a reason to, and that's what very well for me it doesn't my creative freedom, are the very, very, very high up executives. The people who run the studios allowed onto set to come and put the most about their artillery, and I try to be as communicative with them as possible because you know they're just human beings and if you try to exclude them or if you try to obfuscate what you're doing.
oh disguise it in some way, you're going to get a paranoid response. You gonna get in an aggressive respond. So you don't for a minute, subscribed to the notion that creativity brings with it a degree of chaos. I think that's down to the individual creator. It's down to what your process is. Mine is not about chaos. It never has been it's about having a strong narrative and trying to with my crew members trying to create a framework on set where we can explore things. So, for example, I have a reputation for being very lucky with weather and it's completely untrue and very unlucky with the weather I made a decision on that. Whatever the weather is, I will shoot until it's not safe. We just shoot if it's boring with rain or if the sun's come out or whatever and beautiful things can come from. I am prepared, but I mentally prepared. I dont you shot lists. I dont generally do storybooks, but I turn up every day with me and nothing in hand. Script and I want to be able to put the act, is into the situation
see how they're gonna performance and then film it based on that. Tell me about this one page synopsis thence to as it yes, I I it's not even so much a page institution, on paragraph when you start script, you generally have a clear idea of what your final destination is, but not how you gonna get there if you like, and it's very very easy to get lost, and so what I do is at some point when I feel good handle on it. I just right out of you: what is the film what it meant to be an at some point? just pull it out and have a look at it I'll. Do it again when we're editing as well I'll, just pull it out, say: okay, have we communicated these ideas? We have the film that I thought I was making. A year ago let's have some more music, Christopher norman, it's! U, fifth! This is david, loving the alien trying to choose one David bowe song to take with you very, very difficult david. Both persona was so different when you discovered him,
two bit like who was your doctor? Who is your james bond and for me it was a database. Let's dance, not pop star ear that I first came to him and I have the most nostalgic attachment to loving ailing comes off the album tonight, which was his follow up. Let's dance, the sum in particular I think it's just a tremendous peaceably friends,
The baby and loving the alien and, of course MR vanunu works, withstood the body on the prestige. I was he to work with a tremor. In the summer, it's one of my proudest boasts that I got to work with David bowie. If I could go back in time until my sixteen year old self that I would ever get to meet him la la work with him, I think my head would have exploded, you have more than mentions the importance of your partnership with Emma your wife and thomas who is your your producer and that all began? Is it true? It was the frosty you weren't, you see out in london that you mentioned the whole of residences. That's another hollywood! It is a right. Yeah he's cute designated meet cute, but it is true, and we didn't she speak that first I just remember nursing each other and I suppose Ultimately years later, you realize that have come to believe in the concept of love. At first sight, zero has actually happened to me, but at the time. I was in a very nervous and new hoping to make a connection with people in the movement
either of sins and say you were reading english, but by that time you knew. Did you that I wanted to be a director? I asked to make them yet I first identified the job of a director if you like, when I was about twelve years old, and it was really through the films have really scott I'd. Seen blade run become very upset. and then I saw alien even overcome before sort afterwards and I was struck by totally different stories, totally different costs but somehow the same mind behind them and that studies really identify the job of director as the closest thing to what I had always been doing with my thumbs and this first little movie that you shot then after college Was the lunch was around about three grand your mom was making the sandwiches casting crew yeah. I mean why
We were all working in awaken and I'd, be making short films, and sixteen millimeter and sir figured out that if we got together one day a week on the saturday- and I could save up enough money from my job in the week, you could pay for a certain amount of film and processing every week and so for about a year by getting together every saturday we put this film together and your job during the week was doing corporate training videos yeah. I was a cameraman and soundman. I thought it was fascinating. Did he Yeah really did I learned a lot. You know you going to do see owes office and you'd have five minutes to put up your lights and make something that made them look. Ok, but it was very impatient with what you are doing and they would go into it with a great deal of arrogance in ireland. Lower useful skills in terms of sound, according lighting and several because you had to be on your toes doing it and for me it's always been important to believe that I can do to myself an icon, obviously, but
I think we're here to the floor without understanding when everybody's job is being a bit of a note. and on some level feeling like. Ok, if the same guy the flu you now I can figure out where put the michael, whatever that's just an important element of my confidence, has have some music christopher. This is your six. This is it you from the film with now, and I called marwood walks and it's just a lovely, lovely piece of school first sore at use. He'll be screenings, do du illusory theater and when I would put together all night functions like once a year at one year we showed with niall on two hundred and thirty five me to print, and it's just a film that I connected with first on the level of just it's an extreme funny film, but over the years, it's sort of taken on a much more emotional, much more melancholic sort of feeling for me, and I think a lot of that has to do with this. This beautiful music,
the the the why would works from the same track of the film with now and I composed by David and s and rick wentworth at citrus vanillin use can previously about what you have described as the the mystery of what actors to, and you say that that quite often you might find yourself onsets not,
involved and a loving actors to do something, and it is only as you are watching it being filmed it is, has uncovered you describe a little bit of the sensation of that on insolvency without bettino were shooting a scene the end of the scene wasn't that tightly scripted. and I realized that, after a few takes, he got into this groove when it's beyond acting he's just living. It and I would always know how is given the scene before it came, and I dont know how in you, but I was picking upon whatever that mysterious alchemy, the act has had its very very hard to pin down my job as directors. We feel that with them and an empathy As with that, do you ever, then, I wonder, get emotional when you watch your films in
those moments. When you see that captured yes, very much, I've always screen dailies very few directors. Still do we print the film we watch it. The next night we sit there and watch every single take, and one of the rings have always done. That is, I came up to owl after one taken on a scene and it's too much suggesting another layer that he might be put in any. That may well I'll do that again. If you want to do, but I've already done, we are asking for you just can't see it. your eye, but you'll see it in the dailies I looked into the next day and he was up see right. It was there the single announced for the camera course it but even though I was right next to the camera studying him, I did not catch it and the greatest film actors and pacino is one of the greatest stage actors as well as one of the greatest filmmakers is able to put. I suppose you just call it energy down the lens.
The camera in a way that is genuinely unique unremarkable am defies. Analysis is just something have to feel, and this is the thing about films is, they are emotional thereabout, given you would in particular feeling and that's why, for me, the medium is endlessly fascinating. There is an empathy between audience members that creates an audience response that also defies easy explanation, but is vital to the success of felt as if someone is exhaustive, unknown and tell me why you ve chosen the tourists is well, you know I couldn't go onto desert island without a little bit of john berry and in the bond films has he been huge source of inspiration for me and just tremendous fun. I'm not gonna! Let you just go into this did because there you are aware, of course, that a huge swirling rumours that you indeed will be the man to meet the next well I I won't even you that's why you won't be known category and I'm, I think,
it's time to hire a new director also rumored to be doing it, but I mean I'd love to pick up on foam at some point. I think that those produces barbara and Michael they do a tremendous job and sam mendes is still a tremendous trauma. Last couple films said that, if covered oh you're basis they they don't logically need me, but I've always been inspired by the films and will thus doing some day. But I've always listened film schools because best. Films cause they level space for the imagery, so you have based to listen to them and imagine- and I think, John baron just one of the great composers, and if you look at what he did, I acrimony bonfires you did. I think he did it and he would always come up with anything, but there was compatible with the original martineau thing, so each film school that he did as its own version. I think, on her majesty, seek reserves is the best of it
that was speaking from the original son jacket on film on her majesty's secret service, composed by john, bury christopher Nolan, even recognised with many awards, not least from the directors go to america. The voices in the producer skills know best director oscar. Yet does it bug you even a little bit that you don't have one cash little bit. Will I grew up watching the oscars ceasing? Can that be a tremendous honour to two women one day but It's not really. Why make films and make the kind of homes that traditionally rewarded in an award season said the fact that we had some a war that we had some nominations over the years. I think he knows I'm his tremendous start, not what I expected. What do you think you ve land
about life and maybe about yourself from your job. But the big question is: what have I learn? I think the thing that I have explored most in my thumbs consistently is the subjective nature of our experience and the tension between that and our faith. There's an object of reality that we were living through and I'm interested in that tension. We have between the viewpoint and the way of looking at the world trapped by an our attempts to reconcile that with other peoples viewpoints. I think that's for me, one of the most fundamental paradoxes of the human condition. I tried to do in the films is ask interesting questions. I don't have any answers now found any answers, but I find increasingly interesting questions that keeps me fascinated and you are, as we know, then not just titles, zestful, but very, very organised when you don't seem like a panic merchant at all. How long do you think it's
five on this island, I think. Well, I think I do right Let me put it this way. I think I'm more used to being off the grid than than lot of people. So I think I'd probably do okay. Tell me about your final piece of music. Then Christopher Nolan last piece of music is from the soundtrack from chitinous gutsy and it's fiscal prophecies by philip glass, and it is the soundtrack to film that is entirely made up of imagery. It has no conventional narrative and there's a moment we see the hand of an elderly patient in distress held by a nurse said this music and to me what it speaks to ease the infinite possibilities of of cinema. Film and cinema can be purely poetic and it's something I feel very passionate about, and I think it's why
steady, interested in exploring thing systematically
from the original soundtrack to the film koyaanisqatsi, that was prophecies composed by philip glass, Sir Christopher Nolan, it's time for me to give you the books, you get the bible and the complete works of shakespeare and you get to take a book of your own along with those two. What are you going to take what I like to take? If I can have two volumes, I would take the selected fictions. A non fiction of boys is a writer I admire tremendously and the election to his risings, the labyrinth, sign and in a way all stories are contained within historic, two volumes: I just one. If I hadn't you just when I go the fiction. Ok, I'm gonna, give you that's one, then you luxury. Where would I realize I would want more than anything is: is a projector and a stack of old film prints? If you have access to movies, it makes most things more bearable. I'd like to have enough that I could in unscreened a different one.
Week now sun was setting on setting island so will give you some determinants old movie, volts that aims to contain whatever it can to. That was with her for the one track. If you had to save one from the waves which one would it be well, I think I have to save hands from the waves. We let a friend drowned nice that's years than christopher Nolan. Thank you very much for letting, as he does attendant discs. Thank you. The hope you enjoy. This addition of desert hunting discs, you find over two thousand interviews with arson musician, scientists, sports stars, comedians and more at bbc dot code, dot. Uk slash desert island discs and I have a favour to ask: you could rate and review the desert island discs podcast wherever you done, merger podcast! It really help other people find us thanks again for listening
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Transcript generated on 2022-06-12.