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. Presenter: Kirsty Young Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pvc sounds music. Radio broadcasts Lorna the here we're taking our summer break so until a buccaneer was showcasing a few programmes from our archives. As usual, the musics been shortened for rights reasons. This week's guest is the film director Christopher Nolan, kirsty young cast him away in twenty eighty, The My customary this week is the film maker christopher Nolan, if its cinematic spectacle you're 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 interplay 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, repeatedly 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 he has been into personally hand deliver scripts to the doorstep
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 looking to create cinematic at a time when you, when you looking to transport the audio, as a filmmaker think you really reaching back into your past. Experience of watching films were a kid.
the challenge is always to give the audience a fresh experience to make them. I suppose newly appreciate the feeling of having a screen open, open and take into another world, and I think, for me, one of the the weapons in in your arsenal is to find a way to give a fresh spin on the familiar because with mainstream entertainment, there's always that tension between wanting to fulfill audience expectations, but also wanting to challenge them and show them something new. I mentioned that you are known to have delivered film scripts to I'm. Thinking of Michael caine hear 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 took it away. I want it to be true. Is it true?
Well, I'm in like all Michael stories. It's it's true and it's not watched. 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 reckoning, okay, and why did he need it back in a couple of hours? Well, really it's just about the privacy of making a film, and so we tightly control scripts and batman begins was the first film where we really felt the need, because it was such interest from the fanbase for that character, and you don't want your work judged prematurely. So, yes, I handle of the script, sat with Michael talk to him about it,
when asked to take away the script at the end of that, and he was very gracious about it and quite amused by the whole process and famously I read that you never sit down unset you to have one of those directors tears that says Chris Nolan, 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, Earl, grey? It's are granted man and tell me about your first tack. Then, what what are we going to hear today? Why have you chosen this, though tranquil hearing, is HANS Zimmer's journey to the line you know hand 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 composition, and it just as wonderful ability to make whatever images on the seem more vital, and I think, me all. The work done with hand since some ways it was trying to get back to the simple power of his cue.
Hence in his journey to the line from the original send track of the thin red line and christopher. Knowing you ve made a loss of movies. Of course, you very often work with the same people. People like christian bail, I am courtyard and half away This is a woolly sister production designer Nathan crowley, not to mention of course, as I said in my introduction, your brother, you often call right scripts with and your wife, who is your long,
and producer. Why do you do that are in the base level when you work with somebody who's good at what they do and you enjoy the experience you want to repeat it ever I met on the first day of year, misty an eye involved. Her in the films is doing. She came down from the film society at you. He also we ve always had films as part of our lives together. I think, on top of that, those needs of communication that develops with people leave. What with before and part of that communication is about surrounding us off with people who understand support what it is you trying to do, but are afraid to criticise, to call you on things that you ve done that aren't gonna work or inadequate in you, you look for honest feedback without an agenda and working with the same people 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 appointing and finger wagging that people wondering if there is something rotten at the heart of la la land. You think it is an industry that needs a root branch reform that some people are calling for. Well, it certainly reform. I mean that's very clear and I think people are seizing the moment and working without, I suppose the silver lining I've been very fortunate with the success of my films to be able to surround myself with people that I've known along time, their trust and, to a certain extent, I've been in a working in my own city bubble. So revelations come out and made to feel slightly naive us, but that easy, I'm wondering if, if one of them, maybe in many reasons that you ve worked in that bubble is because there were elements of it that didn't quite sit comfortably. Was he with the actual
but of structure and the mechanism of old style hollywood. If you will that was uncomfortable 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 creative interference, and so you looking to insulate yourself to a degree as a creator as forests culture more generally, I'm in hollywood is it, international language. It also community of people and its men of people of all different nationalities so I think you know in a sense its representative of the wider world, actually very many of your films Have these deeply flawed male protagonists in 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 on. Has it given you pause for thought about your own creative process and what you want to represent on screen? Well, I I it's interesting
in the question you can fly to very different things. One is about what should be on screen and the other is about who should be putting on screen. I think you know that keeping your eye on the prize is about equality of opportunity is about getting more diverse voices. making 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 and it was an important I'm in my life- and I actually when I first was looking for music, but on the end of the matter, I did the first couple screenings this track. On the engineer, we can secure the rights, but I think was originally three songs about put together and it's an extraordinary use of very positive seeming melodies to really address something. A lot darker
underlines that was radiohead and unsatisfying me sort of paranoid android, sorry about that Christopher northern. 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 shot into work today I asked you about your life.
Well, I did agree to do this. Well, let's have to meet our answer. Your brother said, if you and your long term collaborator Jonathan, 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 anything. When asked 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 minister.
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, you know having had kids of my own, that was an expensive piece of kit to give us as euro, 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. The super eight generation think about separate film as you had. These cartridges resembled a load, but was two and a half minutes of film. If silent- and you can't record sound because the cameras are too noisy said a funny said away, 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, he still shit 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, just briefly, why it's really the best imaging format that have been developed, so it has the best color reproduction and has the best resolution in terms of what's the best tool for for storytelling. What the most evocative tool, I don't think film has ever been ever been better I've read you went with. I don't know if it was just your father but to see two thousand and one, and it made a very significant impression port was it you connected with star wars, had been this incredible success, and so we were all obsessed with spaceships fiction, and so they re released, cubits mouthpiece and it such an abstract film, but it is pure cinema and I think I responded to it in a very pure way, and I remember that we went to see it at the Leicester square theatre, screams of the enormous, and it just was this feeling of being taken away.
two worlds beyond hours, when I was, I was very em when I went so please because it was, it was spit. Melanie I, but interstellar was actually the last film to play at Leicester square theatre before they knocked down. We showed a seventy mil print there. Much like the one I got to watch of two thousand and one when I was a kid to there's a nice symmetry to that awaited. said somewhat similar. Now I was in the back sweating. It wasn't sitting over there It's christopher Nolan will hear some more of your music. Then we can go to your third one. Tell me a little bit about this choice. Schubert's fantasia for piano before has is you know it's a duet and my father, who was obsessed with music. He worked in marketing, but I think he'd always wanted to be a conductor. He played this with a friend of his,
some years ago before 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
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 through m christopher nolan. Let's talk a little bit more about your batman than you, your father was english. Your mother, american, if you accustomed if your own life, who would play your mother-
gosh, probably a younger than close. Yes, smart, strong woman. 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 puff of paint. It was at that kind of bringing the very much. I think she always valued creativity in in her kids and I dont know if she put it we want to make before making when I grow up of visual be an 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 of little short films and separate, led made. By that time, your family was based in amerika. You were sent back to the uk to go to boarding school even if you're not crossing a notion to do it, that's real sink or swim stuff when you're eleven. So how did you stay afloat? Did it suits you to be a boarding school? It did shoot me.
It is singles from it's a very darwinian environment and you either thrive or you are not 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 or play rugby, and I was good at rugby and I think you need something like that to get a bit of an age and in our environment and those little films that you say, you submissive what what was the contents of them much it'll experiments in animation pixelation. You know you can do it with claymation, so the models all with a human being and in a good friend of mine and have them move into a different position and take a frame and a move, a little more take a frame, and you get the illusion of them floating down the pavement cycle, those things at that I just always had a great life if the moving image, let's within the music chris renown, tell me about this. Where, on your fourth check 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, you sneak out your walkman.
hope. He had enough batteries to run the hours of the day. 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 the form of a nostalgic. So, in a way, this is sort of nostalgia for the future. An interesting concept The the and the The the
The ben jealous five circles from the original censure of chariots of fire? Renewing you have an industry reputation for being fantastically prepared by the time you start the shoot and, as I mentioned in the introduction, I don't know if this is true but coming in under budget. Do you sometimes come in under budget ob, usually, actually emma and myself, we pride ourselves on being as efficient as we can I am 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 work very well. For me, it doesn't. My creative freedom are the very, very, very high. Yup executives, the people who run the studios, allowed him to set to come and put the most about their art lily, 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
doing all disguise it in some way. You're going to get a paranoid response, you gonna get in an aggressive response, so you, don't for a minute subscribe 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 the weather and it's completely untrue, I'm very unlucky with the weather, but I made a decision early on that, whatever the weather is, I will shoot until it's not safe. We just shoot if it's pouring with rain or if the sun's come out or whatever and beautiful things can come from there. I am prepared, but I'm mentally prepared. I don't do shortlists. I don't generally do storyboards, but I turn up every day with nothing
and other than script, and I want to be able to put the actors into the situation, see how they're going to perform it and then film it based on that. Tell me about this. One page synopsis them too, as it ain't ye. Yes, I it's not even so much page. It is usually a long paragraph. When you start on a script, you generally have a very clear idea of what your final destination is, but not Are you gonna get there if you like, and it's very very easy to get lost, and so what I d was at some point when I feel I gotta get good handle on it. I just right out of you what is the film what it meant to be and 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 and say: okay, have we communicated these ideas? We have the film that I thought I was making a year ago have some more music, Christopher norman, it's? U fifth, vicious 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 it's a bit like her your doctor, who is your james bond and for me it was a database. it starts not pop star ear that I first came to when I have the most nostalgic attachment to Loving, ailing comes off the album tonight, which was a follow up, let's dance, the song in particular. I think it's just that, wednesday
thanks the body and loving the alien and, of course MR vanunu works withstood the body on the steve. I was he to work with a tremendous minutes. One of my proudest boasts. They got to work with David bowe. If I could go back in time until my sixteen year old son, but I would never get to meet him little. I worked with him. My head would have exploded. You have more than mentions the importance of your partnership with Emma your wife and autonomous, who is your your producer and that all began is a true. It was the first day were you see out in london that you mentioned the whole of residences. That's another hollywood. It is all right. He's cute designated meet cute, but it is true and
dinner. She speak that first, I just remember noticing each other and I suppose, Ultimately years later, we realise 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. We ve been either of sense and say you were reading english, but by that time you knew. Did you that I want to be a director I asked to make them see ya mean 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 on become very obsessed with, and then I saw alien even come before sort afterwards, and I was struck by totally different stories, totally different costs, but somehow the same mind behind them and that's what I stopped really identify the joy of direct as the clause. this thing to what I had always been doing with my thumbs and this first little movie that you shot then, after college,
was the budget was around about three grand. Your mom was making the sandwiches casting crew yeah, I mean we were all working in the weaken and I'd been 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 filled again and your job during the week was doing corporate training videos yeah. I was cameramen and salmon items fascinating. Did he yeah really. Did I learned a lot? You know you're going to 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, and I learned a lot of useful skills in terms of sound recording lighting and several cars. You really had to be on your toes doing it and for me it's always been important to believe that I can do it all myself and I can obviously I think walking onto the floor without understanding when everybody's job is being a bit of a note, and someone some level feeling like. Ok, if the sound guy has the flu, I can figure out when put the micro another. That is an important element of my confidence, has had some music christopher. This is your six. This is a cue, 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 who do the illusory theater and ever, and I will put all night film shows that once a year and one year we showed with now on a thirty phenomena Print- and it's just a film that I connected with first on the level of just extremely
funny film, but over the years it should have taken on a much more emotional, much more melancholic feeling for me, and I think a lot of that is to do this dispute for music The The the my would works from the same track of the film with male and I composed by David and death and rick Wentworth at sir tristram 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 getting invite moved and allowing actors to do something, and it is only as you are watching it being filmed that it has uncovered. Can you describe a little bit of the sensation of that on insolvency without bettino were shooting a scene and the end of the scene. Wasn't that tightly scripted and realised that after a few takes, he got into this groove when it's beyond acting he's, just just living it, and I would always know who's. Gonna win the scene before it came, and I don't know how I knew, but I was picking up on whatever that mysterious alchemy the actors have it's very, very hard to pin down my job as directors to be able to feel at with them and an empathize with that. Do you ever, then? I wonder, get emotional when you watch your films
those moments when you see that captured yes, very much, I've always screen dailies very few directive. Still do we print the film we watch the next night. We sit them watch every single take and one of the reasons have always done that is. I came up to owl after one taken on a scene, and I said to my suggesting another layer that it will put him and he said to me well I'll. Do that again. If you want me to, but I've already done what you're asking for you just can't see it with your eye, but you'll see it in the dailies and I looked into his next day and he was upsee right. It was there the thing that I'd ask for, and the camera caught it, and 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 of the camera in a way that is genuinely unique and remarkable and defies analysis. It's just something you have to feel, and this is the thing about films is. They are emotional thereabout, giving the audience a 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, The successful felt have some more music twist of unknown and tell me why you ve chosen as ass. Well, you know I couldn't onto desert island. Does a without a little john bury and in bond films, mostly source of inspiration? For me, I just and is fun, I'm not gonna. Let me just go into this did because there you are aware, of course, that are huge, swirling rumours that you indeed will be the man to make the next
well, I want you to do this work and 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 make a bond film at some point. I think those produces barbara and Michael. They do a tremendous job and sam and his astonishment his trauma last couple: films that have covered all your bases. They don't particularly need me, but I've always been very inspired by the films and would love to do one someday, but I've always from schools, because the best films cause they little space for the madrid, so you have said to listen to them and imagine- and I think John berries just hold a great composers, and if you look at what he did, I got my report from it: as I get to the eleven and he would always come up with a unique theme, but that was compatible with the original martino theme, so each film school that he did has it's own version and I think an I
the secret service is the best of them that was scheme things from the original son jacket one film on her majesty's secret service, composed by john, bury christopher Nolan, even recognize
as with many awards, not least from the directors guild of america, the writers and the producer skills know best director oscar. Yet does it bug you even a little bit that you don't have one and gosh it'll get? Will I grew up watching the oscars, so you think it'd be that be tremendous the honor to to win one one day, but it's not really why I make films or don't make the kind of films that are traditionally rewarded in an award season. So the fact that We had some a war that we had some nominations over the years. I think he knows I'm his tremendous. It's not not what I expected. What do you think you ve learned
about life and maybe about yourself from your job. But the big question is: what am I learn? I think the thing that I've explored most in my thumbs consistently is the subject of nature of our experience and the tension between that and our faith that 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 wit. 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 and haven't found any answers, but I find increasingly interesting questions and that keeps me fascinated and you are, as we know, then not just highly zestful, but very, very organised when you don't seem like a panic mentioned at all. How long do you think it's?
live 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 them. A lot of people say, I think I'd. Probably turkey tell me about your final piece of news. Interest of bananas at last. Piece of music is from the soundtrack from chitinous gutsy and it's piece called prophecies by philip glass, and it is the soundtrack to a film that is entirely made up of imagery. It has no conventional narrative and there's a moment where you see the hand of an elderly patient in distress held by a nurse set his music and to me what it speaks to is the infinite possibilities of of cinema in a film and cinema can be purely poetic.
And it's something I feel very passionate about, and I think it's why I stay interested in exploring things cinematically
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 while I like to take? If I can have two volumes, I would take the selected fictions and nonfiction of boys is a writer I admire tremendously the collection of his writings, the labyrinth, sign and in a way all stories are contained within his story of two volumes. I just one if I hadn't you just when I go with the fiction. Ok, I'm gonna give you that's one, then you actually. 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,
wait now, as the sun was setting on the island. So we'll give you some determinants old movie volts the amps to contain whatever it can to. That was with perfect, okay, the one track. If you had to save one from the waves which one would it be, what I think I'd have to save hands from the waves we cant, let a friend drown. Kenya rice. serious than christopher nolan? Thank you very much for letting as he does it under discs. Thank you.
Transcript generated on 2023-09-11.