Christopher Nolan. The name is enough to remind ourselves of all the films from Following to Interstellar and how those movies made us look up to a man who stood up from all those other millionaire film-makers with their annually published action movies. On his 46th birthday today, we try to decipher (not easy, mind you) what makes him so special for the film industry and to us:
1. Unconventional style
There is no shortage of blockbuster-making directors in the film industry. However, Christopher Nolan stands apart from the crowd with his almost old-fashioned approach to film-making. He limits the CGI use in his film and uses 70mm film wherever possible to capture the scene as perfectly as possible. His use of 70mm in Interstellar showed us how breathtaking a film can be with the proper approach.
For Nolan, passion is the main ingredient in film making. He did not know how successful he would be when he started making films with his friends with a limited budget but went ahead anyway. From one film to another, he built on his foundations and success and never looked back. It's his passion and love that has made him what he is today.
3. Find a way to connect the audience to what interests the film-maker
Nolan says it is not about the audience but about the film-maker. It is about how he can portray his ideas so that the audience find them interesting and form a connection with them. This is where the art of filmmaking lies, according to him. An excellent example of this is, you guessed it, Inception. Can you think of any other director who would have made such a movie?
When we watch a movie, we should be able to see the sincerity of the maker in the film, we should be able to see his hard work, his passion. This, for Nolan is even more important than how good the film is. If the audience can see it, they will appreciate it. Trust the audience, he says.
In Inception, the main character gets flashbacks of his past. If someone else instead of Nolan had been the director, he would have shown the flashbacks in detail. But Nolan, staying true to the element, keeps them what they are… just a few flashes of the past. This brings realism in his movies even when the subject is as convoluted as it is in Inception.
If you just show your thoughts through the movie, not many are going to be able to connect to it. It is about how you make it relatable to the audience, how they can understand it. He has made a valiant effort in Interstellar that got a massive box office success precisely because he could make the film related to the audience.
7. Open ending
Nolan’s movies many times have an open ending. You are left wondering what exactly did you see at the end. It has been six years since the release of Inception but people are still debating about the end (was it real or a dream?). He has not said anything about the end but mentioned he leaves it to the people to interpret it as it is supposed to be that way.
8. How well you can compromise
He said in an interview that through his life the stakes were always big one way or another. He said the constraints are important. It is about how much can you show with what budget or team you have on the screen. Be it a short documentary or a big-budget blockbuster, you will always feel the constraints, he says. So it comes down to what you can do within them.
9. It is about the vision
The characters, the environment, they are all a means to showcase the bigger picture. Take the batman trilogy for example. It was essentially a superhero movie. But he used this as means to show people how complex the concept of morality is. His brilliant portrayal of Joker as much more than just a bad guy left a lasting impression on all of us.
10. Lets each actor have his own idea about the character
He says he tries to adapt differently to each actor, or rather to everyone, on his set. He wants them all to develop their characters, or job, or whatever they want to contribute, on their own. He discusses the character with the actors and then they go through it to see how effectively it can be constituted in the film.
11. Known to stick with certain actors
Nolan is not known to experiment too much with his cast. Christian Bale, Leonardo Dicaprio, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway are some of his noted choices. He rather prefers experimenting with the ideas and let his well-set actors portray them.
12. Inspired by real life bonds
He was asked that how could he make Interstellar, a movie of galaxian proportions, a personal story. He said that the movie was essentially about the relationship of a father with his children and how it gets tested with the slippage of time. He said him being a father helped him realise those characters on the big screen.
13. Ever since starting from the age of 7, never stopped making films
Nolan was about seven when he started making films with his father’s camera. From there on, he never looked back. He went to University College London for the sole reason that they had the necessary film-making equipment. His single-minded determination to make it big in this difficult field is remarkable, especially given the fact that he had essentially no support from the British Film Industry.
14. Role of his wife
Nolan met his wife Emma Thomas in the college and formed a close relationship with her when they were making films together. After getting married in 1999, his wife played an ever bigger role in his career. He himself has said that he does whatever his wife tells him. She has produced all of his films since 1997.
15. Flms are meant for entertainment
The basic essence of film-making today is lost for many. In the quest to make the film as bigger or as successful as possible, film-makers tend to forget the fact that films are essentially for entertainment. Nolan says he does not want to give people puzzles. That was one of the reasons he decided not to make Interstellar a film just about science.
16. Connect to the audience through the characters (Interstellar was an exception)
To get the ideas to the people, a film needs good characters. The setting and the time is secondary, he says. People connect through emotions and for emotions you need characters. Interstellar was an exception to this though, and maybe to a degree even The Prestige. In interstellar he had to connect the audience directly through his visuals owing to the theme of the film.
17. Non-linear storytelling
The Prestige, Inception, Memento, Following and many others. Nolan excels in non-linear but believable storytelling. Believable characters and their relationship with one another, creating an apt environment and pacing the movie to perfection enables him to succeed in this department, where many others fail.
18. Respect the audience, trust their intelligence
When Interstellar was going to be released, he was often asked about why he chose such a complicated topic. His fans feared that not all would be able to understand the movie. But, according to him, is comes down to sincerely putting all your efforts and then trusting the audience and their intelligence. This is where the challenge lies, he says.
19. Self-made man
Nolan did not go to any prestigious film-making school. He did not have a famous mentor. Whatever he is today, it is because of his own efforts. Right from when he started with his father’s Super 8 camera to filming Interstellar in 70mm, he sure has come a long way.
In spite of all the success that he has garnered over the years, he remains a humble man. A quiet, thoughtful man, one who is careful how to put his thoughts into words, one who knows when to take risks and when to walk away, he has shown exceptional resilience and will to succeed in his chosen field we couldn’t be more happy to see him where he is today.
Title image: Hoorayformovies