'Dark Knight Rises' Director Christopher Nolan Isn’t a Fan of Digital
Culver City, California - The movie business is rapidly switching from shooting movies on film to digital but Christopher Nolan, whose third Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises opens in July, thinks it is a mistake because its not being done for quality, but rather for cost.
“There’s a huge danger in all of this,” Nolan said Saturday while being interviewed at the annual Produced By Conference, presented by the Producer’s Guild of America. “If you are looking strictly at production cost, then you would use digital. But for the best image, it is still film.”
Nolan said he thinks film is still best because it provides the filmmaker the most range, captures the most depth of image and works best as a tool to tell a story. Nolan said that moving to digital creates a risk of “devaluing what we do as filmmakers.”
“The problem with the push to digital is its has been given a consumer aspect,” says Nolan,” who suggests it confuses the camera with an Ipad. “It’s not what is best for the film,” he insists.
While digital has made great strides, Nolan believes it has a ways to go yet before it will offer the quality to capture images that film does. “I don’t want to be the R and D department. I don’t have any interest in the research into electronics. What interests me is to use the best technology and that is film.”
Nolan says he does use digital technology in the editing process and for special effects and in other ways, but ultimately he wants his movies shot on film and shown on film. When the digital technology evolves to the point it has the same depth, image quality and look as film, he is open to shifting his view.
“When it is as good as film and it makes sense I’ll be open to it,” says Nolan. “But (at present) it’s not good enough.”
Nolan was interviewed along with his producing partner Emma Thomas in the first session on the first day of the Produced By Conference, held this year on the grounds of the Sony Pictures Studio. He was interviewed by Vance Van Petten, national executive director of the Producer’s Guild of America, in front of a packed audience – mostly of producers – on the same sound stage where the TV show Wheel of Fortune is shot.
Van Petten spent much of the interview focused on how Nolan and Thomas got their start after meeting as university students in London. They made their first film together, Following, on a budget of $6,000, with a cast and crew he says could fit into one London taxi cab. When it was one Nolan and Thomas brought it to America to get exposure at film festivals. They entered it at Sundance, but did not get in. However, one of those on the Sundance selection committee who saw it was also involved with the San Francisco film festival and brought Nolan there to show his movie.
When it was well received, Nolan and Thomas were on a path that led them to get funding for their next film Memento, which became a critical and commercial hit. In the dozen years since they have made ever bigger movies, but both insisted that they never think about the budget, even when it soars into hundreds of millions of dollars.
Nolan says he always focuses on the story and what the audience expects, not the budget. “For me the different skills of doing certain films is much more important than the large scale,” says Nolan, adding: “Doing large scale films is a matter of nerve. You get over it. ‘OK, I’m not afraid of that any more.”
That doesn’t mean Nolan and Thomas don’t have to deal with budgets and the reality of what things cost. The director says his approach is always to be clear and honest with the studio about what things are going to cost. “I look them in the eye and say ‘this is what it is going to take. I wish it was less but this is what it takes.’”
Thomas added that the main thing with big studios is not to surprise them. The secret to keeping creative control, they both said, was to make the movies on time and on budget so that there is no reason for the studio executives to interfere.
On their movies, Nolan says they do very little story boarding – only for big action sequences – very few re-takes and use no second unit. Nolan prefers to direct it all himself and says he finds second units are a hidden expense that often produces very little material that is actually usable. “I think second units are a very expensive luxury,” says Nolan.