Christopher Nolan on Aspiring Filmmaker’s Responsibility and How Soderbergh Helped Him Figure Out How to Best Work Within a Studio System
During the Director Series that took place during Tribeca 2015, Christopher Nolan talked with Bennett Miller about many topics, including the challenges of becoming risk-averse as your career expands, and how he learned how to deal deal with the Studio System to keep his creative freedom all the while maintaining a sustainable relationship for all parties.
Nolan, whose roots come from the DIY/indie filmmaking philosophy had been in the past very generous about the lessons he had learned making his first feature film. This time, talking to Miller, he opens up about other aspects that are as interesting and insightful.
About New Filmmakers’ Responsibility and Energy
“When you’re starting out I think the energy you have is a wonderful thing that is untouched. And then as you learn more and more, it becomes harder and harder to forget the rules, to push them aside. It’s something you have to keep striving on doing but I think it’s harder as you get more experienced. It’s not just that you see what could go wrong, you have more to lose, you have more at stake.
When you’re starting out, you have nothing to lose, you also have nothing to gain by being the same as everybody else. And as you are starting out as a filmmaker, you have to have a voice, you have to have something to say about the things you’re doing, and it has to be sincere, you can’t throw it out as a given, it’s gotta be something that you truly believe in and it has to be there… you can’t sort of jump both feet into making a film that is an ordinary film because then no one has any reason to trust you to do it, even if you could do it.”
About the Paradoxical Position of Being a Filmmaker Within a Studio System
” Being a filmmaker, being a film director in employment terms, in industrial terms, in theatrical motion pictures is a very paradoxical position because you are hired by people who then give you the appearance of wanted to control you but they’ve hired you to defy them, they’ve hired you to have a point of view, and they know that as well, and so there’s this weird tension.
You really have been employed to be challenging, you really are being paid to disregard those pressures, to straighten up and fly right. But at no times have I ever had that acknowledged as well.”
It’s probably the first time I hear a filmmaker working within a Studio System laying it down so clearly and mentioning the illogical dance that takes place with executives once you start working in a Studio. What follows next doesn’t go without reminding me on Shonda Rhimes’ advice to handle Studio notes, which is to date one of the most honest and probably useful answer I’ve heard.
On How Soderbergh Helped Nolan Navigate His Creative Way Within the System
I think I learned it from Steven Soderbergh, because he very kindly was an executive producer on my first Studio film.
When you get into that Studio environment where there’s a hierarchy and people whose jobs it is literally to being paid to give you notes to turn things around; he had developed such a reasonable attitude to it that in no way compromised what he was trying to do creatively. It was all about respectfully hearing a person’s point of view, it was all about saying “Ok, the note might be wrong, or the suggestion might be wrong, but they’re saying it for a reason“.
And you have to figure out what that reason is. Sometimes that reason is ego, or trying to impress someone or whatever that is, but very often there is a creative reason. And you can either get it all out, or you can internalize it and think about it yourself.
He is such a master at that and I seized on that as a way of dealing with the Studio System because he showed me the possibilities of the incredible power of a Studio Machine and what it could be use for in a technical sense and in a creative sense if you can find a way to make everybody feel smart and feel enfranchised in what you are doing, and make it feel like you are in a partnership.
As I’ve seen on the people who’ve tried to get by as authors, with various degrees of success, you realize that fighting doesn’t serve you gain any more than trying to have an effective collaboration.”
About the Two Compromises Nolan Integrates Into His Creative Limitations to Ensure Effective Collaboration
“One of the thing that I had the chance to learn very early on was to always be on or ahead of schedule and was to always be on the budget because those are the two key things that immediately force a Studio to come look and judge what you are doing.
They have a responsibility, as soon as you’re off budget or schedule, to come to set and say ‘do follow the Studio Time’. So I chose simply that my crew and I would make our own compromises, because it’s all about compromise, every day a film shoot is all about compromise. You never have enough time or enough money, it’s the way they work.
So we make compromises ourselves sometimes trying to own that as part of our creative process.”
Those inspiring bits and much more can be heard thanks to Justin Waldman who uploaded an audio file on YouTube, that you can listen to below. As usual, I try my best to properly transcribe what is said or at least, and most importantly, to transcribe the meaning of what it being said. If you found errors, do email me, I’ll be happy to correct them.
This article is a happy ripple effect of Edwin Nieves’ tweet.