I first met Christopher Nolan in 2000 on the eve of Memento’s release. Since then, his rise has been meteoric, with blockbusters like The Dark Knight, Inception and Dunkirk establishing him as the most successful filmmaker to come out of the British Isles since Alfred Hitchcock. Over the years I’ve asked him many times to collaborate on a book and in 2016 he finally relented. Over the next four years, he sat down for dozens of hours of interviews in which we talked about everything — his inspirations, his influences, his methods, his obsessions — during the time it took him to write, shoot and edit his latest film, Tenet. If you've already read the book, I'd love to hear from you, or if you’re just curious about Nolan and his work, please ask away! I will answer as many questions as I can, but I will answer book questions first.

Learn more about the book here

And you can watch a trailer for the book here: https://youtu.be/xp3zrCFkSJA

Proof: https://i.redd.it/l6hteevitf261.jpg


Comments: 202 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

notshawnvaughn128 karma

I know Nolan often works closely with his (incredibly talented) family, he produces with his wife and writes with his brother. Do they all work together like a close family, and does that extend to the rest of the set / production? Or are they all very professional? What's the tone like on the set, and what's they dynamic with his collaborators?

prhauthors169 karma

Nolan relies on his brother Jonah and wife Emma in all sorts of ways — Jonah writes, Emma produces, helps with casting and as a general sounding board for ideas. CN relies on both to tell him when he's just spinning his wheels, and when he needs to course-correct. Both had important input into the scripts for Memento and Inception, amongst others.

One of the great discoveries for me was how gifted a collaborator he is. I found that out for myself when I was pulling the book into shape.

coryrenton90 karma

What are the strangest or oddest details that didn't fit in the book but you would like to have included (e.g. Nolan was attacked by a squirrel and that formed the initial inspiration for Following)?

prhauthors84 karma

Well, I would have included that! There wasn't much that didn't get in, although i wish I had been able to get in more about the way he works with actors— the fact that Kenneth Branagh came up with the line "home" in Dunkirk for example: so good it made the trailer.

Zedfourkay88 karma

Does he even understand his films 100%?

prhauthors144 karma

That is such a good question. Yes on the level of plot and structure, although he says he gets lost in Memento sometimes (pleasurably so, it's a great movie to get lost in). He's very resistant to biographical readings of his work, although he came around to a point I made about Inception and his experiences of boarding school (no privacy, time distorted, etc). He recognises that the meaning of the films may escape even him — that it may be unconscious or subliminal, or have resonances in the viewer's head. He likes to bedevil the conscious mind, as we know....

prhauthors46 karma

Thanks so much for joining me today, everyone. I've so enjoyed answering these excellent questions. I'm going to log off for a bit but will return at some point to answer any outstanding questions. Please check out the book if you haven't already. See you later, Tom


Dioums9241 karma

Thanks for doing this! Do you know why Chris stopped working with Hans Zimmer after Dunkirk? Reading the interviews from the movie release the scoring process seemed...painful

prhauthors38 karma

I don't know the full story but can tell you that Dunkirk was painful to score because it marked the absolute apotheosis of their working method. For film after film sound and image had been drawing closer and closer together until with that film they more or less fused. I think of it like an A-bomb going off!

db_33341 karma

Where do Nolan’s ideas come from, where does he find his initial inspiration? Is it from the idea of a character, a linear storyline or moment that then gets developed into a more mind bending concept? His ideas are so complex and so well interwoven with a human emotionality - how does he find an initial concept, and map it out to a first draft?

prhauthors82 karma

As I understand it there's always a struggle to simplify as much as possible. I think he finds the complicated, ramifying aspect of his scripts relatively easy — he thinks recursively, so it comes quite naturally — and then the real work becomes finding the emotional kernel that is going to hook an audience and staying true to that. So after the idea gets built up, it gets stripped down again. He calls Hans Zimmer a 'minimalist composer with maximalist instincts' and I think that description applies equally well to CN.

quantumflip33 karma

Where did Christopher Nolan get his love for physics? I especially love his films because of his use of physics as plot mechanics and structures that make them stand out from the rest.

prhauthors65 karma

He's got a good scientific brain on him — he's interested in quantum physic and the paradoxes therein, particularly as they apply to time, and he was also good at math as a kid — but at school and university gravitated towards the arts, studying Literature, so any scientific interests he has are freelance, so to speak. He thinks like a scientist, to some degree. He is fascinated by the question of how we know what we know. How can we be certain of something? What if we are certain and also wrong? That issues comes up again and again in his films.

sprynklz31 karma

How would you describe Nolan’s process? Like how does a finished product like Inception or Interstellar begin?

It seems like his movies tend to be plot driven but are there other elements that he uses as a way in?

prhauthors93 karma

Inception began as a story Nolan told himself in his dorm at boarding school after lights out. He toyed with it on and off for over 22 years before filming it. Interstellar began as a script by Jonah commissioned by Spielberg that CN took over once Spielberg bailed. So it varies. The Dark Knight started with its ending: the image of batman being chased across the rooftops by the police. Nolan often like to get the ending in place before he begins. I think it gives him confidence, structure.

blackmagemasta28 karma

What's your favorite cheese?

prhauthors35 karma


silmarillitron26 karma

What is one thing about Nolan's creative process that would be surprising to a fan of his movies?

prhauthors62 karma

That he's not a perfectionist. He trusts the limits of time and budget, and doesn't like to revisit or linger unnecessarily. So many of the big movies have come in under budget and and ahead of time. He says he will never be tempted to release a director's cut. That infernal discipline was surprising to me although perhaps it shouldn't have been: he respects the clock. He's exceedingly punctual. Meeting in the mornings he'd always be there — 9am, pot of tea, ready for my questions.

District_9526 karma

Nolan's films were the first ones that I could recognize the filmmaker's style permeate through. I'm a big fan! Few questions for you:

  • What filmmakers currently working is Nolan a fan of?

  • With each film he puts out, he continues to push his unique time-manipulating narratives, with less emphasis on character backstory, and more focus on their role within the controlled environment of the film. Do you think Nolan will ever redirect and go in a different direction?

  • As far as I know, Nolan seems very tech-averse. I believe he doesn't have a cell-phone or email address (please correct me if I'm wrong). How does that affect his daily life?

prhauthors57 karma

Off the top of my head, he loves Paul Thomas Anderson, Ridley Scott, Tarantino, Malick, Damien Chazelle, Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogler, and admires many others. Those are the first ones that come to mind.

His work has definitely grown more abstract as he'd gone along, much like Hitchcock. I'd like to see him tack back to something more like The Prestige at some point, but I have no idea whether he will or not.

You're right about the email and phone thing. As I understand it, it creates a little space for himself, particularly as his fame has intensified, but I don't think that's the underlying reason.

IamSamGamgee19 karma

How long does it take Christopher Nolan to write a script? They’re so complicated, it must take years!

prhauthors82 karma

It varies. Inception took ten years of writing and another ten years before that of cogitation and mulling. Tenet he wrote in a year – I was there while he wrote it — but again, it was an idea he'd been mulling since he was a teenager. I think this partly explains why his films have such a long after-life in our heads — they had a long genesis in his

IamSamGamgee16 karma

Interesting! The Prestige is my personal favorite. Was that one a long time in the making too? I love how it feels so different from his other films, but just as twisty and smart.

prhauthors24 karma

I'd have to look up the exact amount of time it took but the book was brought to Nolan after he'd released Memento in 2000. Jonah started writing it and kept writing it, with input from Chris, over the next 5-6 years. Chris did the final draft on his own and i think they began shooting in January of 2006. I agree, it's a fabulous script: so full of twists and reversals and patterns and yet so economical. You can feel the bigger films coming down the pike, somehow.

MSS62119 karma

Now that you've tackled Nolan, what is next for you on the writing horizons?

prhauthors20 karma

I'm working on a proposal at the moment that started life as something in the Nolan Variations but hit the cutting room floor. It didn't quite belong in that book but when I looked at it I realised I was interested enough for it to be the next book. Weird how that happens. So it grew out of the Nolan book, it's partly about the movies, but it isn't about him. ( I cant say what it is yet: his habit of secrecy is contagious!)

xojulianne15 karma

How incredible to get to speak with Christopher so often! How did you feel going into your first interview? Did anything surprise you?

prhauthors41 karma

Well I'd met him before many times as a journalist. First in 2000, then again in 2014 and 2016. So we knew each other. It was a bit weird at first, because he was so generous with his time (he was writing Tenet at the time so had some free time) and I'm used to having to fight for every second and minute. I had to slow down, and go deep. Once I did that, everything clicked. We did several rounds and each time, it seemed, we got a little deeper. Downwards is the only way forwards, as Cobb says in Inception!

XInsects15 karma

During the interviews did he ever give any hint that he regrets any aspect of a particular film, that he wished he'd developed something further or tackled it in another way?

prhauthors28 karma

Not really. They're such consuming projects, he puts everything he has into each one, and then they move off and become the world's and the time for creative input/second thoughts is over. He's quite un-neurotic that way.

MSS62113 karma

Do you think Christopher Nolan would write a good novel? Or is it just the movies for him?

prhauthors44 karma

He told me that he was a jack of all trades and master of none. He knows just enough about writing to write a screenplay but not a novel, just enough about music to have ideas for a score but not enough to write one himself, etc etc. I think it's more a matter of application than talent. I think he could write a novel myself but knowing how integral the movies are to him — how grooved his imagination is by celluloid sprockets — I find it hard to imagine him being happy with just pushing that cursor around the page. He lives breathes, eats, dreams movies.

Tamale_tamale13 karma

What does Nolan hope the future of cinema looks like?

prhauthors28 karma

He's extremely bouyant about it. He doesn't think COVID is going to have as much impact as some do. He sees the needle bouncing back. He sees the medium as being able to hold it's own against the encroachments of streaming, Netflix, etc, although studios will have to devise new release strategies. I think he is right.

Jillytsang11 karma

what do you assume his strong grasp on structure comes from ? like he mentioned the structure of the script to the architecture of a monument or building.

What do you believe how he decides the entry and exit of his movies ?

prhauthors23 karma

I believe it has something to do with his attendance of boarding school. At Haileybury, structure was more or less the religion. Every second of every day was time-tabled, and every inch of physical space carefully policed by the prefects. The architecture of his dorm, in particular — deep, recessive, recursive — is repeated in the production design of his films. The tesseract in Interstellar, the pharmacy basement in Inception, the Wayne Industries boardroom. But it's more than just his schooling: it's also his own talent and proclivity. CN is the greatest structural thinker in movies since Eisenstein in my opinion.

Ornery-Ocelot11 karma

Which of his movies does Nolan consider his best work ?

prhauthors39 karma

He doesn't. When I told him I liked Inception so much he joked "what's wrong with the others?" He says it's like trying to choose his favorite child: impossible.

LElias27848 karma

Which Nolan film is your favorite and why? did your opinion change once you started learning more about his process?

prhauthors27 karma

I'm a big Inception fan, for the same reason that it's such a difficult film to describe to people who haven't seen it. If you'd told me when I was younger that there was going to be a really rocking Batman movie, i would have been able to imagine that. But Inception hails from another universe altogether. Try describing it to aliens (or imagining doing that). It's so much easier to imagine a world in which that movie is a big hot mess. Instead we find ourselves in the universe in which it is glorious — that never ceases to amaze me.

xojulianne5 karma

Did you have an idea for the book's structure going into your interviews with Christopher, or did it start to take shape after the fact? How did you come up with the themes/motifs you use to organize the book?

prhauthors8 karma

I had that idea after talking to him. Certain themes would come up in conversation and I thought it would be a neat way of cutting against the chronology (which he was very keen on, appropriately enough). The idea of musical variations on a theme came much later, though, after a reading a first draft and realising there was something going on musically in his work that wasn't necessarily confined to the soundtracks. The Elgar thing I got from Dunkirk and once I thought of that, the whole thing came together very quickly.

Oxlivous5 karma

When and why did you decide you will start writing books?

prhauthors10 karma

When I moved to America. It gave me access to my subjects and enlarged my sense of what was possible. Also when the bottom fell out of journalism. I'd probably still be doing that if it weren't for the internet.

likeAboss008-5 karma

Do NOLAN meditate, if so for how many hours, thks?

prhauthors15 karma

Not to my knowledge but he takes cello lesson to relax in between films