DVDTalk Interview - Christopher Nolan - Director of Insomnia
by Phillip Duncan
DVDTalk had a few short minutes to spend with filmmaker and director Christopher Nolan, who followed the surprising success of Memento with a remake of the 1997 Norwegian thrill Insomnia. Coming to DVD on October 15, 2002, DVDTalk had a chance to ask this eloquent and meticulous director a few questions about the DVD release. Read on to find out Nolan's thoughts on the inventive commentary track on the film and whether or not a Special Edition of Insomnia will one day make it to the shelves.
What made you choose such a prominent remake as you r next project after Memento?
I had seen the original before I made Memento and I think it’s a brilliant film. I highly recommend it to anybody who hasn’t seen it. It wasn’t a question of looking at it and thinking they had done something wrong that I could fix. I think the original is absolutely fantastic, but I felt like you could take the plot, the great moral paradox, and create a very different narrative experience from it, to tell the story in a different idiom. Making the kind of really old-fashioned cop movie that I think the studios were great at making 50 years ago, the kind I hadn’t seen in a long time. So I kept my eye on the project when I found out that Warner had the remake rights. After I was finished with Memento I took a look at Hillary Seitz’s script and she had really nailed the key think that I was looking for in terms of remaking the film in a very different mode and giving the audience a very different narrative experience watching it, primarily through changing the protagonist and making him a much more sympathetic character. Rather than in the original you have a presence of alienation, which is quite brilliantly conveyed. What we were interested in doing was creating a sympathetic character who draws the audience in through his experiences. I’m very interested in subjectively told stories. Hear the Response
Were you worried about working with the Oscar nominated and winning cast in this film?
It’s certainly very daunting to work with actors you’ve grown up watching your whole life. Certainly in the case of Pacino you’re talking about The Godfather, Scarface, Serpico, and all these movies. It was certainly daunting in theory. What I found with Al and Robin and Hillary Swank is you realize very early on in the process the reason these actors have achieved what they’ve achieved is because they’re tremendously talented, but they’re also very professional. They understand more than anybody about the process of filmmaking and what your job is as a director. I found it actually to be really, tremendously exciting once we started working. Hear the Response
Based on their personalities, it would seem you might have to direct them differently.
Actually, the job of the director is finding what each person involved in making the film, from actors to crew, needs from you to understand what it is we’re all aiming for and give it their best. In the case of actors, I think they all require a different approach. It’s a much more personal relationship to me and the actors, much more of a one-on-one relationship. I think some people realize it. With every actor I’m trying to find for them, what they need to know from me. The way in which they need to be told where we’re going with the story and what the character is doing. I see that as part of my job and a part that I enjoy. It was certainly very different with each of the actors. Hear the Response
Are they a group that you would like to work with again? From the DVD interview between you and Pacino, it seemed that you got along well.
Al was absolutely wonderful. Everyone involved with the film had a wonderful time working with each other. It was really a lot of fun from that point of view. I think there was a huge range of performers in the film I’d be honored to work with again. Hear the Response
In the DVD commentary you mention that you often work without shot list or storyboards. Do you find it difficult to communicate to the crew what your intentions are?
I don’t think I do. No, that’s probably why I don’t tend to use them that much. I use storyboards for action scenes because obviously when you’re dealing with stunts and intricate physical effects you have to be pictorially demonstrating to everybody exactly what it is you’re after. I find beyond that I’m able to communicate to the crew and to the actors what I’m after using words, blocking, and actually being there on the set and showing them what’s going on. To me it’s a slightly more spontaneous way of working for most sequences in the film, particularly one that’s very dependent on the performances than the pyrotechnics. I think that it’s very important to be open to changing the way you shoot the scene depending on what the actors want to do in moving around the scene. The physicality of the scene is very important to the actor. I like to try and give them room to maneuver so that in our rehearsals we can find the best way to play a scene and the best way to photograph it. Hear the Response
Do you rehearse a lot?
It depends on the scene. It depends on where the actors are with the scene. You’ll find certain scenes have always troubled you in the script and you’ve always know that you’ll have to rely on the actors to find an approach, to find the reality of it. So those scenes will take a lot of rehearsal sometimes. It’s actually really quite a wonderful and exciting process to explore a scene with the actors and find it. The difficulty is that you’re always pushed for time on set and having to work pretty quickly. It can get a little bit hectic at times. Hear the Response
I really enjoyed the way your commentary was done on the DVD. (Nolan narrates a version of the film that’s been re-edited into the order it was filmed) Was that you’re idea?
No it wasn’t. I wish it was because it was a great idea. I’d love to take credit for it but it wasn’t. The guys putting the DVD together came up with the idea and I loved it and immediately said I would do it. I’ve had, particularly with Memento, so many questions about what order the film was shot. You start to realize that people who aren’t involved with filmmaking don’t really have any idea of the order in which you shoot the film or even if they do know it intellectually, they can’t feel it. I felt that watching the film in the order it was shot in was a great idea in terms of giving people a feeling on how we have to view the story as we shoot it, how the actors have to fragment and fracture their performances, how the director of photography and production designer have to match the inside of a building and the outside when you shoot in one place. A lot of fascinating challenges and I felt like giving the viewers the experience of actually seeing it laid that way and hearing it discussed that way. We’ve given them a pretty unique insight into the filmmaking process that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else. Hear the Response
There was a lot of additional material for Memento and a Special Edition was created. Is that something you’ll do for Insomnia?
I think we managed to get an awful lot of that material on to this DVD. One
of the reasons we did a special edition of Memento was because I didn’t
have the opportunity to a commentary, which I’ve had the opportunity to
do that for the Insomnia DVD. I’m actually pretty excited about the form
and content of this DVD and I feel it’s pretty comprehensive.
Hear the Response