Christopher Nolan’s Slamdance honor: Q&A on budgets and that Brad Pitt rumor

PARK CITY, Utah – Christopher Nolan’s first film “Following” made its debut at the Slamdance Film Festival and the famed director was on hand this year to accept the fest’s first annual Founder’s Award in celebration of his achievements since that 1998 bow.

Nolan sat down with Slamdance president Peter Baxter and an intimate room of press and film fans to field a few questions, which ranged from working with a variety of budgets, to collaborating with loved once, to film criticism and analysis and even that one “Memento” story.

The British director will be releasing new “Interstellar” this year. Filmmaker-run, discovery oriented Slamdance spans over Jan. 17-23, concurrently with the Sundance Film Festival. Other Slamdance alumni includes Oren Peli, Marc Forster, Jared Hess, Lena Dunham, Lynn Shelton and more. 

Here is a roundup of some of Nolan’s answers to comments and questions from the group:

“Behind every good director is a great producer…”: On Nolan’s wife and producer Emma

Christopher Nolan: Emma has been a key component we’ve grown together, in sort of different senses… 16mm evolved into films in the studio, as somebody close to you who can support you but who also knows your weaknesses as well as your strengths and has no other agenda but to try and make a film the best it can be. See you do your best work as a director. That’s what Emma’s been for me.

What’s the deal with Brad Pitt and “Memento,” did Nolan turn Pitt down?

No, he turned me down! [Laughs] Truthfully, [Pitt] did read the script, that”s where the story comes from, is he read the script and he met with me about it when he didn”t have any reason to know who I was or anything about it. And nothing came of it, other than him being interested in it, I think within the sort of agency world where the script was circulating, just sort of perked up a bit of interest in what was a very obscure project otherwise.

And I think really that”s how it came to Guy Pearce”s attention, he sort of got the ball rolling. I’m very grateful to him… It was a very nice thing that he liked it.

Does Christopher Nolan ever get to the editing room and hated his takes? On “Inception”

Every film is a little bit different. I tend to start from scratch in the edit suite. My editor will do an assembly as we shoot, but I might never watch it fully. We”ll watch a scene at a time, and then we go back to dailies and review the dailies and we start putting it together. So the first few weeks when I cut the film is a process of discovery. And there are things that you”re thrilled with because they work better than you thought, and there are other things that you realize are going to be very difficult.

Cutting “Inception” with Lee [Smith], my editor, I remember we got to reel three and watched it. It was completely incomprehensible. And it took several weeks of sleepless nights of really trying to figure it out. Weirdly though, when I look back at the script compared with the way that section of the film turned out, it”s not that different.

But it can be very hard to find those things. One of the reasons I don”t watch the assembly as a lot of filmmakers do, is it”s four hours long and it”s a terrible film. So I just don”t want to start from that place. I”d rather start from the place of its sense of possibility, which is what you have in the dailies.

Much ado about the internet and criticism

Well one of the things I took away from doing the festival circuit – having a film here, for example – is that anybody paying any attention to your film is a fantastic thing. I remember the first time we were reviewed… and it wasn”t a very good review, apparently. But I was just thrilled and I called my then-agent and he said, “Oh don”t worry, no one”s gonna notice it, it”s Weekly Variety.”

And I said, “But we got reviewed in Variety, it”s amazing!”

“They didn”t say great things.”

I”m like, “Okay, well…”

By far the hardest thing for a filmmaker is to get eyeballs on your material. So I would never complain about people over-analyzing the detail. I mean, there can be a somewhat unrealistic level of analysis, in terms of divining the filmmaker”s intentions to be. But I think it”s a fun game anyway. I would never begrudge the attention on a film because it means that the film will have its chance. You get it out there, people see it, then they can judge it.

Will he return to smaller movies?

There are a lot of filmmakers that have taken a very different approach than me. My friend Steven Soderbergh for example, who helped me with my first studio film, he”s always made a very, very specific point about going back and forth between different sizes of film.

I”ve only ever been driven by story, set of characters that would grab me. And I try not to really think too much about why I want to make a film. It”s just if you want to make it, then you sort of go for it. And I think there”s also a sense in which if you have the opportunity to work on a big scale, that opportunity”s not always going to be there, so I certainly avail myself of it while it”s there.

I would never want to go to making a smaller film in an artificial sense. I would never want to do it for the sake of it. I”d be very very thrilled and happy to do it if I found the right story and the right thing in the back of my head that I wanted to get across, and I”m pretty sure that”s something I will do eventually. But I”m not in any rush. I like working the way I”m working now.