What do Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) and Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises) have in common? Besides being two of the biggest names in Hollywood, both filmmakers are rather low-fi folks. Not fans of texting or emailing, they both continue to create movies in film and avoid unnecessarily hi-tech shooting techniques.
The Dark Knight Rises director Christopher Nolan is, in the truest sense, a filmmaker, and an analogue one at that. “For the last 10 years, I’ve felt increasing pressure to stop shooting film and start shooting video, but I’ve never understood why. It’s cheaper to work on film, it’s far better looking, it’s the technology that’s been known and understood for a hundred years, and it’s extremely reliable.”
The self-taught movie-maker has been using pretty much the same filming methods he’s employed from the beginning, going with tried-and-tested techniques which have always worked for him. In an interview with the Directors Guild of America, Nolan discloses that he primarily shoots with just one camera and edits his films “in his head.”
DGA: You and your cameraman, Wally Pfister, are among the last holdouts who shoot on film in an industry that’s moved to digital. What’s your attraction to the older medium?
CN: I think, truthfully, it boils down to the economic interest of manufacturers and [a production] industry that makes more money through change rather than through maintaining the status quo. We save a lot of money shooting on film and projecting film and not doing digital intermediates. In fact, I’ve never done a digital intermediate. Photochemically, you can time film with a good timer in three or four passes, which takes about 12 to 14 hours as opposed to seven or eight weeks in a DI suite. That’s the way everyone was doing it 10 years ago, and I’ve just carried on making films in the way that works best and waiting until there’s a good reason to change. But I haven’t seen that reason yet.
DGA: You don’t like to shoot many takes, you only storyboard action scenes, you avoid shot lists, and you just use one camera for dramatic sequences. So how do you make directorial choices in the editing room given that you don’t seem to have a lot of coverage options? Why do you prefer shooting with one camera?
CN: I use multi-camera for stunts; for all the dramatic action, I use single-camera. Shooting single-camera means I’ve already seen every frame as it’s gone through the gate because my attention isn’t divided to multi-cameras. So I see it all and I watch dailies every night. If you’re always shooting multi-camera, you shoot an enormous amount of footage, and then you have to go in and start from scratch, which is tricky time-wise. I’ve always been able to visualize what I want mentally, and I can lie there at night and cut the film in my head, one shot at a time, all the way through the whole thing. Watching dailies, which everybody used to have to do but now seems to be much more of an option, is an important process for memorizing the material. After memorizing it, you can then cut it in your head as you proceed, and when you get into the edit suite you know exactly where to find things. I can say to my editor, ‘You know, we shot a different angle on this’ or whatever, and tell him where to find it.
In a recent interview after the premiere of his latest Batman flick, Nolan also divulged how low-key he is, tech-wise. “When I moved to L.A. in 1997, nobody really had cell phones, and I just never went down that path.” Nolan does not own a mobile phone and doesn’t email for correspondence either. “It’s not that I’m a Luddite and don’t like technology; I’ve just never been interested.”
That disconnect is probably a good thing considering all the buzz the movie has been getting from approving critics, sour critics, and the franchise’s enraged fans. The Dark Knight Rises was shot in the IMAX format and premiered on July 20, 2012.
Fellow filmmaker Woody Allen shares the same penchant for low-fi living. “I have never sent an email in my life. I never received an email,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “I have two buttons [on my iPhone] I can touch—the weather and the Huffington Post.”
Like Nolan, Allen still shoots in old school film. Greta Gerwig, star of his latest production To Rome With Love, said in an interview “[That] might be the last time I ever get to shoot on film. Nothing is shot on film. Really, nothing is shot on film anymore. I met with a director who said, ’There’s no reason to shoot on film anymore. It would be like having a television with the big back. You don’t need it.’”
Of course, we beg to disagree. The future is analogue and we support directors Nolan and Allen for keeping this art form alive!
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