Christopher Nolan Will Keep Making ‘Large-Scale’ Movies Because Many Directors Would Kill to ‘Have the Resources I Put Together. I Have the Responsibility to Use Them’

Christopher Nolan is a big fan of movies that are much more smaller-scale dramas like “Aftersun” (“a beautiful film”) and “Past Lives” (“subtle in a beautiful sort of way”) compared to his own output, he recently told Time magazine, but he’s probably never going to make them. Nolan got his start with indie productions like “Memento,” but he’s now famous for assembling blockbuster productions with huge sets and pricey budgets. He’s likely never going back to a more subtle production style.

“I’m drawn to working at a large scale because I know how fragile the opportunity to marshal those resources is,” Nolan told the publication about sticking with big productions. “I know that there are so many filmmakers out there in the world who would give their eye teeth to have the resources I put together, and I feel I have the responsibility to use them in the most productive and interesting way.”

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Nolan’s most recent directorial effort was “Oppenheimer,” which carried a smaller-than-usual production budget of $100 million. That’s still a giant sum (especially for a dialogue-driven biographical drama), but it’s way down from the more than $200 million it took to get his espionage thriller “Tenet” off the ground. Nolan filmed “Oppenheimer” in around 60 days, and production designer Ruth De Jong revealed he slashed around 30 filming days in order to re-allocate the film’s budget to production design and set locations.

“It felt like a $100 million indie. This is not ‘Tenet,’” De Jong said last year. “Chris wanted to shoot all over the United States…just plane tickets alone and putting crew up all over the place [is expensive]. Not to mention I have to build Los Alamos, it doesn’t exist. That’s where I really felt like it was impossible. Chris said, ‘Forget the money. Let’s just design what we want.’ So that’s what we did, and when construction first budgeted my town it was $20 million. Chris was like, ‘Yeah, no. Stop.’”

Nolan did “the most incredible thing” in order “to achieve all of the desired looks and designs,” De Jong said. The filmmaker told her, “I’ve got to go do my homework,” which she later realized meant re-organizing the film’s shooting schedule in order to consolidate days and free up the budget for the production design. De Jong said “Oppenheimer” was originally set for an 85-day shoot, perhaps even more, but Nolan cut it down by at least 30 days.

“We made the movie unbelievably quickly,” star Cillian Murphy said on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast. “The pace of that was insane.”

“Oppenheimer” is nominated for 13 Academy Awards, more than any other film at the 2024 ceremony. It’s widely perceived as the frontrunner for best picture after winning top prizes at the Golden Globes and Critic’s Choice Awards. Nolan is also a strong contender in the best director race.

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