Christopher Nolan at Slamdance: ‘I’ve Only Ever Been Driven By Story’

Christopher Nolan Slamdance: 'I've Only Ever

Director who got his start at Slamdance returns for honor

The Sundance Film Festival may be the biggest and brightest star this weekend in Park City, Utah, but quietly down the road, the event’s “sister” program Slamdance stole the show Saturday evening by hosting one of the most high-profile filmmakers in the world.

Christopher Nolan, who debuted his first movie at Slamdance back in 1999 before going on to launch such blockbusters as “The Dark Knight” and “Inception,” was on hand to receive the event’s Founder’s award among a lucky few at the Treasure Mountain Inn screening room.

“Thank you…it’s an incredibly long time since I was here last but it feels like yesterday,” the filmmaker said.

With his wife and producing partner Emma and their four children sitting in the front row, Nolan discussed the process of making his first feature film, “Following,” which he made for only $6,000, while also offering advice to the young filmmakers in attendance.

“It’s not about the one screening you have,” he said. “In many ways that’s where the work begins.”

Nolan, who directed his first movie at age 29 “with friends on the weekends,” said the hard work and self-promotion ultimately led to third parties financing his breakout hit “Memento,” which premiered the following year at Sundance.

“One of the things I took away from the festival is that anyone paying any attention to your film is a fantastic thing,” he said, adding that a Variety review of “Following” gave him a huge boost of confidence, despite the review being “pretty negative (laughs).”

The U.K. filmmaker also credited Brad Pitt as one of the main reasons “Memento” caught the eye of festival programmers, saying Pitt’s initial interest in the project (he later passed) generated a buzz around Hollywood, which ultimately led to Guy Pearce’s casting.

“I’m very, very grateful,” he told Slamdance president and moderator Peter Baxter at Saturday’s Q&A.

When asked whether or not he would ever re-visit smaller scale films like “Memento,” after recent billion-dollar hits like “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Inception,” Nolan said does not decide which movies to make based on their budgets.

“I’ve only ever been driven by story, I try not to think not too much about why I want to make a film,” he said before noting, “I think there’s also a sense of opportunity, that opportunity’s not always going to be there.”

As for his current involvement with Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” and Batman projects, Nolan insists it was never really a plan or mission of his but rather a seamless transition from the time he spent in Gotham.

“We almost fell into being engaged with the studio on the Batman character and then it became Zack’s film,” he said. “To be honest, that’s the only experience I’ve had producing someone else’s film.”

Nolan is currently in production on his next film, “Interstellar,” which stars Matthew McConaughey and opens Nov. 7, 2014.

“The idea of spending someone else’s money is quite daunting,” he admitted. “I think the thing you have to do is to have expectations for yourself.”

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  1. gooner says:

    Read it again. He never said the words: Big budgets aren’t my thing. He only said that everything is driven by story- its just poor paraphrasing or a misleading title.

  2. Emil says:

    Pfff. Big budgets aren’t his thing… Really? From what I’ve read the guy doesn’t know how to save money when making movies! His movies are mostly good and everything (The Dark Knight Rises and Insomnia being the exceptions), but he always has the ability to come out as a pretentious hipster douche in his interviews for some reason…

  3. Nate says:

    The Dark Knight Rises: $250 mil
    Inception: $160 mil
    The Dark Knight: $185 mil
    Batman Begins: $150 mil
    The Prestige: $40 mil
    Insomnia: $46 mil
    Man of Steel (produced): $225 mil
    Transcendence (produced): at least $100 mil

    Interstellar: unknown, but $$$$$$$$$$

  4. Chris says:

    I think the greatest achievement is that he produced his films with his WIFE! And he has FOUR kids! I think all you married people with children can understand, once you really think about how much time they must spend together, and how much energy it takes to have kids, what a logistical and emotional feat that is. Hats off to being some sort of super-emotionally-balanced hero. Was he chosen to advise on the Man of Steel Krypton sequences because he and his wife had first person experiences to share from their childhood there?

  5. Nolan’s films are most definitely not thought provoking and provocative but he’s still a great filmmaker. To the guy who said “he hasn’t made a movie for less than $150 mil in 8 years” he clearly hasn’t watched Nolan’s best film “The Prestige”, which he made with $39 mil.

    • Jason says:

      The Dark Knight didn’t have a thought provoking sub-context? Inception wasn’t about dreams. The Prestige wasn’t about magic or even a rivalry. It’s amazing how people watch films and still don’t understand them…at all.

    • Anthony says:

      The Prestige was 8 years ago…

  6. Nate says:

    Big budgets aren’t his thing? He hasn’t made a movie for less than $150 mil in 8 years.

  7. well once the bravo of BAT MAN is gone all his so call fans won’t pay him any mind….

    • Boom says:

      What are you even talking? Nolan won’t lose any fans. If you are a solid filmmaker you will always be watched. Clearly you don’t know about film.keep your day job.

  8. Josh says:

    The highest level of respect for Nolan, both past and present. Film are
    truly thought provoking and provocative. I look forward to what the future holds

  9. Gotham is lucky to have Nolan looking out for its favorite son!

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