What Christopher Nolan Learned While Making His First Feature Film

By Jamuura Staff. Posted on November 07, 2014

While the world goes beserk over Nolan's latest sci-fi spectacle 'Interstellar', we decided to look back at the humble beginnings of this genius director. Nathalie (of the cool blog Mentorless that every filmmaker must follow) wrote on the Nolan's first feature and what he learnt from it. We reproduce the post below for your reading pleasure.

Enjoy :-)

In 15 years, Christopher Nolan went from the anonymous lad in London shooting a B&W no-budget film to being one of the most courted filmmaker, able to produce box-office mega hit whether filming for a franchise (Batman) or a spec scripts (Inception). Nobody, at the moment, can pretend sharing this title.

After a screening of a ‘restored’ version of Following, his first feature film, Nolan talked about his process, how he came about making Following and how that impacted his way of working. Below is a compiled list of information I gathered while watching the video, that you can watch at the end.

Following poster www.mentorless.com  34 Things Christopher Nolan Shared About Making His First Feature Film and Learning From It

Hard Facts About Following

  1. Following’s budget was $6,000
  2. The film was shot on 16mm with an Arri 16BL
  3. Nolan was behind the camera
  4. The film was shot over a year
  5. 15 minutes of footage were shot on each Saturdays Nolan and his cast met
  6. Emma Thomas produced Following and every other Nolan’s films. (They are married now)
  7. Part of the film was shot in Nolan’s parents’ house
  8. Nolan was a student at a London school while he shot his first finished feature
  9. The whole film is handheld but for one scene in the police station
  10. They only used natural light

 Lesson Learned From A Lesson Learned From A First Unfinished Feature

  1.  Just like Tarantino, Following was Nolan’s second attempt to shoot a feature film. The first feature was never completed due to technical limitations
  2. After his failed first feature, Nolan and his ‘team’ shot couple of shorts to better handle the technical issues they had met, develop further their working process and be as ready as possible for their next big project
  3. From the experience they gathered shooting the shorts, they decided to go for B&W instead of color, as they didn’t have any lighting equipment. This allowed them to still have a visual style.
  4. To use Voice Over to open the film and ensure clean audio for (at least) the film’s first minutes
  5. To keep it as short and tight as possible. Following is 80 minutes long.
  6. Everything they scripted was shot  except some minus scenes.

Following 2 Christopher Nolan www.mentorless.com  34 Things Christopher Nolan Shared About Making His First Feature Film and Learning From It

Creating On A No-Budget

  1. Nolan explained that Following was shot at a time where a ‘healthy competition’ was going on between filmmakers. They were all trying to make the cheapest movie possible.
  2. The $6,000 were spent buying film stock and processing it.
  3. Actors and crew were bringing their own lunch
  4. The reason Nolan shot over year was because of the lack of money and everybody was working
  5. Nolan figured out he could shoot for 2 and 1/2 to 1 ratio, which is almost the same ratio that Shane Carruth for his first feature, Primer. What that means is that he would get one minute of usable footage for every two and half minutes of film shot. The Ratio on a standard film is 15 to 1.
  6. The entire film is made out of 1 takes and sometimes 2 takes.
  7. The film was rehearsed for about 6 months, just as if they were doing a play. Actors knew the whole film in advance.Each Saturday, depending on the location secured, Nolan would tell them: ‘We are doing X scene’, and they were prepared to make it happened in one take.

 What Nolan Misses About Those Days

  1. How easy it was to tell a story within a world with texture: the film was shot on real locations, and still feels real. Nolan mentions that Following’s ‘texture’ is something that is much harder to achieve on bigger scale productions where everything is made from scratch.
  2. The Spontaneity and Freedom he had when all his cast, crew and equipment could fit into one London taxi, working with no permits and no favors, as long as you could embrace the limitations.

Christopher Nolan Quote www.mentorless 34 Things Christopher Nolan Shared About Making His First Feature Film and Learning From It

About Music and Sound

  1. The score was composed by David Julyan with whom Nolan worked on his shorts,Memento, Insomnia and the Prestige. It was Julyan’s first feature.
  2. From his experience on Following, Nolan decided to always try to keep as much ambient sound and on set dialogues as possible as to him, there are no substitute to raw performances.
  3. One line in Following is said by Nolan as his actor was not available

The Film Reception

  1. Following couldn’t find its space in England, so Nolan took it to the American Festivals Circuit
  2. Slamdance allowed them to secure distribution
  3. They had to bring the film to America to get attention from Europe

How Nolan Kept His Voice While Working On Bigger Budgets

  1. Christopher Nolan works with the same people (cinematographer, production designer, producer),which allows him to develop trust with them
  2. Nolan doesn’t allow himself to think about the process it takes to make a film happen while on set. He thinks about what the audience will see once the film will be done and released. That helps him stay connected to the story no matter the scale of the film
  3. Nolan is not interested in showing versatility, he wants to ‘do his thing’, using his instinct and following a process he has been building for years

While the video has now been removed from Youtube, you can watch this excellent interview of Nolan's from the Criterion collection where he talks about how he made Following.

A version of this post first appeared on www.mentorless.com written by Nathalie.


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