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07 November 2014
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Christopher Nolan: The Movies. The Memories.
Part 1: Jeremy Theobald on Following

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Six astonishing films. Six key collaborators. Six exclusive essays. An intimate insight into an enigmatic genius. Kicking things off is Following, Nolan’s first major picture, and the man who not only starred in it, but produced it too, Nolan’s long time collaborator Jeremy Theobald.

  • Part 1: Jeremy Theobald on Following
  • Part 2: Wally Pfister on Memento
  • Part 3: Robin Williams on Insomnia
  • Part 4: Gary Oldman on Batman Begins
  • Part 5: Hugh Jackman on The Prestige
  • Part 6: Jonathan Nolan on The Dark Knight
  • Christopher Nolan: The Movies. The Memories.

    "I guess I feel lucky for being in the right place at the right time. When I think of people with whom Chris has worked, it’s an eclectic group to be in. Did I think the chap who seemed to be permanently dressed in beige chinos, a waistcoat and a linen jacket would become one of Hollywood’s biggest directors? Probably not.

    "Still, it was clear Chris was different. We met through friends because he’d heard that I was interested in making films. He gave me a script for Larceny, a short that he proposed to make in black-and-white with a restricted cast, crew and equipment in the space of a weekend. It was different from any other script I’d read at college. They were often art pieces that would explore the slamming of train doors on Euston station (in the days when trains had doors that you could slam). This script was sharp, irreverent and clever. Larceny worked well and I thought as a first foray into film acting, I did okay.

    "It was okay enough for Chris, who started talking to me about Following, a feature film script he’d been working on. His plan was again to use a restricted cast, crew and equipment and film at the weekend. He asked me to co-produce with himself and his then-girlfriend, now wife, Emma. I knew some actors and gained us access to various shooting locations in London.

    "We were all working by then, Emma for Working Title, Chris for a media training agency and myself for a medical book publishers. Weekends were different. Friday night I’d worry and drink too much. Saturday morning I’d be up too early (worrying), then travel to wherever the set was that day. Often, it was straight back home, as the apartment of my character, ‘The Young Man’, was my flat in Iliffe Street, Walworth. Which is also where the bat was.

    "Keen-eyed viewers have spotted a Batman logo on the door of the flat. Some call it ironic (incorrectly), others say it’s prescient. Actually, I’d put it up in 1989 when I moved there; there was a film out called Batman that year... And that was the way we made the film. None of the sets were designed, few were dressed. We made do — or rather, Chris chose places he thought were suitable and would take little arranging.

    I was blown away at what it’s like to see your face projected 30 feet high
    "We’d shoot every Saturday for 12 hours or so for what seemed like a year, getting as many scenes done in one location as we could. We’d all been used to theatre, and Chris made us rehearse every scene for weeks before we started filming. It got us very comfortable with each other. It also meant when the camera was turning, we went on, come what may. A fluffed line or car alarm that would normally stop shooting didn’t halt us. This enabled Chris to keep the shooting ratio very low, saving time and money.

    "Then, in no time at all, I was on a plane to San Francisco for the film festival where Following premiered. I carried the only print in my hand luggage. I remember the first screening. It was a sell out and there weren’t enough seats for all our friends. I was blown away at what it’s like to see your face projected 30 feet high for the first time. I remember feeling very lucky.

    "A few years later, my agent John Markham called: “An old friend of yours is directing the next Batman film and wants you to be in it.” I got to feel lucky one more time sitting in the back seat of a Mercedes as the black hangars of Cardington loomed out of the grey Bedfordshire drizzle. Emma showed me round the sets. The scale was breathtaking. How many Batmobiles were lined up? Meals for how many people?

    "Chris and I had dinner that night. I asked him if this was it. Was he comfortable now? What had been the turning point for him? He replied that it was on the set of his last film, Insomnia. He would go and see his lead actor, Al Pacino, in his trailer to discuss his scenes every morning. One morning, Chris went in and Al was on the phone. Al said to his caller, “I’m sorry, I’ve gotta go — my director’s here.” Al Pacino had just cut off a call for Chris. He said he worried a little less after that."

    This article first appeared in issue 253 of Empire Magazine. Subscribe today.

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