Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Nolan on Scripting The Dark Knight

Below, from Anne Thompson’s Dark Knight Review, are highlights of a Q&A session with director Chris Nolan following a special Imax screening. I agree with every single word he says, especially his decision to avoid telling The Joker’s backstory. He said, “The more you find out about those fictional characters the less threatening they really are.” Amen, halleluiah! Preach it, brother! Hehehe

For all the aspiring screenwriters out there, consider how articulate, insightful, and knowledged Nolan is about his approach to this world. You have to be just as articulate about your own stories.



On the challenge of topping Batman Begins:

"...for us, the main challenge was to continue the story appropriately and keep it stylistically and tonally consistent. You want to move the story forward and make it somehow larger or more important without losing what worked in the first one."

On the ambiguity of the characters:

"As co-writer-director, I was very involved with script, which I began working on at the story stage with David S. Goyer. We wanted to push these characters and test them in new ways. We wanted to use The Joker as a catalyst, not as someone who has an arc or learns anything in the story. I like to say that he cuts through the film like the shark in Jaws. He's a force the other characters have to react to so he helped us push our returning characters forward and fortunately we were able to bring most of the cast back. Gary Oldman is an incredible actor who we first met with to play a villain in Batman Begins. But we found that he's very unlike the characters he normally plays so we were lucky to get him to play Gordon who is a good man with a great sense of integrity. He had to be very restricted and subtle in Batman Begins and he enjoyed that challenge but at times it was like watching a Ferrari in traffic. It was fun to bring him back and have him tested and pushed further. The whole ensemble was prepared to push those characters and advance the story…”

"It's quite a familiar trope, really, if you look at Hannibal Lecter or one of these movie monsters like Darth Vader in the first Star Wars. The more you find out about those fictional characters the less threatening they really are. Our decision with The Joker was to not deal with the origin story and to laugh at that convention. We wanted him to be absolutely threatening in what he represents as a force of anarchy and chaos," says Nolan. "That’s really the reason for Harvey Dent's prominence in the film. It's his story that has to provide the emotional backbone of the film. He's the character with an arc, with a rise and fall, who the audience hopefully connects with and follows."

On the writing process:

"We did it the same way we wrote Batman Begins. David S. Goyer and I spent 2-3 months working on the story, working out the main beats on index cards. We sent Jonah [Nolan, Christopher's brother] off to work on his own because I was working on another film so he had 6 months to do that first draft and he would show me stuff as he did it and I would look at it before he shared it with anyone else including Chuck [Roven] and the studio. After the studio read the first draft Jonah spent another couple months working on it and then I took it over when I finished the other film and over the course of 6 months in pre-production, Jonah and I still worked heavily on it through that time. One of the reasons the film is 2-and-a-half hours long is because we tried everything we could on paper to make the story shorter but that was the story we had. In the end we compressed it to the point where it was dizzying so then we had to flesh it out a little bit. We tried different versions and pulling out different story elements so we probably spent a year and a half working on the script.

On Maggie Gyllenhaal:

"Katie couldn’t do the film. She was unavailable. We offered it to her and very much wanted to bring her back but Maggie was someone I'd wanted to work with for years so when she offered to take on the role that was just delightful because I knew story-wise we needed the character to continue from Batman Begins. We very much needed that connection with Bruce Wayne that we could tie to the Harvey Dent story and as Paul Levitz, who is the head of DC Comics said over dinner one night, 'With Batman, it’s a question of what's the tragedy? What is it that moves Batman?' Obviously in the first film we were able to rely on his origin story which is the greatest tragedy for him, the death of his parents. But with a new tale you need new fuel for that character who does deal in angst and whose story does rest on tragedy, so we were always looking to her character and that relationship to give us a different take on that."

On shooting in Chicago:

"One of the fun things about shooting in Chicago, where I grew up partly and have a great love for, is that it's not as instantly recognizable as New York but it has this great architecture and all kinds of great geographical features in terms of underground streets and all kinds of amazing skyscrapers. When you see Christian Bale on top of a tall building, that’s really him. It's an amazing helicopter shot with a great view and particularly for the IMAX presentation we wanted to use the original camera negative shot. I didn’t want the visual effects guys to change a couple buildings to try to pretend it's a different city. That seemed pointless, really. A lot of people prefer that technological approach but I prefer to think 'Well what would you have done 20 years ago? Does it really matter?' It’s a great big city and we wanted it to feel very real and in doing that you're naturally going to expose more of the location so the people who know the city will recognize it but people seem to enjoy that, particularly people from Chicago. Hopefully Roger Ebert will."

On the film's political relevance:

"We try not to be particularly conscious of what we're doing. We try to write the story within this world and these characters and in the process, try to do something that affects us and the world we live in. When we look back at the finished product we see various parallels and relevancies but we try and just let that be a product of writing what moves us, what frightens and excites us. We trust that that will have some reality or some relevance but it would violate the terms of storytelling and the terms of the genre if you're too conscious of trying to make particular political points. I don’t think that’s what you're selling the audience I don’t think that’s what the ride is. I think ultimately if the film has relevance it's actually going to be more interesting to an audience but we like it to be subtext.

On the influence of "The Killing Joke":

"When I read 'The Killing Joke' I don’t read it as unrealistic. Everything we did in Batman Begins and tried to push further in this film is based on the principle that you don’t worry about the medium. I'm not attempting to represent the medium of comic books on screen here anymore than I would a novel that I was adapting or a stage play. It’s a different medium and when I read a comic book I'm able to interpolate a real world from the drawings, and particularly works like 'The Killing Joke' which are more stylistically contemporary to the time they were written and speak a little more directly to my generation. As far as the specific influence of 'The Killing Joke,' really we looked at the whole history of the comics and tried to absorb the highlights and commonalities from the evolutionary pool of artists and writers who've worked on the character for so long, looking at the common threads there. But I definitely feel the influence of 'The Killing Joke,' not so much in the specifics as in constructing some sense of purpose for an inherently purposeless character. That is to say The Joker is an anarchist. He's dedicated to chaos. He should really have no purpose but I think the underlying belief that Alan Moore got across very clearly is that on some level The Joker wants to pull everybody down to his level and show that he's not an unusual monster and that everyone else can be debased and corrupted like he is. If you look at the first two appearances of The Joker ever in the Batman comics, we were quite startled to look back at those and realize how close that character is to what Heath's done and what our story is. I think it's very close to the original incarnation of the character some 65 years ago."


Jezza said...

Thanks for the link.

I've always admired Chris Nolan's ability to communicate his vision and artistic sensibilities without coming off pretentious or obscure. He makes commercially accessible films that have weighty themes and utilize risky stylistic techniques.

He truly is a great filmmaker, his first film Following (1998) is one of the benchmarks for how to make a solid low-budget debut film.

Joshua James said...

That was FUCKING awesome.

Kevin Lehane said...

I've known from the minute they wouldn't let the Rachel Dawes character go that she would be killed off in part 2. And it's so obvious she will die at the Joker's hand.

I believe this is what annoyed Katie Holmes, or else Tom was telling her you can't do that. Because how busy is she? She's made how many movies since Batman Begins?

I had no beef with her in BB, but she annoyed me by refusing to return and has hurt the franchise. I wish they cast Maggie Gylenhaal from the start.

I'm afriad, MM. I didn't read the full post as I don't want to get spoiled but this I felt I could chime in on.

Christian M. Howell said...

Hey, I've got a question that came up over on Cinematical.

How many people think they should introduce Robin in any future installments.

I think two psychotic vigilantes is better than one.

Emily Blake said...

That man is a genius and I love him.

I hope to be half that good at stories one day.

GabbaGoo said...

I just think this batman is just too Dark for it to throw in robin at this time...but I mean I heard Nolan is only doing one more Batman with Two face and thats it...

Which Is probably a good thing for him.

Mystery Man said...

Jezza - I completely agree. I always thought "Memento" was the right kind of structurally gimmicky material that can you noticed. Doing something structurally unique is a great way to get noticed.

Josh - I've been bashing backstories for years, haven't I, Joshua? We explain too much nowadays. The less you reveal, the more mythic and just bigger-than-life the characters become. And the more fascinated we are about them. Foster the mystery!

Kevin - I have the same suspicions, particularly with Joker telling Rachel, "You look nervous." I'm okay with her dying. That would be the tragedy here that Nolan talked about, wouldn't it?

Christian - Stay the hell away from Robin.

Emily - He's a smarty, certainly. His instincts are superb. I think his finger's right on the pulse of how a Batman film can become great.

Gabb - I agree! Robin represents a step toward campiness.


Kevin Lehane said...

Not Robin. Maybe Nightwing.

I would sooner see some more of the villians and I hope that some will make a return. Poison Ivy for one. She was ruined. And The Riddler and Deathstroke would make for great adversaries.

I think Catwoman, Mr. Freeze and Penguin should be avoided though.

Mystery Man said...

Hey guys,

Did you guys see Emanuelle Levy’s review?


“Dark, grim, haunting and visionary, "The Dark Knight" is nothing short of brilliant, the best and scariest comic hero adaptation you are likely to see this summer season, and perhaps during the whole year…

Three days after the screening, I am still haunted by some visual images; lines of cynical dialogue, particularly by the sinister Joker, splendidly and scarily played by Heath Ledger, who should receive a posthumous Oscar nomination, if not the award itself (See Oscar Alert)…

The organizing principle of the narrative is that of the triangle, or triad. There are at least four significant triads. First, there is Wayne-Batman/Alfred Pennyworth/Lucius Fox, then there is the romantic triangle of Wayne-Batman/Harvey Dent/Rachel Dawes, but arguably, the most intriguing one is that of Wayne-Batman/the Joker/Jim Gordon…

Almost each character has two sides and/or experiences inner conflict…

The new tale focuses on how Batman's very existence has changed Gotham, initially not necessarily for the better. The 2005 film hinted at the threat of escalation, that in going after the city's crime cartels and attacking their interests, Batman could provoke an even greater response from the criminal community. In other words, there are negative consequences of his crusade brewing in Gotham City, which he brings to the surface both advertently and inadvertently, thus blurring the line between absolute good and absolute evil. As a result, the new tale is more complex, the morality more ambiguous, with many shades of gray that define both "heroes" and villains…"

I love it!

Kevin Lehane said...


I am avoiding as much as I can. I know Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face in this movie which I could have done wthout knowing and I know for a fact Rachel is murdered and that the Scarecrow returns for a very brief cameo. I must stop reading . . .

David Alan said...

"High demand for tickets to see opening night screenings of The Dark Knight has led some theater owners to add showings -- some as early as 6 A.M."

Son of a bitch!

But on the other hand, I’m happy to see all walks of life excited about a SUPERHERO movie. This movie could potentially -- fingers crossed -- knock that bitch (a.k.a. Titanic) off her perch. Plus, it’d give a much needed boost to the industry.

Yeah, you just can’t go wrong with this movie.

-- David Alan


And stop the SPOILERS!! Stop reading them. All of you! Do you really want to spoil THE movie event of the last few years?

Gorman said...

This a fantastic interview that only increases my respect for Nolan as a director. I love how he uses 'we' when discussing the direction of the story so as not to take all of the credit. I suppose having a brother for a screenwriter(and an excellent one at that) helps.

Mystery Man said...

Yeah, that's textbook example of how it should be done. Thanks, Gorman.

twity13 said...

Excellent post of excellent movie.Far from offering traditional summer escapism...a brainy, action-packed morality play meant to throttle the audience, body and mind, for a solid 152 minutes and haunt them for days and weeks later.wanna watch this awesome movie then go ahead and watch it now from the link.. Download The Dark Knight Movie

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