CinemaCon: Christopher Nolan Talks 'Interstellar,' Plugs Film Over Digital in Hollywood Reporter Q&A

Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan
 AP Images

LAS VEGAS -- Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan has a message for Hollywood and his fellow directors: See more movies in theaters to get a true sense of how much better film is than digital.

"Film is the best way to capture an image and project that image. It just is, hands down. That's based on my assessment of what I'm seeing as a filmmaker," Nolan said during a wide-ranging conversation with The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy at CinemaCon, the annual gathering of theater owners in Las Vegas.

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"As far as innovation and experimentation, I'm in favor of any technological innovation," said the 43-year-old director, "but it will always have to exceed what came before. None of the new technologies have done that."

His comments came as the era of film prints is coming to an end. Paramount, which is releasing Nolan's upcoming film Interstellar in North America, recently announced it won't be sending out any more film prints domestically -- save for Interstellar, which opens this winter -- since the vast majority of U.S. theaters have converted to digital projection systems and can no longer play film.

"I've gone to movie theaters and watched [my films]. Not enough filmmakers do that. And not enough people in our industry spend enough time in theaters and see the end result," Nolan said, adding that many in the industry watch movies in a rarefied space.

Nolan remains one of the last filmmakers to shoot exclusively on celluloid. He's a big fan of Imax, and shoots parts of his movies with Imax cameras. He used those cameras more on Interstellar than on any other film he's done.

"We are looking to theater owners to transport us and give us the best they can. As they say, the projectionist has the final cut," he said. "I think the technical aspect of how this film is presented is going to be more important than on any film I’ve done before, so that means getting into partnership with the studios and theaters."

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The director remained mum on Interstellar's storyline. In broad strokes, the movie follows a team of space explorers who travel through wormholes. The Paramount and Warner Bros. movie stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn and Michael Caine.

"I grew up in an era that was a golden age of the blockbuster, when something we might call a family film could have universal appeal. That's something I want to see again. In terms of the tone of the film, it looks at where we are as a people and has a universality about human experience," Nolan said cryptically.

He did reveal that he worked closely with producer Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist who was able to consult on the science behind wormholes.

Additionally, Nolan said that he made it a priority to use practical locations rather than CGI whenever possible. For example, he built the interior of a space shuttle for some scenes, and placed actual images outside the windows so that the actors could see what their characters would see.

"I want to capture as much in camera as possible," he said "It's a much higher quality than if you shoot on a green screen."

Nolan said he became fascinated with McConaughey after seeing an early cut of Mud. He agreed that the actor's Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club and career transformation is ideal timing for Interstellar.

"[Mud] showed me a side of Matthew's capabilities that I never knew was there. It was a transformative performance. From when I first saw it, I had an inside track on how great he could be."

Asked about McConaughey's character in Interstellar, Nolan said, "I needed someone who is very much an everyman, someone the audience could experience the story with. He's just a phenomenal, charismatic presence in the movie. His performance is shaping up to be extraordinary."

Nolan also praised Caine, who has appeared in every one of Nolan's films since Batman Begins. "He comes so prepared and he is just so good with such a minimal effort. I cast him in every film just as an example to everyone else," Nolan said. "He's just a lovely guy to be around. He jokes that he's my lucky charm. It was a very good strategy on his part."

McCarthy also asked Nolan if he had any interest in directing long-form television, considering that so many filmmakers are making that leap.

"I would never say never, but I just really like movies. There's a lot of great stuff happening in TV, but we're not here to talk about TV," Nolan said.

Nor has Nolan, who is now in the process of editing a first cut of Interstellar, decided on his next film project. "I have always viewed every film as the last film I'm going to do. I've always done that because I want to put everything into it. I might get hit by a bus at the end of production," he said.

Nolan disclosed that he figured out he might want to be a director at the age of 12 after feasting as a young boy on films such as Star Wars and a rerelease of 2001: A Space Odyssey. "I remember very clearly the feeling of magnitude and otherworldly experience. I had no idea what the film meant, but it didn't matter to me in the slightest."

Nolan's trip down memory lane prompted him to urge theater owners in the audience to show more old movies. "You guys don't do enough rereleases."

THR senior vice president and publisher Lynne Segall introduced Nolan and McCarthy. THR co-sponsored the event.

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