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Christopher Nolan recalls his Slamdance Inception

Posted by: Colin Covert Updated: January 18, 2014 - 10:15 PM

Park City Utah

Believe it or not superstar director Christopher Nolan was once a struggling neophyte with a $6,000 first film and not much hope of finding an audience for it.

The Slamdance Film Festival offered him crucial early exposure, screening his pickpocket caper "Following" in 1999, and launching Nolan on a career measured in hundreds of millions of viewers and billions in ticket sales.Since 1995, Slamdance has championed odd, off-kilter and avant-garde films and their creators. It's now considered a key stop on the international festival circuit.

Through it all Nolan has remained loyal to the scrappy upstart movie series that lives just down the road from Sundance and slightly in its shadow. "It's a very special festival and we enjoy it tremendously," he said. "It's a true community of filmmakers and that's something that is much more rare than you would expect." 

On Saturday, Nolan took some time away from his upcoming space travel epic "Interstellar" to receive the first Slamdance Founder"s Award and speak to a small group of young filmmakers and journalists.

He discussed his nepotistic approach to filmmaking. His wife Emma Thomas has been the produced of all Nolan's films and his brother Jonathan is his frequent screenwriting partner. "We've grown up together in every sense but particularly in filmmaking," he said of his wife. "We began making 16mm films together and that's evolved into studio work. As a filmmaker the best thing you can possibly have is somebody close to you who can support you but also knows your weaknesses as well as your strengths and has no other agenda than to try to make the film the best it can be and see you do the best work as a director. That's what Emma's been for me." He and his brother write separate drafts and revise each other's work, he explained, but that "terrific" collaboration has become less frequent "as [Jonathan] gets busier and more expensive."

Nolan corrected the rumor that he turned down Brad Pitt for the lead of his first post-Slamdance feature, the amnesiac murder mystery "Memento." "He turned me down," Nolan said, but he credited Pitt's initial interest in the script with "drawing attention to what was a really obscure project otherwise." The experience of having the film rejected by every distributor that considered it, and the following year of difficult marketing efforts to bring it to theaters taught him that "the real work begins" after the filming ends. That commitment to the long term view of filmmaking was the crucial lesson of his early career, he said.

Of his mindbending dream thriller "Inception," he confessed that the first editing draft of the film was "completely incomprehensible. It took several weeks of sleepless nights" to find a way to make sense of it.

While he has had massive success with massive films, Nolan said that he loves films of all dimensions. "I've only ever been driven by story. Certain characters will grab me. If you have the opportunity to work on a big scale, that opportunity's not always going to be there. So I certainly will avail myself of it while it's there. I would never want to make a smaller film in an artificial sense, I would never want to do it for the sake of it. I'd be very thrilled and happy to do it if I found the right story. I' m pretty sure I'll do it eventually. But I'm not in any rush."

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