You can go home again, it turns out. Christopher Nolan, who works on larger scale studio films than just about any director in Hollywood, took time out from posting his time travel tentpole Interstellar to fly in to the Slamdance Film Festival and accept the fest’s inaugural Founder’s Award. Flanked by his wife/producing partner Emma Thomas, their children and longtime agent Dan Aloni, Nolan recalled the days 15 years ago when he came to Slamdance a wide-eyed first timer with his directing debut, Following. Gazing out at an audience of indie filmmakers crammed into the cramped space where the fest shows movies at the Treasure Mountain Inn, Nolan opined that nothing had changed from his last visit here, and recalled braving the cold and personally papering Main Street with his Xeroxed one-sheets for his $6000 budget film, and reacting giddily when Following was panned by Weekly Variety (who was that genius reviewer?) simply because it meant somebody noticed.
“What Slamdance teaches you is that while it’s wonderful to have a great community of filmmakers around you, you have to be prepared to do everything yourself,” said Nolan, interviewed by Slamdance president Peter Baxter. “That’s something that never goes away…you have to be prepared to carry the flag for the film because if you’re not, nobody else is going to bother. The tricky thing is, it can seem like arrogance because it’s the film you made, but there’s no way around it. You just have to do it.” Asked how he made the transition to large-scale budgets while many others flounder when they step up to that sandbox, Nolan said the key was taking incremental steps, and trying to look at each project from the vantage point of an audience member, making sure as director your vision matches up with a studio’s expectation of the film it will receive for its investment. It is sound advice; how many times have we seen directors become insulated, go way over budget and deliver a mess of a picture, pissing off a studio to the point it writes off the film as a failure, cuts its losses and doesn’t spend P&A, and stunts the filmmaker’s trajectory?