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Christopher Nolan Sank a $500,000 IMAX Camera Making Dunkirk

By Kevin Burwick — August 20th, 2017

It has recently revealed that Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan accidentally sank a $500,000 dollar IMAX camera while filming the World War II story. Dunkirk has been a worldwide success with back-to-back number one weekends in the United States and has earned nearly $400 million worldwide. The movie is a visual stunner, especially when seen in the full immersive experience while watching in 70mm, which was the way that Nolan intended for Dunkirk to be seen as he shot the majority of the movie on crazy expensive and rare IMAX cameras.

The camera sinking news comes to us via American Cinematographer via Reddit. Christopher Nolan does not like to add effects in post-production and instead favors practical effects and one of his methods on Dunkirk was to strap incredibly expensive IMAX cameras to planes and intentionally crash them into the sea, which presented a pretty hefty task for cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar) and his crew. Some of the scenes ended in the casualty of all types of equipment, but as Hoytema tells American Cinematographer, an IMAX camera ended up sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Hoytema said that the he and his crew worked to make crash housing for the IMAX camera, which costs $12,000 - $16,000 dollars a week to rent. The idea was to have the crash housing mounted to the plane to protect the camera from not only impact, but the salt water as well. Unfortunately, during one take, the plane began to sink almost instantly. Hoyte van Hoytema had this to say.

"Our grips did a great job building a crash housing around the IMAX camera to withstand the physical impact and protect the camera from seawater, and we had a good plan to retrieve the camera while the wreckage was still afloat. Unfortunately, the plane sunk almost instantly, pulling the rig and camera to the sea bottom."

As it turns out, the incredibly expensive camera was under water for over an hour and half before divers could retrieve the camera and the protective housing was compromised due to intense water pressure from sinking into the depths of the ocean. Hoytema explains.

"In all, the camera was under for (more than 90 minutes) until divers could retrieve it. The housing was completely compromised by water pressure, and the camera and mag had filled with (brackish) water. But Jonathan Clark, our film loader, rinsed the retrieved mag in freshwater and cleaned the film in the dark room with freshwater before boxing it and submerging it in freshwater."

Miraculously, the film and camera ended up being okay and the shot made it into the movie with a lot of extra help form FotoKern across the Atlantic. FotoKern developed the film to find that everything was there.

The experience of making Dunkirk with Christopher Nolan was a very different experience than most movies as illustrated by Hoyte van Hoytema's story about almost losing a $500,000 dollar IMAX camera. The end result ended up being used in the final cut and Dunkirk has been universally praised for its beautiful visuals. Nolan has called 70mm the "gold standard" for making movies and his work is a prime example even with the unorthodox methods of strapping $500,000 IMAX cameras to planes and intentionally crashing them into the ocean.

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