During a very intimate edit bay session, Chris Nolan showed us part of his latest project, The Prestige. The film, written and directed by Nolan, focuses on two great magicians in 1900's London; it stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as the former friends, turned enemies.
We were able to watch Chris put the final touches on the sound mix for the film, which also includes Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine; you can check out what went on prior by clicking here. Afterwards, we spoke with Chris about The Prestige.
The film is done with the principle video editing; what Chris and his team are working on now is the sound mix. "We finished the last shots today, and putting the credits on; we've got about a month to go, and then we'll be technically finished."
As we were able to see the first 10 minutes of the movie, something caught my attention (other than the fact it's a co-production with Touchstone and Warner Bros.); I noticed there really weren't any opening credits, just the name of the movie came up, no names of the actors. Chris noted, "We're doing the credits all at the end, which keeps it a little simpler. It's pretty standard now; most of the big films, they're doing it now. As long as you have the title at the front, you're safe."
Best known for Memento, Insomnia, and last year's Batman Begins, The Prestige is Chris' first period piece. He says there were a few challenges with getting started. "I think a lot of the challenges are the same, just creating the world of the film. It can almost be easier, and the challenge for me is keeping it as a relevant film, and fall into the realm of period filmmaking. I think period films get a bit stiff, and we try and make this a little looser."
The Prestige is very loosely based on the Christopher Priest novel, of the same name; Nolan took those challenges of creating a book onto the big screen head on. "We put the most interesting aspects of what Priest put in there; it's a very large book, and there's a lot going on there. We had to throw away a lot of the ideas in the book in order to make it work as a film. But I like to think it captures the essence of the book. We've kept all the main elements; I think he liked the screenplay, so I think we got the blessing of him early on. There are a lot of things it does, story wise, that he does in the novel, in terms of steering the reader, with holding information. You can't do that in film; you have to find the cinematic equivalent of that."
What made this film even harder for Nolan was he had to hide a lot of the twists and turns of the story, without ruining the story. "Any deviation from the movie immediately is noticed by the audience; it sets off an alarm, and has them looking in a different way. It's been a pretty fascinating process of finding the focus of the story, of what point we want the audience to understand the characters, and which points of the story do we want the audience to be behind the characters. There's a sort of fine line between intriguing people and frustrating people; this film deals with that a lot."
Another challenge with The Prestige was the magical element; surprisingly, there aren't that many magic tricks in the film. Even with that, shopping the film around to studios, they told him that magic doesn't work on screen. "What solves that problem is we don't attempt to present magic tricks or stage tricks in the film and we're not expecting a cinema audience to react the same as a live audience would. What we're actually doing is exploring the world and showing how some of those tricks are done. It outlines the grammatical and structural idea of how magic trick works. It's much more about creating a cinematic world that makes the audience feel they're engaged and fooled.
You would thing with Christian Bale and Michael Caine attached to Batman Begins, it was a no-brainer for Nolan to cast them in The Prestige. However, Chris tells us it wasn't that easy. "We were originally going to make this film before we made Batman, and with a different cast, but we realized we weren't going to have time to do it justice and get Batman Begins ready for its release date. Christian actually called me out of the blue; I'm not even sure how he got the script. He said he'd be interested in playing Alfred; it seems exactly right, and it's kind of unthinkable to have anyone else. And especially Michael Caine's character feels like it was written for him, but in fact it was written before I ever met him or knew we were going to cast him in Batman.
For the choice of Hugh Jackman, "He just sort of embodied this balance we needed of having this integrity, and this stage showmanship - as opposed to Christian's character, he has this great interaction with stage performer and the live audience. Hugh actually has that, but he also has great 'gets;' this character lets him do that.
Going through learning the tricks - Chris was actually left out the meeting rooms when master magician, and magic technician on the film, Ricky Jay showed Hugh and Christian the 'tricks of the trade.' That meant, Chris left it up to Ricky to show him which angle would look right for the camera. "They got very good at [performing the little tricks] and really manipulating something a particular way."
With Christian, Hugh, and Michael already attached, getting Scarlett to commit to the film got a whole lot easier. "I met with her and she loved the character and I was very keen on her doing it."
Then came the role of Nikola Tesla - that went to David Bowie. "[He] was the only guy I had in mind to play Tesla, because his function in the story is small, but very important. He really has to present an extraordinary charismatic noticeable presence in the film; I wanted someone who wasn't a movie star. I flew out to New York to meet him and luckily he seemed to respond quickly. He's a scientist, performing things that people think are incredible, but they're real - not magical"
Even with David in the film, Chris didn't want to ask him to belt out a tune for the soundtrack. "No, I'm a fan; Memento ends with a Bowie song. It felt like it would be inappropriate for me since he was an actor."
Everything Chris was involved in on The Prestige meant something special to him, from the writing, directing, editing, supervising; he can't just nail down just one favorite thing. "It's been a good process making this film, but the sound mixing is generally one of the most fun parts for me. Basically, you've made the film at this point, and what we're doing now is trying to improve it and make it the best it can be; it's quite an enjoyable process what we've done. I enjoy all aspects, though, and that's what makes it fun to be a writer and director on a film right from the beginning and straight to the end."
You can check out all Chris Nolan's hard work in The Prestige when it hits theaters October 20th; it's rated PG-13.
If you want to read what went on inside the edit bay, CLICK HERE.