His latest film, The Prestige, takes place in early 1900's London and is about two best friend magicians, who turn into bitter rivals; they're played by Hugh Jackman and Batman himself, Christian Bale. Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine (another Batman Begins alum) also star in the film.
Movieweb was among a select few to be invited to speak with Chris Nolan as he put the final touches on the sound editing of the film. My journey to the studio took a slight detour than everyone else.
I'm all set to head over to Todd AO Studios in Hollywood to check out the first footage from The Prestige, when I close my door; that's when I knew I locked my keys inside the house. Well, at least I had my recorder with me, but without my keys, that meant walking. Luckily, I live close enough that I was able to walk. Not helping matters, it was about 95 degrees outside; let's just say, I was hot and sweaty. Ok, none of this you really need to know, but I'm setting up the day for you.
Around 12 noon, we all gather around The Prestige producer, Emma Thomas (who also happens to be Chris' wife). Now mind you, the 'we' refers to only six journalists; this was a very intimate and exclusive edit bay visit. As she explained, "We're working on the tiniest details of the sound."
Well, I have to tell you, I had been a video editor for about 10 years before moving out to California; I had an edit bay that I worked in which was probably the size of most of your closets. We walked into the edit bay at Todd AO - this place was a palace compared to where I used to work. There was the biggest edit bay I've ever seen; two people on the edit board, and three people on each side with computers controlling the sound.
We sat in the back behind Chris, who was in the middle, behind the sound board, in a very comfortable, plush chair; he sipped on a cup of hot tea, as he watched the footage. In the front of the room was a huge theater-sized screen, where the footage was being shown - a little better than my 13 inch screens I used to edit on. Sitting to the left of Chris was another gentleman (not too sure who it was, probably another producer), and to his right was Emma.
The scene they were working on happened to be the very first scene in the film. Michael Caine does the voice-over stating "Magic has three acts, the first act is 'the pledge,' the second act is 'the pledge,' and the third act is 'the prestige.'" While he's stating the three acts, we see Hugh Jackman on stage performing his stunt 'finale;' he chooses a 'volunteer' from the audience - that person just happens to be a disguised Christian Bale.
To go into more detail about the footage we saw would ruin the movie, even giving away these small tidbits. You'll just have to see the film for yourself to find out.
As Chris watched the scene, he talks to the main sound editor; he mentions that the "wide shot is my favorite." The wide shot is of Hugh on stage; the electricity sounds are a bit too high for him, and they drown out the other sound effects. Chris also asks one of the guys at the computer if he's getting the boom mic ok.
Listening to him speak, I could tell he spent so much time and effort into getting everything perfect for this movie, every shot had to be immaculate. Again, as a former editor, I knew getting all these shots right (especially the opening shot) was essential for the film. Not that I didn't have respect for film directors before, but I gained a new respect for them, just listening to Chris.
They replayed the scene over and over and over and over again until it was right; taking out one part of the audio, then the other, then the other; even the incidental background noise was important. The head editor joked, "Who knows what this is going to look like?" One of the other editors answered, "Good luck!"
Finally, after about 20-30 minutes of going over that one shot, it was time for Chris to check everything out for himself. He got up, along with the other gentleman and Emma, walked down a level to the theater seats - still inside the edit bay.
The lights went down, the cameras rolled - we were about to see the first 10 minutes of The Prestige. The first thing that caught my eye was a co-production of Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures. As we all sat back, mesmerized by the footage - it was indeed that opening scene that we watched Chris and the other editors touch and re-touch and tweak and re-tweak until it worked.
The lights came up after about ten minutes; Chris seemed happy - and for good reason. The footage that we saw looked amazing! I definitely wanted to see more, and so did everyone else! And to think, what we saw was the video footage; wait till it hits the film stage, and theater quality.
We were then escorted out of the edit bay and taken to another room at the other end of the editing studio for our roundtable chat with Chris. One thing you could tell was Chris felt very passionate about The Prestige. With every shot change, with every sound tweak, and with every small and tiny change, he wants the audience to appreciate the story, and the time and effort he went through, his crew went through, and the actors went through to make this movie.
The Prestige magically appears in theaters October 20th; it's rated PG-13.
For Part two of this story, and to read what he had to say, CLICK HERE. We go into depth with Chris about the making of this film, the casting process, and learning magic - or in the case of Chris, not learning magic. Check out what he had to say about that.