August 23, 2014

Christopher Nolan Shares DIY Shooting Tricks of His No-Budget First Film, 'Following'

Christopher Nolan Following

Director Christopher Nolan is best known for The Dark Knight trilogy of blockbusters, and a film with a sound so powerful it's been replicated in many a trailer since: Inception. Prior to these films Nolan directed the mind-bending thriller Memento, but his career began even earlier with an ultra-low budget feature called Following

An exercise in efficient, effective filmmaking, Following is a film noir gem -- and one impressively made on a shoestring. Nolan recently sat down with VICE and the Criterion Collection to talk about the making of the film. Outlining DIY tips and tricks he used to get the film made with very limited resources, Nolan also explains how some of the methods he learned making Following still influence him to this day -- even when shooting IMAX.

Instead of fighting against the limitations of the production, Nolan allowed them to dictate everything from the film's structure, to its handheld shooting style, to the 16mm film it was shot on. Even Following's gritty neo-noir vibe benefitted from what may have been disadvantages to a different kind of movie. Can't control the look of locations? Shoot black-and-white stock. Can't afford much lighting gear? Set the scene during the day and place the characters next to windows. Can't afford to shoot multiple takes? Rehearse -- a lot. At a half-hour long, the interview is truly a goldmine of material, so let's get right to it:

It's fascinating to hear such an accomplished artist -- one who has, more recently, expressed his desire to shoot an entire feature film on the IMAX format -- describe such humble beginnings. Even with the vastly improved set of choices today's shooters have in affordable camera technology, I think plenty of Nolan's clever workarounds could still aid the first time feature filmmaker. Especially those on a tight budget.

If you haven't seen Following, be sure to check it out. You can stream the film on Amazon Instant or go for the deluxe Criterion Collection edition on DVD/Blu-ray.

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Your Comment

39 Comments

Dave, I'm watching it right now and stopped to say thank you !

Wonderful post !

August 23, 2014 at 7:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stefan Antonescu

Ha, I read that in HALs voice.

August 24, 2014 at 10:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Julian

Same here...

August 30, 2014 at 11:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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BunyamOz

What's up with all the negative "likes"

February 13, 2015 at 7:26PM

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Excellent stuff, thanks for sharing.

August 23, 2014 at 8:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ty

Wow. Great stuff. It's really cool to see how he progressed from one film to the next.

August 23, 2014 at 8:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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This was *very* interesting. Thank you for posting this!
What is it again the technique he talks about the dry takes?

August 23, 2014 at 9:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marco

By "dry take" I think he means:
1) roll camera and film the shot ... and the sound is ruined by noises outside your control (jet planes etc.)
2) you repeat the scene (dry take) with audio recording only (camera not rolling) to get good sound.

August 24, 2014 at 4:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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chris

Thank you chris,

but in that case a dry take would apply only to shots where actors don't speak.
Hm... I still feel a bit confused about that... :/

August 25, 2014 at 12:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marco

Not necessarily, the actors would just have to match their vocal acting in the audio take. It's not ideal but that's exactly how El Mariachi, Six String Samurai and Gregg Araki's early films were made. So I wouldn't be surprised if Nolan did the same for Following.

August 26, 2014 at 7:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robert

Actually, as I understand it, in Araki's first movies he shot 16mm black and white 4x film at night--so no lighting. He then edited the film, transferred to VHS, showed the actors the video and they lip synced all the dialogue.

January 21, 2015 at 2:02PM

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I`m really concerned with his vision on the technically superiority of anamorphic over S35. Is not as simple as he put, and it really looks like that he would promptly dismiss someone that answered "yes" to the question: "Would you shoot s35?"

August 23, 2014 at 9:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rodrigo Prata

Well in that case , Nolan would of never hired Wally Pfister as he had shot S35 numerous times.

August 23, 2014 at 11:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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F64

Wow! If every post on NFS was this good I wouldn't leave my computer!

August 23, 2014 at 11:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Michael Hawk

This right here. Take note, NFS. More stuff like this, less stuff that involves making gear out of household items and Kickstarter campaigns for the latest gimble.

August 24, 2014 at 11:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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+1 : starting to avoid posts altogether by specific authors as well...

August 25, 2014 at 5:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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nate

+100, getting tired of pointless gear posts, more on actually making films.

August 27, 2014 at 12:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lile

The link doesn't work. Is it just me? It says "Invalid content specified"

I'm from Malaysia, in case that is relevant

August 24, 2014 at 6:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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skay

works fine now!

August 24, 2014 at 8:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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skay

Don't worry, VICE will probably upload the video to their youtube channel in a few days.

August 24, 2014 at 8:22AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Robert

The link works fine in Los Angeles, California, USA. This is more game-changing knowledge from "No Film School!" Even though I did attend The Los Angeles Film School, I find that I can stay up to date on the state of the art, craft, technology and business of filmmaking with my daily doses of NFS material. I practically build my worldwide-appreciated Facebook page with a large dose of NFS articles and videos! Keep them coming and I'll keep sharing them from here to Cannes and back!

August 24, 2014 at 8:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Good to see a post about film making and how to work around your limitations. A refreshing change to the usual bickering over equipment. In my humble opinion No Film School should put more effort into producing posts like this as opposed to the articles on equipment. Just an observation but have you noticed the equipment fetishests are silent on this one. Well almost!

August 24, 2014 at 9:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Incredibly useful. Seriously. Thank you, NFS!

August 24, 2014 at 4:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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CC

This video made me realize that one of the reasons why I like Nolan is because he makes film making look so simple. Great video thanks for posting!

August 24, 2014 at 4:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jesper

WOW! Dave, NFS, thank you very much for this. Simply excellent!

August 25, 2014 at 1:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Sam Kpakiwa

LOL shoot corporates to learn filmmaking.... puh-lease. if you want to make features, well you go out and make features. this man is irrelevent and he needs to step aside to let us new generation of filmmakers come through.

August 26, 2014 at 7:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dear Shane, no one steps aside because you are younger than that person! To reach this conclusion shows that your world-view is formed by - i daresay - music videos and you are pretty immature :)

August 26, 2014 at 11:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gul Ramani

Reminds me of the pop song where the gal complains that the guy is so 70s while she, herself is from the 90s :)))

August 26, 2014 at 11:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gul Ramani

i just hope that listening to that song you would not throw your car (plus film equipment) from the bridge LOL

August 27, 2014 at 12:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gul Ramani

Thanks for posting this excellent video! I worked with Chris for 4 years on "Following". I was a principal at Next Wave Films, a company of the Independent Film Channel that gave him finishing funds on the film. He had just premiered on 16mm at the San Francisco Int'l. Film Festival to a couple of good reviews and that was it. We blew the film up to 35mm and re-did the sound and helped get it into the Toronto Int'l. Film Festival. It was a big hit there, allowing us to sell it domestically to Zeitgeist and also to a number of foreign territories. The rest is history, as they say. I have been teaching no-budget filmmaking for 9 years with my No Budget Film School and I use a case study of "Following" as a key part of my class. It perfectly illustrates two big principles that I stress: Embrace Your Limitations and Work Within The Framework of Available Resources. When you really let your circumstances (both your resources and limitations) dictate the kind of film you are making, you not only have the opportunity to make something for very little that seems higher budget, but more importantly, you nearly force yourself to be unique. And Uniqueness is probably the #1 quality that audiences, festivals, press and distributors are looking for in a no-budget film.

August 28, 2014 at 6:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hi Mark,

That's great to read, as I'm currently entering post on my first feature - a low-budget (ridiculously inventive) adventure movie called DON'T. STOP. RUNNING. I think we're pretty unique in what we're doing - 85 minutes of out-and-out entertainment, with a script that was shortlisted by the BBC and some high-profile interest along the way. It's been a slog, but we've worked the way you're suggesting - with locations (all exteriors, all wilderness) that we knew we could make look like they belonged in something with a much bigger budget, and only two lead characters. As we head into the edit, it's looking good - we'll see what we get at the end, but fingers crossed! We've got some stills at www.facebook.com/dsrmovie and more info on my website - www.masharo.com. Cheers!

August 31, 2014 at 10:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I can already see him teaching film 20 -30 years from now!

August 28, 2014 at 6:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I humbly say that is important filmmakers explains in simple words what are they trying to do in their beginnings, and how they continue until this days. It encourages young generation. If they do masterpieces as Memento it´s double priceless. Thanks for the post

August 31, 2014 at 8:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Guillermo

Thanks for posting Some Nolan stuff.
He's one of the finest filmmakers we have today.

August 31, 2014 at 11:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jinit

wow. thankyou.

September 2, 2014 at 1:04AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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suchitab

Nice find! Great to see more of this kind of content on NFS - inspiring and informative from a practical viewpoint to go with the technical news. Big kudos to Chris Nolan for not being someone who just tries to suppress their first film and pretend they were an overnight success.

September 9, 2014 at 8:36AM

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Alex J. Withers
Writer / Director
81

Brilliant, this has given me a boost, thought it was only me that made no budget feature films at weekends, with very little. Thank you for posting this.

January 19, 2015 at 10:59AM

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steve call
Writer, Director, Cameraman, Producer, Editor.
83

The video does not show for me, anyone else having that problem? It is just a blank space...

August 17, 2015 at 8:24PM

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Searean Moon
Director/Writer/Producer
190

It is always cool to find little gems like these! I've seen it years ago but it is nice to get a refresher.

December 24, 2015 at 2:13AM

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T. Huff
Director, screenwriter
161