Christopher Nolan offers some specific advice on how he wrote The Dark Knight and in particular, the Joker.
With a new Joker coming and a whole new Batman series on the horizon, I thought it was time we returned to the reason these franchises have so much public clout; Christopher Nolan. The Batman title was suffering from a campy 90s reboot and was thought to be dead. Then Nolan came in and helped superheroes be taken seriously again.
Check out this video from Behind the Curtain and let's talk about Nolan's character choices after the break!
5 Tips on how Christopher Nolan Wrote the Joker and The Dark Knight
Writing tips are great ways to get back on track in your own scripts and make plans for the next one. I frequently find myself returning to the well for expert advice and to see what wisdom I can glean from the masters. Let's see what Christopher Nolan had for us today.
1. Create a Psychologically Credible Anarchist: a psychopath
When you're tackling the Joker, you have to have a strategy before sitting down to write. Nolan knew that he wanted the Joker to represent credible anarchy. The world and tone he created called for it, but the character as seen and developed in such wildly different iterations over the years he also had the challenge of setting it apart from everything we've seen before.
He was laying the groundwork for Ledger's acting too.
That meant developing the character from the psychological standpoint of an anarchist.
Deep research like this into a credible reason for your characters actions will always pay off in the end. Even in a movie about a guy who dresses like a bat we need to have plausible reasons for the actions of heroes and villains. Digging into real-world beliefs, scary or not, gives an actor and audience something to grab onto when reading the words.
2. Collaborate with an Expert
So much of writing can be ego-driven. You want to be the sole person behind the words on the page. But the best directors and writers understand that film and television are collaborative processes. When Nolan had to tackle this script, he knew he'd need to bring in reinforcements to help him not only understand the comics but also do some of the heavy-lifting.
That meant bringing David Goyer, Jonah Nolan and working with them to craft the world and characters.
Goyer helped handle the comics aspect and then Jonah helped polish.
This sort of team writing really helps you get the best product and lots of diverse voices helping nail the narrative.
3. Everyone's Ideas are Valid
Along with the second heading, Nolan also listened to notes and suggestions from his trusted advisors to costume heads, location managers, and other people along the way. It's not just about script notes, but also listening to his crew when it comes to picking places where scenes can happen, what people are wearing, and how all those things can add to the script as it goes.
The script becomes a living document when in production. Changes and notes are made on the fly to add layers and adjust for limitations. Nothing is nailed down, everything is malleable, and anyone can help.
4. Don't Be Afraid of Tragedy
A lot of sad things happen in The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne loses his love, loses his friends, and even loses to the Joker over and over. and it's not just about him. Rachel loses her life, Harvey loses his morals, and Gotham loses sight and hope of its hero.
The movie ends in a cliffhanger, with Batman effectively a fugitive.
These kinds of tragedies are often the last thing we think about when it comes to superhero movies, but that's where subverting audience expectations and genre helps.
Ending and embracing the sad can truly help you take your characters through something.
You want arcs to matter and emotions to pop. So make it hurt.
5. Make Your Own Rules
Look, there are no rules. Well, except plant and payoff. So click the link if you want to read about that.
Writing is about exploring. You are out there, like Lewis and Clark, sojourning through the story. We try to act like your Sacagawea, giving you tips and pointers. But you still have to make the walk yourself. You can do anything as long as the emotions and story are entertaining to lots of people.
They should be effective distillations of what you believe and the way you want things to go.
So as an artist, don't get too concerned with rules and ideas.
Get concerned with telling the best story possible.
What's next? Read the script for The Dark Knight!
Sure, comic book movies exist in the world before The Dark Knight script, but after the movie debuted, people never looked at comic book movies the same again.
Click the link to read!