How Christopher Nolan perfected (micromanaged?) the 'Interstellar' theatrical rollout

One multiplex gets the 'Dark Knight' director’s full-service treatment

Posted Nov 3, 2014 8:45 AM By

Christopher Nolan lives a life removed. He wears the same outfit nearly every day (a narrow-lapeled jacket, blue dress shirt, black trousers, and shoes), spends most of his day consuming tea, and doesn’t use e-mail. Correspondences are printed out, read through, and handed back to someone who can respond with his answers. So while his “Inception” costar Leonardo DiCaprio tours the Caribbean on a yacht full of models, Nolan uses fame and fortune to stay as far out of the picture as possible.

Or, as far out of the real life picture. When it comes to his films, Nolan is obsessive to the very last moment. This Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a profile on the director, examining his career, past and present, within a mad-dash morning of calibrating “Interstellar" 35mm screenings. For Nolan obsessives, the NYT Magazine piece retreads most on-the-record biographical details, but the way writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus describes his quality control practices plays right into the filmmakers’ mythos.

According to the piece, Nolan made time during a recent trip to New York City to swing by one of the city’s major multiplexes planning to showcase “Interstellar” on 35mm. Like most theaters, it had been years since Chelsea's Bow Tie Cinema had displayed a blockbuster using a film print. Nolan wanted to make sure it would look and sound right. He requested to see both Reel 2 and 3 of the film, footage that would allow him to balance Matthew McConaughey’s talkier, expositional scenes and the pounding sonic experience of the spaceshuttle Endeavor liftoff.

Soon I was chasing him as he darted around the dark theater with a swift but moseying gait, moving from one corner to the next, monitoring the clarity of the sound from multiple vantages. The most important thing, he said, was the volume; he wanted a lot of simple power, and all of it coming right out of the screen. He didn’t put a lot of surround in the mix, because he didn’t want a lot of distraction from the sides. (Outer space, he pointed out dryly, is not known for its ambient murmurs.) He seemed content. This was not, he told me later, a chore. It seemed as if, had he enough time, he’d be more than happy to check out every seat in every theater in the country.

After the “Interstellar” test, Nolan requested the screen dimensions and seat cont… for reference. “When you have planets and stars, you never want to make people feel as though the screen is too small,” Nolan told Lewis-Kraus. “Otherwise they’ll worry there’s nothing off-screen.”

It’s unclear if Nolan will flock to other theaters for the same precision release, but if he could, he would. A film proponent, “Interstellar” is the rare Hollywood venture that shot on 35mm and 70mm film and will be shown in both formats around the country. Much to the dismay of all-digital theaters, Paramount Pictures is making a big deal of “Interstellar’s” film exhibition, giving theaters capable of projecting 35mm a two day head start on release. Will it pay off? Judging from the NYT Magazine profile, Nolan could probably care less. As long as it looks awesome (in that eye-melting, ear-deafening, Biblical sort of way).

”Interstellar” arrives Nov. 5 in film-ready theaters and Nov. 7 across the country.