Nathan Crowley’s been with Chris [Nolan, Dark Knight director] forever. Working out of their garage to do these incredible movies. Such expanse and yet it always starts just with a language of intuitive understanding and collaboration.
AS: How did you first get into the business?
RC: I’d grown up around the business because my father [Dick Carter] had been the publicist and partner with Jack Lemmon. So I knew a lot about Hollywood culturally. I didn’t think I wanted to have anything to do with it necessarily. After I dropped out of college and traveled for a year and a half around the world, I went to New York and got into painting. Most of my paintings are portraits, they’re people. I have a sort of split vision, I have a left eye that’s far-sighted and a right eye that’s nearsighted. So I tend to look differently with each eye, never at the same time with both eyes. I’m not actually seeing 3D in the way most people see 3D, even if I’m working on Avatar! I’ve had to make up for that. So I was painting but found that lifestyle too solitary for me. I asked my father what an Art Director did because it had the word “art” in it. He knew Richard Sylbert and said, If you end up back in LA I’ll introduce you to someone who can give you a point of view about what an art director does. Because at the time I thought it was just placing a painting on a wall.
AS: Up until that point had you been seriously considering a career in fine art? Had you gone to art school with the goal of becoming a fine artist?
RC: Well I was at Berkeley for the first two years and a sociology major during what seemed to be such socially tumultuous times. I’d always been an artist but I didn’t see any of what we at that time called “relevance” in being just an artist. But after I traveled and came back, I went to the University of California at Santa Cruz and graduated with an art major. I tried to be a fine artist but I found that the gallery scene in New York was not easy. Painting had been declared dead. Conceptual art was “in”. And so I started looking elsewhere to see where I might be able to pull together a career.
And fortunately when I did come back to LA I met Richard Sylbert and he invited me to come for lunch. He was working on a movie called The Fortune that Mike Nichols was directing. I went there for that one lunch but it turned into a whole summer of just going back every day. He would just talk to me about what he was doing. He would use metaphors- he would say if it was music he was interested in the writing of the songs, he was interested in all the instruments, he was interested in the conducting and even the selling of the music.
He also once told me, If you’re looking to come into a profession where you think anybody’s ever going to understand what you do, you’re in the wrong place. They will never understand. And I can tell you forty-five years later people still don’t understand. You can do all these interviews and have all the behind-the-scenes shoots but I think you have to actually do it to understand it. Because there’s no rule book.