Yes, I can, because I’m just pulling into San Diego Harbor! And then I met Chris and the rest is history. We realized when I was a teenager I used to hang out on his street. My best friend lived a few doors down from him. He was quite a bit younger so I didn’t know him then but we grew up in the same area. I met him and we became good friends.
AS: Does Christopher Nolan have a visual background or does he rely on you for everything visual?
NC: In Ireland I developed a technique where I try to determine the visual path of the film. I find the biggest room I can and put the entire film in scene order. I look at the visual paths or patterns of the film, to try and come up with some kind of theme, an overall feeling for the film or what we’re trying to say. What is the film about? On Insomnia we had a very short prep and I remember applying this to a big wall in Vancouver and Chris being very excited that he could actually walk and see the whole path of the film.
You can throw up anything really on the wall. It becomes a jumble of imagery. You throw up things that interest you- locations, ideas. You then find a path and patterns. It becomes like the lost and found wall at the school. It’s like two hundred feet long because it’s every scene in the film. It becomes a giant mass and a lot of people are like, What the hell are you doing? I’m trying to find themes of the film. What are we trying to say? How are we telling this whole story visually?
When we did Insomnia we did it in a hell of a hurry. The next film I worked for him on, Batman Begins, Chris said, I should get you in earlier. He does a first pass on the script with his brother and David Goyer. Then he calls me in and we start developing the visuals of the film. So when he writes he’s writing scenes that are visually correct.
We started the whole process in Chris’ old garage that had no heat or air conditioning and had a washing machine in it. Eventually we just grew out of it. It wasn’t big enough.
Batman Begins had a clear design path to follow. But we were making an origin story with The Dark Knight which was different. We could take the design in a completely new direction. It took me a while to figure out the concepts of The Dark Knight. I’m sitting there in the garage thinking, We can truly change this. But I don’t know where to start! And then weirdly I went to an exhibition in New York at the Dia:Beacon about Minimalism. And it was just an eye-opener. Let’s modernize Gotham and take the Gothic out. Create a place where The Fountainhead had succeeded. It was the utopia that anarchy came to destroy. The Batman films became about the purity of Modernism. The Joker was about chaos, he was trying to disrupt it. So I said, Let’s be brave. Let’s do big, empty spaces. I realized I had become a Modernist!
When we started in the garage I didn’t have a PA or any help. It was too early. We were in pre-pre production and this meant I had to do everything myself. I was the PA. Chris used to say, Hey, where you going?
I’m going to buy some supplies at Home Depot. Chris says, Oh, I’ll come with you. People didn’t recognize him back then. Okay Chris, if you really want to do something you can help me find some wheels for my model of the Batpod. I think like most writers he would do anything to delay writing.