Christopher Nolan may be one of the most exciting directors working today, but based on reports from the set of Dunkirk, I don’t envy his cameraman one bit. With the film making extensive use of the IMAX format, Nolan explained (in an interview with EW) that he decided to treat the gigantic machine as if it were a small handheld device in order to give the audience a true taste of the disorientation felt by soldiers present on the beach.
He first pioneered this approach in small segments of Interstellar, with Director of Photography Hoyte Van Hoytema taking on the not inconsiderable burden of carrying the enormous camera. Impressed by what this achieved, Nolan decided to go further with Dunkirk.
“Hoyte hand-held the [IMAX] camera for a few sections of Interstellar very effectively, and then on this I had to break the news to him that he was going to be doing it for a massive amount of the film. We definitely bought him a lot of massages along the way. … [But] we could get on a small boat with a number of characters and just shoot IMAX as if we were shooting with a GoPro camera.”
Poor Hoyte Van Hoytema. I guess the maxim that you’ve got to suffer for your art is especially true on a Christopher Nolan shoot.
But does handheld photography and IMAX really go well together? Lots of people get motion sickness from handheld photography in regular movies, let alone on some of the biggest screens on the planet. Then again, Nolan increasingly seems to place little import on the audience’s comfort, with the sound mixes in The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar widely criticized for rendering the dialogue intelligible. His (slightly snippy) response: “I don’t agree with the idea that you can only achieve clarity through dialogue.”
Either way, Dunkirk sounds like it could be as gruelling a film to watch as it was to make. Let’s hope his cameraman’s blood, sweat, and tears are worth it.