For most people the name Christopher Nolan conjures up dark, violent images taken from big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like The Dark Knight series or Inception. However, the British director of Memento didn't always have VFX technology, bankable stars, and mega-budgets to work with. Prior to his rise to be one of the most celebrated autures in Hollywood, Nolan began with independent projects shot on a shoestring budget back in the 90's. Recently, The Criterion Collection along with VICE magazine interviewed Nolan about his earlier film Following, whose impressionistic look and stylized noir-look first got him noticed by Hollywood producers after its 1998 release.
As interesting as the interview is with respect to Nolan's humble beginnings, it's also a invaluable source for finding creative ways of producing films with little or no budget. The director walks you through how his team overcame lighting issues with Following by shooting during the day or near windows, and how using "dry takes" help improve problems with sound quality. Overall, Nolan's early, financially-limited, philosophy to film making seems to be one common among beginners: embrace the limitations placed upon your project and to use "cheats" like shooting in black and white to suggest a stylized or more "artistic" approach to your subject rather than simply a cheaper way of doing things.
The Take Away
One of the more interesting strategies Nolan offers up when limited by equipment or funds is to set the expectations high at the beginning of your film. He explains that Following intentionally begins inside of an interrogation room with a smooth dolly shot and nicely capture dialogue to set the expectation that this is a "real" film. Only when this expectation was set, did Nolan insert his required hand-held, jittery camera work and a lower sound quality intermingled with cars, airplanes, and generally annoying ambient noise.
This approach might sound counter intuitive to most indie film makers who strive to re-produce Hollywood quality with every shot. However, Nolan's justification seems to make perfect sense: you get the audience caught up in the story and characters first. After that, they'll forgive your low-budget quality. Or maybe they just don't notice any more. Nolan's answer explains more than just great practical cinematography and sound advice from an extremely gifted film maker. It also betrays his major artistic focus: the story itself. It's his ability to tell stories and to create inhabitable characters, both good and evil, that keeps Christopher Nolan in the business of making movies. Watch the interview with Nolan yourself, and let us know your big take away was.