David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan Interview – THE DARK KNIGHT

     July 20, 2008

While I promised all my Dark Knight interviews would run before the movie came out…I decided to wait till after opening weekend so more of you would actually read them.

I knew a number of people (and readers) that didn’t want to know anything about the movie and they avoided every spoiler and interview so they could be surprised. And…I think that was the smartest decision any of you could make.

After all, director Christopher Nolan and the team behind The Dark Knight spent years making this brilliant film and learning everything that happens before walking in….I think it defeats the entire purpose.

Anyway…since millions of you have now seen this brilliant film…I figure you might want to learn how it all came together!

So posted below is an interview I participated in with writers David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan. They explain how the movie came together and what went on behind the scenes.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the MP3 by clicking here.

Question: So this film is really different than the first film in a lot of ways I think especially because it’s a very street level crime movie, as opposed to the first film which may be a little bit more sweeping in some of the themes and some of the stuff that was happening. Was that something you walked in the door and said we want to make this a really a crime movie first and foremost? Is that how that happened or did it just sort of grow?

Jonathan Nolan: It felt it was a cool aspect of the comic books that maybe had gone a little underplayed. I’d been watching a lot of “The Wire” and “Heat” was always one of my favorite movies. It felt like all these things plugged together, but David and Chris came up with the story, but I feel like everyone was converging on the same place. I mean, the crime family aspect of “The Long Halloween” a little bit of Batman Year One, some of the more interesting aspects of it, that idea of a conventional criminal class as a setting for the Joker to kind of emerge or backdrop against which the Joker really stands out, which fits nicely with the first appearance of the Joker, where you have conventional criminals decide they’re going to kill the Joker because they’ve had enough of him, meanwhile the police and Batman are all looking for him, so that felt like a natural fit.

David Goyer: Yeah, we were interested in the criminal’s response to Batman because in a way this movie really is about that. It’s just that the different sort of factions—their responses to Batman and how do the criminals as an entity respond to him. So that necessarily makes that a crime movie.

Also, filmmakers say that the 2nd movie is where they really get to work on the themes and the issues that the franchise is about and this one seems to bring up a lot of the things that “Batman” is about and goes deeper into a lot of these things. Can you talk about that—the opportunity of a sequel gives you to do that?

David Goyer: Well, I mean, this movie is about escalation, you know, and it’s sort of what the promise of the last scene in the first movie and what was interesting, I think, to us in this movie was…okay, now that Batman exists what effect is he having positive and negative on the world around him and playing with the people of Gotham’s perceptions of him? Obviously that’s something that we couldn’t do in the first film, because he didn’t exist in the first film.

How long did it actually take you to come up with the story and actually write the script?

David Goyer: Chris and I…I had a limited amount of time to work on this one because I was going off to do another film, so I had a month with Chris in which we beat out the story. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion actually that we were even going to do a 2nd one. Actually the first week or so we were just debating. Chris was playing devil’s advocate and kind of saying convince me.

Jonathan Nolan: I don’t think he played devil’s advocate, I think that’s more of an avocation for him.

David Goyer: He is, yeah. I mean, Chris’s attitude was kind of like convince me that we can do a movie that’s better than the first one. So the first week was probably just that. It was just with ourselves just debated and then we spent, I think I said, about a month coming up with a retreatment that we then gave to Jonathan and he did the first draft of the treatment and then Chris came in, you know, at the end of that.

I was going to say, obviously…I loved the film and most of us loved the film and how much…I mean we’re all talking…

Jonathan Nolan: Yeah, most of you? Who didn’t?

You know, I can’t speak for everyone but the bar has been raised with this film tremendously in the comic book movie genre—whatever you want to call it—how much…we’re all thinking about a 3rd…are you already thinking, you know, how are we going to f-ing raise the bar again?

Jonathan Nolan: Well, definitely because we’d have to convince Chris.

David Goyer: Yeah, I think that Chris again, if Chris decides…well first of all I’m sure Chris won’t decide he wants to do one if we get into it again and it’ll be the same thing which is like….

Jonathan Nolan: Déjà vu all over again.

David Goyer: Yeah, yeah. All right can we do one that tops ourselves?

Jonathan Nolan: It’s got to be better. That’s his mandate. No point in doing it again if there isn’t more to say and if it there isn’t a legitimate shot there to make a better film.

David Goyer: I’ll tell you the hardest thing with a 2nd one and even with a 3rd one was to a certain extent I think the bar had been lowered a little bit when we were doing “Batman Begins”. I mean, I think people were…

Jonathan Nolan: Well, they were just taking it in such a specific version. There are many, many different versions of Batman over 70 years and the previous franchise had gone into very specific directions and we went…you guys were…

David Goyer: The exact opposite direction.

Jonathan Nolan: A very different direction and that really shaped the experience for people.

David Goyer: But we kind of came in under the radar, I guess. The general public wasn’t really expecting “Batman Begins” and what it would be our take on it. Obviously with the 2nd one, we were competing against ourselves, so you know, a 3rd one’s tough.

Is the door wide open for the 3rd one though would you say?

Jonathan Nolan: Well, I think the idea was always to make a…

David Goyer: Well, we didn’t kill him.

Gary says that there’s been talk of a 3rd one and that it’s been mentioned to him.

David Goyer: There’s always going to be talk. We can’t…look Chris…we haven’t engaged in any serious conversations with Chris about it and I’m sure, you know, it wasn’t until about 3 or 4 months after “Batman Begins” opened that Chris called me up and said let’s have lunch and talk about it. “Batman Begins” wasn’t even playing the theatres anymore by the time we talked about a 2nd one, so we’ll see.

This one ends with the Joker not being dead, but there are issues obviously with bringing the Joker back for a 3rd one and it would seem logical that you would move away from that. Is that a logical assumption?

Jonathan Nolan: We’re just not there yet.

David Goyer: Yeah.

Jonathan Nolan: Not even close.

David Goyer: I mean, quite honestly we have not even had that conversation with Chris.

Well sort of on this annoying 3rd movie thing, the way that you approach the Batman universe, you run the risk of running out of Batman villains who could possibly fit into them.

David Goyer: I disagree. Look when we did “Batman Begins”, you know, or when I first started working out with Chris other people said, “who are you going to use? Are you going to use the Joker, are you going to use the Penguin, the Riddler?” Basically the same half-dozen villains that had been in the TV show and then had been in the Tim Burton iterations of those films. But there’s dozens and dozens and who did we use? Well, we used Raz Al Ghoul and the Scarecrow that hadn’t been on the 60’s TV show and hadn’t been in the movies before and first everybody—the general public—was saying well, who the hell are these guys? There are dozens of characters that haven’t been utilized yet. I mean, Batman’s been around for 70 years.

Jonathan Nolan: Yeah, lots and lots of great villains there to use.

I’m curious about the action set-pieces and how much were those…how long before like the truck sequence and stuff like that. How did you script those and how did they come together? And whose ideas were they?

Jonathan Nolan: They were all my ideas. Picking it apart especially with the way the collaboration works, going into it again…

David Goyer: A lot of that I don’t even know anymore. I mean….

Jonathan Nolan: When in doubt the answer is probably Chris because he has a very specific vision for how these things can work. We often feel like we’re teeing up good stuff and he’s sort of picking out the best of it.

continued on page 2 ———->


I had a follow-up sort of similar question. The Joker in the script, I’m not sure how much of that was in the script and how much of it was Heath and how much of it was sort of made up right….

David Goyer: Chris is always, you know, in these films like kind of the last writer on and so if there’s any revisions to be done on the set that Chris is doing that and you’d have to ask Chris that in terms of being privy to what was going on between him and Heath, but I will say that Chris is…he likes to have his “I’s” dotted and his “t’s” crossed before he starts shooting.

Jonathan Nolan: He’s pretty meticulous.

David Goyer: Yeah, it’s not like oh, we’ll figure it out when we’re shooting, you know? Even in the story stage it was definitely…there weren’t a lot of big gaping holes.

Jonathan Nolan: I think the philosophy was make it work on the page first and then when you get on the set with–we’re done by the time he gets there–you get on the set with some amazing actors and they get to take it to a whole other place.

Following up with that actually, about the Joker and how the script was working out, so in the movie he keeps obviously saying different stories about how he became the Joker, you know before the character’s back story or just so that everyone knew. Is there a set story on how he became the Joker?

David Goyer: No, that was the whole point.

Jonathan Nolan: It grew from a little bit in part from a detail in The Killing Joke—the Allen Moore book—where he talks about if he had a past–he had to have a past–he’d want it to be multiple choice. And very much we sort of did a…felt like a little bit of a riff on that idea. To me, the most interesting version of that character—The Joker—is one who’s elemental, almost like he’s conjured out of thin air, so the idea that he has a back-story, different ways to do it but in this world it feels like it would be reductive for him.

David Goyer: I also think that if we had had a scene in which The Joker told you his origin story or did a flashback when he was a kid or something like that, I don’t think you guys would have appreciated the character as much. I mean he’s much more interesting. He kind of doesn’t have a beginning and he doesn’t have an end and I actually think it’s a little sloppy sometimes in movie making over the last 20 years or so to like, well every villain has to have a motivational character or we need to know that like…

Jonathan Nolan: Well, it’s a great setup for this character because the most terrifying character is one whose motivation it either completely inscrutable or he doesn’t have one.

So is that from the beginning to avoid? You know, the classic version of The Joker is he fell into a vat of chemicals.

Jonathan Nolan: But I think you’re…there’s an esthetic component to that. How does he wind up looking the way he looks? In my imagination….

David Goyer: But we didn’t want to talk about that.

Jonathan Nolan: Yeah. Because when you go all the way back—Batman I—he’s just there and it’s terrifying and we kind of dug that and it felt appropriate for this film.

I have to ask you guys just real quickly, because it kind of shocked everyone when we heard that Warner Brothers was moving forward with “The Justice League” film, that it was going to kill “Batman” and the whole thing and it had elements from “Batman Begins”, you know the whole Raz Al Ghoul thing. Were you guys just as shocked? Did you guys look into that or did you guys just want to avoid that completely? What was your guy’s reaction?

Jonathan Nolan: We were just busy making a movie.

David Goyer: Yeah. I mean, I think that Warner Brothers is a big company and DC, you know, there’s obviously there’s a Batman cartoon on right now.

Jonathan Nolan: One of the cool things about working on the franchise is that you get to work within this world that’s been fleshed out by all these incredible artists and writers, which is amazing when it comes time for the script there’s all these amazing ideas that have been played out and we go read all these incredible books and draw inspiration from them. The flip side of that is you kind of know you’re just the last couple of guys on and they’ll make another movie and they’ll make other movies with these characters.

David Goyer: I’m sure they’ll be…

Jonathan Nolan: Just like the comic books have always had….

David Goyer: They’ll be another iteration of The Joker 10 years from now just like Caesar Romero and Jack Nickleson did iterations before Heath did.

So I came out of this movie just exhilarated kind of like seeing a great movie that only took half a year to get to this. And my friend I saw it with liked it too, but he’s going “I don’t know. Is Warner Brothers worried about this? It’s so awfully dark.” To which I said, “What do you mean? There was a whole fairy sequence. If anything wants to give you hope for mankind and hope for the future of urban life maybe, which seems to be a theme in this, that sequence really does it and really earns it. I just wanted to ask you how do you work kind of overall social themes into this crazy superhero?

Jonathan Nolan: It didn’t feel particularly conscious. It really felt like we….

David Goyer: You write the character, you write the story.

Jonathan Nolan: Yeah, you hew to the consistent themes of the Batman world for 70 years now. They have a lot of echoes in contemporary world and I think that’s a testament to how cool the stories were from the beginning. And the idea was not unremitting gloom. I mean, that’s not the kind of movie I’d like and I think the idea has been to embroider some lightness into it, but the character, to me, growing up as a Batman fan, reading the book, he definitely felt like he was one the darker side of the equation, of looking at this question of vigilantism, which is really central to superhero comic books, but it’s the biggest question of the Batman story, really trying to pick apart how far is too far?

Can you talk about your other projects?

David Goyer: It’s not fair.

Well following up on that, when “Batman Begins” is sort of an unusual blockbuster in that it opened it didn’t like break all the records, and then it had these incredible legs. And so when you guys came out with the 2nd you wanted to make it sweeping. You wanted to make it sprawling, this gigantic crime epic. Was Warner Brothers on-board from the beginning? Did it take convincing that you were going to go to these darker places or were they just real cool?

Jonathan Nolan: No, from my perspective and again, I get a limited view of it, but it always like we always had the complete support of the studio.

David Goyer: Yeah, they were extremely happy with “Batman Begins” and most of that is a testament to Chris and they said, “what do you guys want to do?” and we said, “This” and that’s what we did, you know?

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