‘The Making of Dunkirk’ Book Review: An In-Depth Look into Christopher Nolan’s Process

     July 25, 2017

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The folks at Insight Editions have done it again, with another gorgeous and insightful book that’s a must-own for cinephiles. The Making of Dunkirk, written by James Mottram with a foreword by Christopher Nolan, is an intimate look into the conception, creation, and execution of one of Nolan’s most ambitious films yet, Dunkirk. The World War II action-thriller is pure experiential cinema, putting the viewer on the beaches of Dunkirk, on the boats on their way to help with the evacuation, and in the air trying to protect the ships from gunfire.

Like most Insight Editions books, The Making of Dunkirk is a lavish tome chock-full of gorgeous behind-the-scenes photography and concept art and designs. This one begins at the very beginning, as interviews with Nolan and his producer/wife Emma Thomas reveal where the origins of the idea for Dunkirk started, and even give a detailed timeline of how the movie came together. Amazingly, Nolan and Thomas began quietly assembling the production team and even scouting locations before they approached Warner Bros. with the prospect of actually making the movie, to ensure complete secrecy.

This attention to the timeline detail is a terrific aspect of The Making of Dunkirk that gives the reader a full sense of the how, why, and where of it all, offering a complete picture of the making of the movie. And interviews with collaborators like cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, production designer Nathan Crowley, and costume designer Jeffrey Kurland give a first-hand account of what it was like to make the movie, and the various decisions made along the way.

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Image via Insight Editions

The book is broken up into chapters that focus on things like pre-production, costuming, and separate chapters for each location shoot—the beach, the sea, and the air scenes. Again, the timeline here is key, and it’s great to get insight into exactly which scenes were shot where, as Nolan reveals that they initially hadn’t planned on shooting at the real Dunkirk until they visited the location and realized it had nearly everything they needed. Of course, when production moved to Los Angeles for a bit of soundstage work, Nolan and Hoytema admit to missing the kinetic pace of working in the real elements.

Indeed, The Making of Dunkirk offers plenty of details on how difficult it was to shoot this film in the elements, especially with IMAX and large-format cameras. Images and interviews reveal just how they were able to get footage of the actors inside the real planes up in the sky, and Nolan’s commitment to the project is crystal clear in photographs of the filmmaker right up there with the camera—one photo in particular shows Nolan bobbing up and down in the open sea, holding a camera, all alone.

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Image via Insight Editions

If you’re at all interested in Nolan’s process, this is an easy sell. He’s one of the most exciting and ambitious filmmakers working today. That The Making of Dunkirk offers so much insight into the making of Dunkirk itself is gravy. The film is masterfully told, a tightrope walk of cinema, so to hear how it all came together from those that were there is a treat through and through. Mottram assembles the whole thing in an engaging and compelling manner (it’s hard not to read the entire book in one sitting), and the photography is downright mesmerizing.

So yeah, The Making of Dunkirk is another winner. It’s available to purchase now.

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