Christopher Nolan considered making Dunkirk without a screenplay

Ben Bussey
·UK Movies Writer
‘Dunkirk’ (credit: Warner Bros.)
‘Dunkirk’ (credit: Warner Bros.)

It has come to light that Christopher Nolan originally contemplated taking a somewhat more experimental approach with his current box office hit ‘Dunkirk,’ by shooting it without a script.

In an anecdote from the published ‘Dunkirk’ screenplay (quotes via The Hollywood Reporter), the 47-year old British filmmaker notes, “I got to a point where I understood the scope and movement and the history of what I wanted the film to address, because it’s very simple geography.

“I said, ‘I don’t want a script. Because I just want to show it, it’s almost like I want to just stage it. And film it.” The director adds that he “felt like I’d kind of mastered that form” of scripted drama.

While entirely improvised films are not unheard of, these tend to be made on a considerably smaller scale than ‘Dunkirk,’ and as such Nolan’s producer and wife Emma Thomas wasted little time talking him out of the idea: “Emma looked at me like I was a bit crazy and was like, okay, that’s not really gonna work.”

Credit: Warner Bros
Credit: Warner Bros

The director ultimately penned the script himself, and it turned out to be one of his shortest at only 76 pages in length; a page of script is generally thought to equal a minute of screen time, although ‘Dunkirk’ rather disproves this old adage given it runs to 106 minutes.

Even so, ‘Dunkirk’ is one of Nolan’s shortest films as well as being one of his lightest on dialogue, particularly by contrast with his last feature ‘Interstellar’ (169 minutes).

It’s also one of Nolan’s best reviewed films to date, earning 93% at Rotten Tomatoes (the director’s second highest RT score, just behind ‘The Dark Knight’s 94%), and it’s made almost $266 million at the worldwide box office so far.

‘Dunkirk’ is in cinemas now.

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