Christopher Nolan explains why it took 20 years to make his movie “Tenet”

The Fandango Movieclips YouTube channel interviewed world-renowned filmmaker Christopher Nolan. The conversation was devoted to the last film of the master – “Tenet,” which caused an ambiguous reaction from the public and critics. Nolan told how long it took to create the tape, the most difficult during filming, and why, contrary to usual, he included the song on the soundtrack.

Watch the full version of Nolan’s interview for Fandango Movieclips on YouTube.

Idea, plot, and hero

The beginnings of the concept of “Tenet” appeared in the director’s head more than 20 years ago. He came up with the title and the ending almost immediately, then the long and painstaking writing of the script began. All scenes Nolan wrote sequentially and linearly – from the first frame to the last. And each of them – in several iterations. At first, he made many notes, sketches of ideas, and some sketches. Then he formed full-fledged script pages from them. Only when one scene was ready did Nolan move on to the next.

Sometimes it turned out that after writing several scenes, it was necessary to add some details to the previous ones. Then a significant part of the script was completely rewritten. As a result, the literary basis for the film production was formed in layers over more than five years. The anonymous main character deserves a separate mention. As the protagonist of classic westerns, Sergio Leone, Tenet’s protagonist has no name, and his past is hazy.

Nolan discussed these nuances with lead actor John David Washington in general terms – nothing more than necessary for acting. According to Christopher, such an understatement allows the viewer to concentrate on what is happening in the frame and better identify himself with the protagonist. He has no name, we do not know anything about him, except that he worked in the special services: all this is not important, the main thing is what is happening here and now.

Filming, mistakes, shortcomings

After writing the script, Nolan, by his own admission, thought that the most difficult thing was over. However, as soon as the filming began, it turned out how wrong he was. The complex sequence of events proceeding in different directions of movement in time, the fast pace, and the director’s exactingness to the little things turned out to be practically incompatible with each other. In the first days of the filming process, one of the operators drove with the camera in the wrong direction. In most cases, this error can be easily corrected during installation. But “Tenet” has a nonlinear narrative, so for him, such a defect turns into a disaster: the scene loses its meaning.

Because of this, the team developed an entire system to distinguish and regulate the movement of cameras in strictly necessary directions and sequences. But this was just the beginning of the problems: the real headache was the transfer of the plot’s intricacies into reality. Even a well-developed script did not always save: the interweaving of timelines and the viewer seems difficult to understand, but imagine a film crew that has not yet created finished editing. During the production of each scene, one way or another, errors or inaccuracies accumulated, and even at the stage of storyboards. Missing just one of them could lead to marriage, and one or more shooting days would have to be spent fixing.


Nolan has a peculiar approach to creating a soundtrack. The director asks the composer to write the music not after filming, but even in the early stages of filmmaking, sometimes when the script is not finished. It is noteworthy that “Tenet” is Nolan’s first film in a long time, the soundtrack for which was not written by Hans Zimmer. What this is connected with is not specified, but the Swede Ludwig Göransson worked with Nolan just as well. Ludwig created several long compositions for “Ovod” long before the final editing and divided them into dozens of fragments. As a result, it was easier for the composer, the director, and the editor to work, and there was more freedom for creativity.

Göransson also came up with the idea to include in the soundtrack the song that sounds during the end credits. He suggested that Nolan not only use the same music but give the viewer something that he did not hear during the film based on it. Musician Travis Scott, invited by Ludwig, was the first person outside of the crew to see Tenet. Travis quickly realized what was required of him and wrote the song “The Plan”. Nolan liked it so much that some of its fragments migrated to the main soundtrack, which is heard from the first frames.

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