Christopher Nolan Says Other Directors Have Called to Complain About His Sound Mixing

Every time a new Christopher Nolan movie comes out, the same complaints about his filmography tend to make the rounds again and again: Nolan films are cold and distant, he has a “dead wife” problem, the action isn’t staged well enough for the audience to fully comprehend what’s happening…the list goes on. Some of those points are more debatable than others, but one complaint which seems almost universal at this point is that the sound mixing in many of his movies has resulted in dialogue that is frequently muffled and sometimes even downright inaudible.

It turns out general audiences aren’t the only ones who grumble about this. In a new book, Nolan explains that much to his surprise, even some of his fellow directors have called him directly to complain about that issue. Read his quotes on the matter below.

Indiewire pointed us to this tweet from Trailer Track founder Anton Volkov, which includes a photograph of a page from author Tom Shone’s new book, The Nolan Variations.

— Anton Volkov (@antovolk) November 11, 2020

Specifically speaking about the sound design of Interstellar, Nolan said, “We got a lot of complaints. I actually got calls from other filmmakers who would say, ‘I just saw your film, and the dialogue is inaudible.’ Some people thought maybe the music’s too loud, but the truth was it was kind of the whole enchilada of how we had chosen to mix it.”

Nolan has spoken about this topic in the past, but here he is once again confirming that he is well-aware how his movies sound, and yes, he’s making them sound that way on purpose.

“It was a very, very radical mix,” he went on. “I was a little shocked to realize how conservative people are when it comes to sound. Because you can make a film that looks like anything, you can shoot on your iPhone, no one’s going to complain. But if you mix the sound a certain way, or if you use certain sub-frequencies, people get up in arms.”

He says the experience of seeing the movie projected in an IMAX theater is “pretty remarkable,” but having seen the film that way when it was released – and the same thing happened with The Dark Knight Rises and Dunkirk – I still found that I straight up could not understand what some characters were saying. Maybe it’s just me, but if characters are talking in a movie, I’d prefer to be processing that information in real time. If that means I have a conservative approach to sound in movies, then I’ll own that.

It’s an odd thing for a filmmaker to get hung up on – especially a guy who is very clearly aiming to make movies for the largest possible audiences. It’d be one thing if he was making experimental films in his garage or something, but these are massive, mainstream movies he’s creating. And I don’t want to make it seem like I don’t appreciate it when filmmakers are able to Trojan horse some idiosyncratic stylistic or formalistic swings into those types of movies. Those eccentricities often point to the beating heart of a director’s creative vision. Personally, I just wish that purposefully messing with the sound wasn’t one of his eccentricities.

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