What's Christopher Nolan's Secret Weapon for Building Intensity?
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Nolan likes to put his characters in tight situations. How does he build on it?

Christopher Nolan is arguably the most popular director working today. His films are events– –I mean, just look at how we all freak out about how to see Tenet during a pandemic.

But why? What is it that we love about Nolan and his work? Well, it could have something to do with a certain aspect of his filmmaking: his ability to add tension to any situation.

Tension creates conflict, and conflict is at the heart of every drama. So let's take a look at how Nolans does this, and how you can mimic his actions in this video essay from Entertain the Elk.

What is Christopher Nolan's secret weapon for building intensity?

While adding conflict to storytelling can add intensity, Nolan likes to use it on many levels. One machining technique with which he maintains the build-up of intensity is cross cutting. Cross-section is the idea of ​​editing between two scenes that run simultaneously.

Sometimes this uses the Kuleshov effect to direct the audience's emotions.

In other cases, we can only build levels of emotions and stories by showing ourselves what is going on in two different places.

Perhaps the best example of cross-section is The Godfather during the christening scene. We cut from the baptism of the baby to Michael's shameful acts. This not only spits out against the holiness of baptism, but also shows the audience his descent into evil.

How does Nolan use cross cutting?

Nolan LOVES cross-section. We saw how he built three of his films around this idea. Memento is designed to overlap past, present and future. The whole catch with Inception is that we have stories that overlap in different depths of a dream and therefore in time speeds. And Dunkirk is about overarching stories about the British withdrawal.

With this technique, Nolan can increase the intensity of the story.

This intensity adds another element: audience participation. When we need to understand multiple POVs, our minds keep going and we get stuck on the screen. We are challenged and we like it.

Nolan knows how to play the audience, whether it is about showing people invading someone else's mind or showing a man losing his own mind. Its cross-section is essential for its storytelling. He loves building the idea of ​​multiple stories at once.

I mean, let's even look at Interstellar. We have time to move at different speeds (like in Inception). So when we cross, years pass. This creates emotions in the audience. The longer we spend in one area, the more time goes by in the other.

This way we understand that every scene is part of a race against the clock.

That keeps us on the edge of our seats.

What are some of your favorite times Nolan used cross-section in his films?

Let us know in the comments.

So much of what we talk about at No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is wrapped up in our new eBook. It will also help you create a 10 week writing schedule that will actually finish your script.


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