Dunkirk opened in July and became a big summer hit despite the fact this relatively little-known story of a massive rescue of 300,000 mostly British soldiers from the beaches of the French town of Dunkirk in 1940 was not typical summer fare. But the Christopher Nolan film worked for audiences and critics, and now is firmly in the awards-season firmament (in fact, Nolan so far has received more Best Director prizes from critics groups than any other filmmaker this year).

As part of the Warner Bros presentation last month at Deadline’s seventh annual The Contenders awards-season kickoff, Dunkirk producer Emma Thomas (who also happens to be married to Nolan) and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema appeared in front of a packed DGA Theater crowd of AMPAS and key guild members to discuss the unique challenges the film faced.

Thomas said the film became a success despite the fact there were no big names in front of the camera, and the story of the Dunkirk rescue was not really known outside of England. She also talks about the risky bet to tell the story in three distinct time periods over the course of a week, making for a tricky editing job. She thinks part of Dunkirk‘s appeal is the fact that it hadn’t been told in any big way on the screen, and is less a war movie than a suspenseful thriller about survival.

Van Hoytema, who previously worked with Nolan on Interstellar, talks about his own challenges including working with the very large Imax camera (70% of the film was shot in Imax) in difficult weather conditions on location. No easy task, but these artisans pulled it off.

Check out our conversation above.