Kicking off the Warner Bros. panel at Deadline’s The Contenders event, producer Emma Thomas and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema were on hand to discuss Dunkirk, in conversation with Deadline’s Pete Hammond. Based on an unbelievable true story — and a quintessentially British one at that — the film centers on the hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers who found themselves trapped on a beach in France, being bombarded by the Germans while awaiting rescue by sea during a pivotal moment in World War II.
“When we first thought about making this film, one of the reasons it appealed to us is that it felt like a story that hadn’t been told,” Thomas said. “We couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been told, given that it had themes that could appeal to anybody.”
Thomas also discussed the notion that Nolan’s film would be attempted without a script, and what ultimately unfolded in the process. “My immediate response was, ‘You’re insane,'” the producer recalled of early conversations with the filmmaker, who happens to be her husband. “But I completely understood where he was coming from. He had said from the beginning that he wanted to do something experimental and explore the boundaries of cinema.
“But it slightly annoys me that people think of it as a movie that didn’t have a script,” she continued. “The truth is, when you read the script, every beat is written. It’s a Chris Nolan movie.”
Although Dunkirk is set during the Second World War, Thomas doesn’t regard it as a war film per se. “It has all the trappings of a war film, but it’s all about how we were going to get the boys off that beach,” she said. “It’s all about how on Earth they’re going to survive.”
While the producer believes only Nolan could have tackled Dunkirk, she was also quick to heap praise on Van Hoytema, saying that only he could have shot such a complex epic. While the DP faced no small number of challenges on the film — including unexpectedly brutal weather conditions — he relished the challenge and the platform to explore different opportunities in large-format filmmaking.
“The challenge with the big cameras is that we didn’t want to be in awe of the size of the cameras and what those cameras meant,” Van Hoytema said. “We really tried to engineer and apply those cameras to those situations. Before then, it was seldom that people used close-ups in big-screen formats, but we put a lot of energy to bring it into tight situations and communicate intimate situations with it, as well.”
Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve stopped in to discuss the hefty responsibilities in helming a follow-up to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic, juxtaposing humans with replicants and blurring the lines between the two. “The most daunting [prospect] was to be banned from the cinematic community for the rest of my life, to be hated by everybody,” the director joked. “I was raised on Blade Runner. It was something very close to my heart, and it was the first movie that I owned. It was the birth of the VHS system, and I watched that movie a thousand times.”
When Villeneuve heard that Scott was considering a sequel, he immediately thought it was a “fantastic, insane, bad idea, but reading the screenplay, it felt strangely familiar.” “That’s the most crazy thing for me,” he continued. “I felt at home reading it.”
While 2049 spends a good deal of time in Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford’s) dark world of skyscrapers, it also expands to other areas outside Los Angeles not seen in the previous film, which was a great source of pressure for the director. “I felt such a huge responsibility to respect the spirit and the poetry of the first Blade Runner,” he said. “That was a big task, and it took a long visual research [process].”
Recalling Scott’s best advice to him during the making of the film, Villeneuve said simply, “Don’t f*ck it up.”
Additionally, Wonder Woman helmer Patty Jenkins appeared in conversation with Pete Hammond to discuss her first return to film since Monster, a drama that brought star Charlize Theron an Academy Award. In point of fact, Jenkins had hoped to make Wonder Woman as her next project way back when, but the stars wouldn’t align for Jenkins for many more years. “The most funny part is that I tried to do Wonder Woman right after Monster, and they just weren’t going to be doing it at that time,” the director said, referring to Christopher Nolan’s series of DC films that were separately taking off at the time. “That’s not the reason it took so long—there were like five chapters, from having a kid, to movies that didn’t go—but it’s so funny to me that that’s what I wanted to do right afterwards.”
Speaking of her attraction to Wonder Woman and what compels her as an artist, Jenkins expressed her appreciation for the “specific audience this [film] has had with women,” while touching on the film’s broader universality—the aspect of Wonder Woman’s story that she found most compelling, even as a child. “For me, I don’t have a favorite genre. I love great story that touches on the human dilemma,” she explained. “Here, it’s the dilemma that we all want to be a better person and make the world a better place, but the world is a complex place. These are serious things to [consider]—I actually love the superhero genre for this reason.”
While Jenkins wasn’t involved with the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, she ultimately felt that the Israel actress was a “magical, supernaturally found person.” “You couldn’t imagine somebody more truly, spiritually like Wonder Woman,” Jenkins said. “Her priority was always to do the right thing, we had a very shared vision and she became like my favorite person in the world.”
In her appearance at The Contenders, Jenkins touched on the fact that she’s already signed on for another Wonder Woman film, and what we can expect. “My life is Wonder Woman. Honestly, the entire time we were making the first movie, what the second movie should be really presented itself through the process,” she said. “I’m super excited about it, and I think it’s a whole new ride— very different in a lot of ways, but very much Wonder Woman.”