Christopher Nolan directing Interstellar

Part 3: Inception, Interstellar and Invisible Republics

Blake Harris: Flashing forward about a decade, you started working with Christopher Nolan. You’ve storyboarded Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Interstellar (2014) for him. How did that relationship begin?

Gabriel Hardman: I believe that Inception was the first movie that he prepped in Los Angeles, I think all the others had been done in London. And prior to Inception, he had never really worked with a storyboard artist before. But on that film, he wanted to do storyboards more seriously. I was recommended, I went in, I chatted with him and then they hired me. This was for Inception, so on the first day I went in and read the script. I then met with Chris and he asked me if I’d read it and I said I did. And then he was like, “But did you understand it?” [laughing] “Yeah, I think I did.”

Blake Harris: Ha!

inception storyboard

Gabriel Hardman: Inception was really up my alley for a lot of reasons. One being that it was an original screenplay. It’s not based on anything, which is so rare these days. The number of times that I’ve worked on a film that wasn’t based on some other property is very small. There are very few movies like that. So the idea that this was going to be a big sci-fi movie based on an original idea and an original script was really exciting.

Blake Harris: When you read the script for a movie like Inception, or really any movie I suppose, are you thinking in terms of visuals are you’re reading it? Or does that process start down the line?

Gabriel Hardman: Sure, definitely. Chris’s scripts tend to be very terse, so there were definitely things that were suggested in Inception, but there’s not an inordinate amount of description on the page. And nothing had been designed at all at that point either. So it wasn’t like I was seeing art from the art department. I was starting very cold. And the very first thing I worked on was the fight in the hallway, where the hallway’s spinning. Or rather, as Chris described it, “It’s not that the hallway is spinning, it’s that the rest of the world is spinning.” So the very first thing was enormously complex. I ended up doing like two phone books worth of storyboards—just every level of the dream. I kind of get a little punchy just thinking about it. Just so much to keep track of. But it was still really fun and exciting to work on. As were The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar.

inception storyboard

Blake Harris: What’s it like working with Christopher Nolan?

Gabriel Hardman: He is an incredibly confident filmmaker. And he truly is a filmmaker; he understands what he’s doing and he understands every part of the process; (so you’re not going to be able to put anything over on him). And the biggest thing that distinguishes working on his films is something that I kind of touched earlier: the script. On all of his films, there is a finished screenplay at the beginning. Which is wildly different from most of the films I’ve worked on where, you know, there might be no third act yet. Everything is still changing and the movie is happening because the studio wants to hit a certain release date, not because there’s a finished script that’s ready to go. Obviously little things can still change on his films, but with Nolan movies everybody always knows exactly what the movie is that they’re making.

heathentown

Blake Harris: I imagine that working on films like Interstellar, Inception or even Austin Powers—films that are well-received and also do well at the box office—must be pretty satisfying to you as both an artist and someone who needs to make a living. So what it’s like when the opposite happens. As with, say, Spider-Man 3.

Gabriel Hardman: I was incredibly worn out after that movie. With the whole idea of committing, literally, every waking moment to projects that I could often even tell weren’t going to be too good. And so after Spider-Man 3, my wife Corinna Bechko—who’s a writer—she had come up with a sort of atmospheric horror story. We just kept talking about it and decided to work on it together, turning it into a graphic novel. The appeal of just, the fact that I could sit down and just draw this story and it would be done and people could read it, seemed incredibly accessible to me. After spending all that time on Spider-Man 3, just sitting down and cleanly, clearly by myself telling a story was incredibly appealing. So we put that book and it was called Heathentown. And it was nice to do something that wasn’t connected to a giant machine that costs millions and millions of dollars and was simple and straightforward and boiling it down to those storytelling ideas that I like in general.

Invisible Republic

Blake Harris: I can relate to that, the appeal of autonomy. But in this case, Heathentown wasn’t completely autonomous as you were working with your wife. What was that like?

Gabriel Hardman: Well, we still work on a lot of things together. Our current book at Image—Invisible Republic—that’s something that we write together and I draw. It’s been a really good experience. Probably because my wife and I agree on a lot of things, you know? With tone and stories and the kinds of things we like. That’s why we got married, after all. You know, I didn’t choose to get married to Sam Raimi. I think Sam’s a great guy, but I don’t think I have a lot in common with him sensibility-wise. Or at least the Sam Raimi of now. So working with Corinna was (and is) a very different thing because we are doing things that we both agree on with a shared sensibility.

Blake Harris: That’s great! I just have one more question. Once upon a time you worked exclusively on comics and then, for about ten years, you worked exclusively on films. So what’s it like now to be working on both at the same time? Is it ever hard, or unexpectedly frustrating, to toggle between mediums?

Gabriel Hardman: I think the thing is, for me, I have somewhat of a fine arts background, but everything I’ve done professionally has been about storytelling. Visual storytelling. So at a certain point it just becomes clear: cool shots or splashy pages don’t really mean anything, you know? It’s about whether you’re effectively telling the story. Are you getting across the thing that you’re supposed to be getting across? So it doesn’t feel like much of a leap to go from one to the other because the challenge is never really about the visual spectacle of what I’m working on. It’s very much about telling the story, that’s what matters most of all.

 

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