Inception Movie Full Production Notes
Inception is a science fiction heist thriller film written, produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan. The film stars a large ensemble cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. DiCaprio plays a professional thief who commits corporate espionage by infiltrating the subconscious of his targets. He is offered a chance to have his criminal history erased as payment for a task considered to be impossible: “inception”, the implantation of another person’s idea into a target’s subconscious.
Shortly after finishing Insomnia (2002), Nolan wrote an 80-page treatment about “dream stealers” envisioning a horror film inspired by lucid dreaming and presented the idea to Warner Bros. Feeling he needed to have more experience with large-scale film production, Nolan retired the project and instead worked on Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), and The Dark Knight (2008).
He spent six months revising the script before Warner Bros. purchased it in February 2009. Inception was filmed in six countries and four continents, beginning in Tokyo on June 19, 2009, and finishing in Canada on November 22, 2009. Its official budget was US$160 million; a cost which was split between Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures. Nolan’s reputation and success with The Dark Knight helped secure the film’s $100 million in advertising expenditure.
About the Production
You create the world of the dream. You bring the subject into that dream and they fill it with their secrets.
Director / writer / producer Christopher Nolan reveals that he began creating the world of “Inception” almost a decade before he made the movie. “About ten years ago, I became fascinated with the subject of dreams, about the relationship of our waking life to our dreaming life. I’ve always found it to be an interesting paradox that everything within a dream—whether frightening, or happy, or fantastic—is being produced by your own mind as it happens, and what that says about the potential of the imagination is quite extraordinary. I started thinking how that could be applied to a grand-scale action movie with a very human dimension.”
“Inception” hinges on the premise that it is possible to share dreams…dreams that have been designed to look and feel completely real while you’re in them. And in that subconscious state, a person’s deepest and most valuable secrets are there for the taking. Nolan elaborates, “At the heart of the movie is the notion that an idea is indeed the most resilient and powerful parasite. A trace of it will always be there in your mind…somewhere. The thought that someone could master the ability to invade your dream space, in a very physical sense, and steal an idea—no matter how private—is compelling.”
Producer Emma Thomas agrees, noting that the film had to maintain that balance between a thrill ride and an emotional journey. “It has elements of a heist movie, but one set in a more fantastical framework. It has huge action sequences, but it also has characters you truly care about, and there is a real emotional driving force throughout the movie.”
That driving force is largely embodied in the central character of Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. “In essence, that’s what was immediately engaging to me about the script,” says the actor. “It is this highly entertaining, complex thriller where anything can happen, but at the heart is one man’s quest to uncover a long-buried truth and to get back home. It’s also completely original; I don’t think anyone could say they’ve experienced anything like it before. That combination made me excited about working on the project, as well as with Chris Nolan. He is an expert at taking this kind of multi-layered storyline and making it true and tangible to an audience.”
Thomas comments, “Chris has learned a lot over the years in terms of making big movies, and a lot of those things have come into play here. But this film is something very fresh and very different and also quite personal. It gave him a completely clean and pure canvas on which to work.”
Nolan asserts that the central theme of the story is both personal and universal “because we all dream. We all experience the phenomenon of our minds creating a world and living in that world at the exact same time. There is also an incredible contrast in the world of dreams—they are so intimate and yet they have infinite possibilities in terms of what we can imagine. So the challenge was to blend the intimacy and emotion of what might take place in a dream with the massive scope of what our brains can conceive of. I wanted to create a film that would allow the audience to experience the limitless realities that only in dreams can we realize.”
“We knew the production of ‘Inception’ was going to have to be big because of the subject matter—you can do anything in a dream,” adds Thomas. “In fact, the scope of this film is greater than anything we’ve done before, even just in terms of the number of countries in which we shot.”
About the Locations
The earliest filming was done in Tokyo, where Saito makes his unusual business proposition to Cobb and Arthur, setting the story in motion. Opening on a skyscraper heliport, the scene transitions to aerial shots from Saito’s helicopter. Although that seemed fairly straightforward, Brigham contends, “It was actually somewhat complicated because Tokyo has very strict rules about where and how high helicopters can go. But it helped that we had a lot of cooperation from the local officials, who were terrific.”
“Chris has wanted to film in Tokyo for a long time so we appreciated the opportunity,” says Thomas. “We love the city; it’s such a sprawling, vibrant place and Chris really wanted to capture that on film.”
Production then moved to one of Nolan’s favorite bases of operation: Cardington, a converted airship hangar, north of London. There, the mammoth stage could accommodate the sizeable yet intricate sets that would test everyone’s perception of up, down and sideways.
One of the most complicated sets was a long hotel corridor that was able to rotate a full 360 degrees to create the effect of zero gravity. Designing and building it required a partnership between production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, and cinematographer Wally Pfister.
The filmmakers originally envisioned the hallway at 40-feet long, but as the plan of action grew, so did the set’s length, ending up at 100 feet. The corridor was suspended along eight massive concentric rings that were spaced equidistantly outside its walls and powered by two giant electric motors. “I’ve built revolving sets before,” Corbould offers, “but nothing as big or as fast.” Once the set was up and running—or rather turning—it could spin up to eight revolutions per minute.
Corbould also worked closely with Pfister to determine how to place cameras in the revolving set. “I prefer handheld cameras, but it turns out I couldn’t hold the camera while rolling upside down,” Pfister deadpans. “So Chris Corbould and Bob Hall, from my department, devised a way to mount a remote control camera on a plate that ran on a track underneath the floor.”
Since the entire length and breadth of the corridor were often going to be in camera range, Pfister could not have traditional movie lights hanging from the ceiling. Instead, he says, “We came up with a practical lighting scheme using sconces and pendant lights that were on dimmers, which gave me a lot of flexibility.”
Apart from the corridor, there was also a revolving hotel bedroom set, which had its own challenges. Corbould explains, “The room set was smaller lengthwise, but there were only two rings, so there was a lot more weight on each ring.”
In designing the inside of the hotel sets, Dyas and his department had to bear in mind that there would be actors and stunt people working along every surface. “It became very apparent to me that if we were going to be bouncing people around the set, it needed to be made of soft materials,” Dyas says. “Fortunately, there are contemporary hotels that use leather and fabric to dress the walls, so we incorporated those soft finishes with padding underneath. We also had to make sure that objects like door handles and light fixtures would break on impact so no one would be hurt.”
That was good news to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and members of the stunt team, who spent a good deal of time negotiating the dizzying set for a major action sequence. Prior to filming those scenes, Gordon-Levitt spent weeks in training and rehearsing the action with stunt coordinator Tom Struthers and his team.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring by: Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine
Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan
Production Design by: Guy Hendrix Dyas
Cinematography by: Wally Pfister
Film Editing by: Lee Smith
Costume Design by: Jeffrey Kurland
Set Decoration by: Larry Dias, Douglas A. Mowat
Music by: Hans Zimmer
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: July 16, 2010