Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Cillian Murphy revealed in July that Christopher Nolan shot “Oppenheimer” in less than 60 days, no easy feat for a $100 million Hollywood star. But it turns out that Nolan had originally planned to shoot a much longer movie. In an interview this month on Dickens Team podcast. “Oppenheimer” production designer Ruth de Young revealed that Nolan cut about 30 days of shooting in order to reallocate the film’s budget to production design and location.
“It felt like a $100 million independent film. That’s not Tenet,” de Young said. “Chris wanted to shoot all over the US…just plane tickets by himself and putting the crew all over the place. [is expensive]. Not to mention that I have to build Los Alamos, it doesn’t exist. This is where it really felt impossible. Forget about the money, Chris said. Let’s just design what we want. And that’s what we did, and when the construction budget was first allocated to my city it was $20 million. Chris would say, “Yeah, no.” Stop.’ We had this huge white model and I’m starting to make buildings out of it, not to mention we want to shoot in New York and New Jersey and Berkeley and Los Angeles and New Mexico.
That’s when Nolan did the “most amazing thing” to “achieve all the desired shapes and designs,” de Jong said. The director told her, “I have to go do my homework,” which she later realized meant realigning the film’s shooting schedule in order to unify the film. De Jong said “Oppenheimer” was originally slated to shoot for 85 days, possibly longer, but Nolan cut it short by at least 30 days.
Tom, the executive producer, said, “Ruth, you can’t go to Berkeley, you can’t do that.” But we have to go to Berkeley. This is Oppenheimer! De Jong recalled. “The producers were wondering what I could do for the shrinkage [the budget]. Then Tom comes into my office and says, “Chris is going to shoot this in 55 days.” That is a lot of money we get back! At that point you feel like I have to go above and beyond because he’s just gone and given up on his days. He, more than anyone else, knows what he wants to get in each day and how he wants to get it and spans from 85 to 55 days.
With the budget freed up due to a limited filming schedule, De Jong was able to obtain the financial resources needed to rebuild Los Alamos from scratch in New Mexico. One of the only concessions she had to make was that portions of the film were shot in Washington, D.C., New Mexico since Nolan was not allowed to shoot in actual government buildings in the capital.
“We made the movie incredibly quickly,” Murphy previously said. Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast.. “The pace of it was insane.”
By comparison, Nolan’s World War II thriller “Dunkirk” shot for 68 days, and his massive spy thriller “Tenet” shot for 96 days. Murphy is front and center for the majority of Oppenheimer’s scenes, which made the shorter shooting schedule more intense for the actor.
“The locations are huge, but it’s like you’re in an indie movie,” Murphy added of working with Nolan, which he’s been doing for more than 20 years. “There’s just Chris and the cameraman – always one camera, unless there’s some big, huge shot – and a boom op and that’s it. No video village, no screens, nothing. He’s a very analog filmmaker.”
Oppenheimer is set to cross the $800 million mark at the worldwide box office next week. The film is shown in theaters nationwide from Universal Pictures.
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