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Director Christopher Nolan Discusses Making His First Film, Following

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Last night, director Christopher Nolan visited the IFC Center in New York City to screen his own restored print of his first film, Following. After showing the film (as well as one of his early shorts, Doodlebug), Nolan and incoming Village Voice film critic Scott Foundas discussed the film’s restoration, the challenges behind making Following—and how it compares to making big budget films like Inception and the Batman trilogy.

Shot in London over the course of a year with practically no budget, Following is a non-linear neonoir about a struggling writer who follows people in hopes that they’ll provide inspiration for his first novel. The restored version of the film will have a Criterion Blu-ray release on December 11. “It makes me feel very old, to talk about restoring my first film,” Nolan joked. The director shot Following in black and white 16mm in 1998. “We cut a negative, made one print from that, [and] it looked amazing,” he said. “It played the first film festivals, and then we had to blow it up to 35mm for distribution, and it never looked quite like what it was supposed to look like or sound like it was supposed to sound.” For the past couple of years, in preparation for the Criterion release, Nolan has supervised the restoration of the film, “going back to the original negative and finally making it look the way it was supposed to look.”

The Inspiration

Two things inspired Nolan was inspired to make Following: Life in his crowded London neighborhood, and the burglary of his apartment. “You’d go out of your flat and you’d be surrounded by people. I became interested in the idea of looking at individuals and saying, 'What’s that person’s story?'” Nolan said. “Right around that time, somebody broke into the flat.”

Particularly powerful for him was coming home to see that his door had been smashed in. “I realized that the door was just plywood, and that was never keeping anybody out,” he said. “What was keeping people out was the social protocols that we have that allow us to live together. I was interested in the certain types of people who would stop observing those protocols, and why that would be.”

Writing and Filming

Though the film was always intended to have a non-linear structure, Nolan wrote the script in chronological order first, then went back and rearranged it—“on the page, not in the edit suite,” he said—which taught him a valuable lesson. “What I found was that there was so much rewriting involved to try to make a comprehensive and flowing narrative that when it came time to write Memento, I did the opposite, and I never looked at it reordered in any way,” he said.

Nolan wanted a non-linear structure for the film in part because it would fit the sporadic shooting schedule. “We’d shoot one day a week and we kept that up for most of a year, sometimes skipping a weekend or whatever,” he said. “It was truly a no-budget effort, and I’d written the script to accommodate that. The non-linear chronology helped us keep continuity in an organic way.”

Shooting in black and white rather than color gives Following its highly stylized, neonoir feel—and there were other benefits, too. “In black and white, it's much more possible to hide some of your budgetary constraints,” Nolan said. “When you have absolutely no money and absolutely no resources, [trying] to achieve color cinematography is extremely difficult. [With black and white,] it’s much more possible to get some kind of level of style to the thing—quickly and easily throwing in some lights and shadow and going with that.”

He and his friends filmed in their own apartments and in friends’ restaurants, and grabbed many shots on the fly. Only Lucy Russell, who plays the blonde, would go on to have a career in acting.

Independent Filmmaking versus Studio Films

Because he didn’t have a ton of money for film stock and processing on Following, Nolan wanted to avoid doing a large number of takes—so he had his actors rehearse for 6 months, as if they were doing a play. “When there’s a little mistake [in a play], the actors don’t stop and go ‘I need another one.’ They just get through,” he said. “So I thought we could [go] to a location that we had for an hour, jump in, do a scene we’d done 100 times before and film it, and give them one or two takes—most of the film is first takes, some are second.”

Knowing what he now knows, he said, “I would never try to do something like that. It was mad, really. But that’s the joy of when you’re first starting out—you don’t know the restrictions you’re putting on your actors and they just rose to it and gave these great performances.”

Whether or not Nolan runs rehearsal these days, he said, depends on the actors. “It’s is a peculiar proposition, because you can get maybe a few days, maybe a couple of weeks,” he said. “There are directors who massively value that, and I went into that process valuing that. But for me it’s about what the actors want and need. Quite often, larger scale films accommodate [rehearsal] on the day.”

But there's one thing that hasn’t changed: The work he does as a screenwriter and director. “It’s exactly the same,” he said. “And that’s what I’ve always loved about filmmaking. Your job as the director is to really have blinders and not be aware of the artifice—where the crew is, where the trucks are, and that kind of thing. Your job, really, is to try to be the audience on set. So I found that process of trying to devise a shot, trying to understand how it’s going to make you feel as an audience member, and how it’s going to fit into the story, to be exactly the same process [just on a bigger scale]. So however much things change, it’s the same process, and that’s the process you value. That’s what you love.”

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Get Crazy With the Official Bob Ross Coloring Book
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If you watched Bob Ross's classic series The Joy of Painting for hours on end but didn’t come away a terribly capable artist, you can still enjoy replicating the amazing public television personality’s work. You can now pretend you’re painting along with the late, great PBS star using a brand-new adult coloring book based on his art.

The Bob Ross Coloring Book (Universe) is the first authorized coloring book based on Ross’s artistic archive. Ross, who would have turned 75 later this year, was all about giving his fans the confidence to pursue art even without extensive training. “There’s an artist hidden at the bottom of every single one of us,” the gentle genius said. So what better way to honor his memory than to relax with his coloring book?

Here’s a sneak peek of some of the Ross landscapes you can recreate, all while flipping through some of his best quotes and timeless tidbits of wisdom.

An black-and-white outline of a Bob ross painting of a mountain valley

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a house nestled among trees.

A black-and-white outline of a Bob Ross painting shows a farm scene.

And remember, even if you color outside the lines, it’s still a work of art. As Ross said, “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

You can find The Bob Ross Coloring Book for about $14 on Amazon. Oh, and if you need even more Ross in your life, there’s now a Bob Ross wall calendar, too.

All images courtesy of Rizzoli.

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8 Movies That Almost Starred Keanu Reeves
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He may not have the natural ease of Al Pacino, the classical training of Anthony Hopkins, the timeless cool of Jack Nicholson, or the raw versatility of Gary Oldman, but Keanu Reeves has been around long enough to have worked alongside each of those actors. Yet instead of Oscar nods, the actor whose first name means “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian has a handful of Razzie nominations.

While critical acclaim has mostly eluded Reeves during his 30-plus years in Hollywood, his movies have made nearly $2 billion at the box office. Whether because of his own choosiness or the decisions of studio powers-that-be, that tally could be much, much higher. To celebrate The Chosen One’s 53rd birthday, here are eight movies that almost starred Keanu Reeves.

1. X-MEN (2000)

In Hollywood’s version of the X-Men universe, Hugh Jackman is the definitive Wolverine. But Jackman himself was a last-minute replacement (for Dougray Scott) and other, bigger (in 2000) names were considered for the hirsute superhero—including Reeves. Ultimately, it was the studio that decided to go in a different direction, much to Reeves’ disappointment. “I always wanted to play Wolverine,” the actor told Moviefone in 2014. “But I didn't get that. And they have a great Wolverine now. I always wanted to play The Dark Knight. But I didn't get that one. They've had some great Batmans. So now I'm just enjoying them as an audience.”

2. PLATOON (1986)

For an action star, Reeves isn’t a huge fan of violence, which is why he passed on playing the lead in Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam classic. “Keanu turned it down because of the violence,” Stone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. “He didn’t want to do violence.”

3. THE FLY II (1989)

Few people would likely mistake Reeves for the son of Jeff Goldblum, but producers were anxious to see him play the next generation of Goldblum’s insectile role in the sequel to The Fly. But Reeves wasn’t having any of it. Why? Simple: “I didn't like the script,” he told Movieline in 1990.


Speaking of sequels (and bad scripts): Reeves was ready to reprise his role as Jack Traven in Jan de Bont’s second go at the series … then he read it. “When I was offered Speed 2, Jan came to Chicago and so did Sandra, and they said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Reeves recalled to The Telegraph. “And I said, 'I read the script and I can’t. It’s called Speed, and it’s on a cruise ship.” (He's got a point.)

Even when the studio dangled a $12 million paycheck in front of him, Reeves said no. “I told [William Mechanic, then-head of Fox], ‘If I do this film, I will not come back up. You guys will send me to the bottom of the ocean and I will not make it back up again.’ I really felt like I was fighting for my life.”

5. HEAT (1995)

Reeves’ refusal to cave on Speed 2 didn’t sit well in Hollywood circles. And it didn't help that he also passed on playing Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer’s role) in Michael Mann’s Heat in order to spend a month playing Hamlet at Canada’s Manitoba Theatre Centre. From that point on, Reeves told The Telegraph that it’s been a struggle for him to book any studio movies. “That’s a good old Hollywood story! That was a whole, 'Hey, kid, this is what happens in Hollywood: I said no to the number two and I never worked with the studio again!’”

6. BOWFINGER (1999)

By the time Frank Oz’s Bowfinger rolled around, Eddie Murphy was pretty much the go-to guy for any dual role part, but the movie wasn’t always intended to play that way. Steve Martin, who both starred in and wrote the movie, had actually penned the part of Kit Ramsey for Reeves (whom he had worked with a decade earlier in Parenthood).

“When Steve gave me the script for Bowfinger, it wasn't written for Eddie Murphy,” producer Brian Grazer explained. “It was written for a white action star. It was written for Keanu Reeves, literally. I said, 'Why does it have to be an action star?' He said, 'That's the joke.' I said: 'What if it were Eddie Murphy, and Eddie Murphy played two characters? That could be really funny.' He said: 'You know, that'd be great—that'd be brilliant. Let's do that.' He processed it in about a minute, and he made a creative sea change.”

7. WATCHMEN (2009)

A year before Zack Snyder’s Watchmen hit theaters, Reeves confirmed to MTV what many had speculated: that he had turned down the chance to play Dr. Manhattan in the highly anticipated adaptation. But it wasn’t because of lack of interest on Reeves’ part; it just “didn't work out.” Still, he made it as far as a set visit: “They were shooting in Vancouver while we were filming so I went over to the set to say, 'hi.' They showed me some stuff and it looks amazing! I can’t wait. It’s going to be so killer, man!”


By the time Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder made its way into theaters in the summer of 2008, the meta-comedy had been more than a decade in the making. So it’s understandable that the final product veered from Stiller’s original plan for the film, which included Reeves playing the role of Tugg Speedman (Stiller’s eventual part). Initially, Stiller had planned to cast himself as smarmy agent Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey picked up the slack).


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