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About The Filming
Although Insomnia is set against the sprawling beauty of British Columbia and Alaska, director Christopher Nolan and director of photography Wally Pfister – who also served as the cinematographer on Memento – crafted a shooting style that captures the breadth of the larger-than-life landscape, while at the same time remaining focused on the characters. "We created intimacy by keeping the camera with the main character, something we did very much with Memento and continued with Insomnia," Pfister explains. "The camera always stays with Will Dormer, either traveling in front of him or behind him or revealing his point of view. In this way, the audience explores the unfamiliar landscape with him, and they feel the light piercing through the windows as he desperately tries to sleep."

Light – specifically, Alaska's seasonal phenomenon known as Midnight Sun – plays a major thematic role in the story. "Wally and I wanted to convey this sense of an omnipresent light," says Nolan, "that seeps in everywhere and is a constant reminder of danger, guilt and the threat of exposure."

Pfister was particularly intrigued with the creative challenges involved in crafting and executing the film's ambitious lighting design, which needed to achieve a seamless blend of both thematic and practical lighting. "Light, and how light affects Will Dormer, is such an integral part of the story, we viewed it as a fourth character," Pfister says. "I felt an enormous amount of pressure but at the same time a creative excitement in using the light in this way, because it became this entity that taunts Dormer throughout the story."

The theme of light was also expressed in the design of the sets themselves. "We wanted to keep the interiors dark, both to contrast with the constant, intense daylight of the exteriors and because a darker palette looks better on film," production designer Nathan Crowley relates. "So we used enamel paint on our sets, which bounces light onto walls and into dark corners."

Principal photography on Insomnia took place in British Columbia over a period of 53 days from mid-April through the end of June 2001. The speed and efficiency with which the production completed its compacted schedule was due in no small part to the talented crew and the close collaboration between Nolan and Pfister.

"Chris and I established a very fast working rhythm together on Memento," says Pfister, who not only is the film's director of photography, but also operated the camera during shooting. "We more or less work in shorthand. I know exactly what sort of thing Chris is looking for and he trusts me in the execution."

Trust is key to the success of their collaboration – Nolan must often rely on Pfister to frame shots, because he prefers to position himself by the camera with the actors, as opposed to watching the action unfold on a video monitor. "The increasing convention is for the director to stand away from the action, watching the scene unfold on the monitor and then reviewing it on playback," Nolan observes. "I don't use a conventional monitor and I don't use playback. I like to stand by the camera and really watch what the actors are doing with my own eyes, because when you blow up their performances on the big screen, you see so much more than you could ever see on a monitor."

Nolan used a small handheld monitor to reference Pfister's shot framings. "That technique was very liberating because then I was able to be by the camera, face-to-face with the actors, talking about what they'd just done and what we might want to explore in the scene," says Nolan, who prefers to liste


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