It is a fact that Christopher Nolan is an amazing filmmaker, but shooting a movie about space without either going to space or using green screen is quite the feat. In the video below, Nolan shares how he made the mega-hit end-of-the-world drama, Interstellar, without using green screen (or sending Matthew McConaughey into orbit).
Okay, so maybe Nolan had to use some green screen and CGI effects in Interstellar (the film is largely about space, after all), but we do live in a time where green screen and CGI is par for the course in moviemaking. Whether or not you loved the film, or if you were amongst the ranks that took issue with the film’s soundtrack, you have to admit that it is pretty astounding Nolan took the time to create physical sets and actual shooting locations to give the movie a more realistic and intimate feel.
In the Yahoo clip, Nolan explains that to give us the scenes on the spaceship, he and his crew actually created a cockpit for the cast. The cockpit acted very much like a flight simulator, moving, leaning, and bouncing to give the actors as realistic of a "space" experience as possible. Because the actors were filming in a physical location, this allowed Nolan to shoot those very unique angles that we see in the film. If the actors weren’t working with physical set pieces, it would have limited Nolan’s directorial choices significantly (according to him). More than that, it allowed us to get very genuine reactions from the actors because they were interacting with something that was physically there and actually moving around.
Beyond just building a cockpit, the crew also built an exterior for the ship to get those intense, realistic outer shots of the ship. As Nolan says in the clip, he wanted those shots to have a documentary, NASA-film feel, and they most certainly do. They also had an actual rig built to act as the ship when they filmed Connor’s (McConaughey) crew landing on the water planet.
Also, can we just talk about the fact that the Interstellar cast and crew shot the water planet on an actual location, not just on a watery soundstage? I realize the horrifyingly huge tidal wave was a product of special effects, but the fact that Nolan and his crew took the time to find a glacier wash that would properly give the feel of a water-logged planet is extraordinary.
The more I learn about this film, the more amazed I am at the labor of love this film was for the cast and crew. The writers took great care in making a fairly hard-to-believe story as scientifically accurate as possible. The crew worked to build life-like, responsive set pieces to add realism to those scenes set in space, and they also took the time to actually build and bring life-sized space ship rigs to film on location instead of a soundstage. Who knew that someone could film a movie about space and the end of earth as we know it, and make it utterly realistic?