How Christopher Nolan Develops Movie Concepts

How does a writer/director like Christopher Nolan choose his movie concepts?

Welcome to our ongoing Learning from the Masters and Industry Insiders series where we seek out and feature excellent videos, interviews, and discussions of the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and pull the best words of wisdom, writing tips, and screenwriting advice.

We turn to the video How Christopher Nolan Develops Story Ideas to hear from the man himself as he explains his story idea development process. We take the best quotes from the video, elaborate on his points, and share how screenwriters can learn from his approach.

You can download many of Christopher Nolan’s scripts for free from The Script Lab Screenplay Library!

“I [always] want to be pushing myself. I want to be moving on from what I’ve done in the past. Building on what I’ve done, not throwing things away.”

Screenwriters need to pay close attention to how and why they choose their next screenplays. You have to choose your concepts wisely, taking everything into account as far as what you’re passionate about and what Hollywood is looking for within the current climate of the industry.  And within that, you want to avoid becoming complacent. If you’re great at writing in a specific genre and you’ve done so with multiple projects, consider trying something different. Don’t settle for writing what you know you’ve mastered. Push yourself to grow as a writer and challenge yourself to tackle new things.

Use what you’re great at and what you’ve learned along the way — and build on that experience to evolve in your screenwriting and the choices you make for every new project.

“I try to be all about story. And then as I’m writing, create visuals or situations that I actually don’t know how to do. And I try to take my director’s hat off when I’m writing and write things that I then come to as a director and say, ‘I have no idea how to do this. I have no idea what this will look like and how to visualize it.’ Because that’s when you know you’re challenging yourself.”

If you’re a filmmaker, this is brilliant advice that teaches you the importance of taking risks.

As a screenwriter, it’s just as applicable in your screenwriting journey. When you’re choosing your next concept, you can give yourself the much-needed jolt of creativity by developing concepts that you have no clue how to pull off from a writing or visualization perspective.  Taking on a challenge ignites your brain. It’s easy to repeat what you’ve done before. But that can cause the complacency that leads to a shutdown of your creative mind.

You spark that inner imagination by challenging your brain to face narrative and visualization problems that it has never come across before. And that problem-solving process is what sets off the creative process because you then have to use your creativity to solve difficult narrative and visualization problems.

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Challenge yourself in your next screenplay. Choose a concept that you have no clue how to handle. Take risks and step up to the plate. Complacency is the creative death of any writer or filmmaker.

Watch the full video below.


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Michael Lee

Author Michael Lee

Michael Lee has worked in development as a script reader and story analyst for a major studio, Emmy Award-winning production company, and iconic movie director.

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