Oppenheimer: Why Christopher Nolan cut 30 days from shooting schedule

Chris Tilly
Benny Safdie and Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer.

With Oppenheimer still riding high near the top of the box office charts, production designer Ruth De Jong has explained why director Christopher Nolan shaved 30 days off the film’s shooting schedule.

For such a big movie, with huge special effects and an epic run-time, Oppenheimer spent a relatively brief amount of time on principal photography.

In a superb interview on Mark Maron’s podcast, Cillian Murphy previously revealed that the shoot was less than 60 days, telling the WTF host: “We made the movie unbelievably quickly. The pace was insane.”

Now another of the Oppenheimer filmmakers has been discussing the schedule, explaining how and why the film’s director shot for 30 days less than previously planned.

Oppenheimer: Why Christopher Nolan cut 30 days from shoot

According to production designer Ruth De Jung, Christopher Nolan cut 30 days from the Oppenheimer shoot so that the budget could be used to build sets.

“Chris wanted to shoot all over the United States,” De Jong tells the Team Deakins podcast. “Just plane tickets alone and putting crew up all over the place [was expensive]. Not to mention I have to build Los Alamos – it doesn’t exist. That’s where I really felt like it was impossible.

“Chris said, ‘Forget the money. Let’s just design what we want.’ So that’s what we did, and when construction first budgeted my town it was $20 million. Chris was like, ‘Yeah, no. Stop.’ We had this huge white model and I started pulling buildings out of it, not to mention we want to shoot in New York and New Jersey and Berkley and Los Angeles and New Mexico.”

To make the numbers work, Nolan dropped 30 days from his 85-day shoot, and put that money towards production design.

De Jong continues: “Tom, the executive producer, said, ‘Ruth, you can’t go to Berkley, you can’t do this.’ ‘But we have to go to Berkley. That is Oppenheimer!’ The producers were asking what I could do on my end to shrink [the budget]. Tom then 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 deliver above and beyond because he just went and gave up his days. He, more than anyone, knows what he wants to get in every single day and how he wants to get it and he goes from 85 to 55 days.”

That shift meant Ruth De Jong could completely build the Los Alamos town, bringing to life the film’s most memorable location.

Oppenheimer is in cinemas now, and you can find more coverage below:

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