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Wally Pfister Talks 'Transcendence' with LA Times: "If People Are Expecting Nolan Lite, I Think They'll Be Surprised"

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood January 10, 2014 at 1:16PM

Wally Pfister, best known as Christopher Nolan's Oscar winning cinematographer, will this year make his directorial debut with sci-fi actioner "Transcendence," arriving April 18 and starring Johnny Depp as an ailing scientist who downloads his brain into a supercomputer. Pfister sat down with the LA Times to talk his first time in the director's seat, getting advice from Nolan, navigating inevitable comparisons to Nolan, and more. Highlights below, plus the film's trailer.
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Johnny Depp in 'Transcendence'
Peter Mountain/Warner Bros. Johnny Depp in 'Transcendence'

Wally Pfister, best known as Christopher Nolan's Oscar-winning cinematographer, will this year make his directorial debut with sci-fi actioner "Transcendence," arriving April 18 and starring Johnny Depp as an ailing scientist who downloads his brain into a supercomputer. Pfister sat down with the LA Times to talk his first time in the director's seat, getting advice from Nolan, navigating inevitable comparisons to his mentor, and more. Highlights below, plus the film's trailer. (Our interview with Pfister at the time of "Inception" is here.)

Wally Pfister
Wally Pfister

Pfister on discussing with Nolan whether or not "Transcendence" was too big an undertaking for a debut feature:

"I told Chris, 'I think it's a good project. My hesitation is that it's just too big for my first adventure. And Chris very calmly said, 'Absolutely not. You know how to handle this scope of filmmaking. And storytelling is the same whether you're dealing with $100 million or $10 million.'"

On the film's themes of technology:

"I wanted to get away from the cliched notion of a sentient machine taking over the world. There are deeper questions of what we're using technology for. To heal or to create a barrier? Is it benevolent or malevolent? I want the audience to understand both sides of it... The question is whether we're going to take advantage of technology or technology is going to take advantage of us."

Will the film be similar to Nolan's work?

"If people are expecting Nolan-lite, I think they'll be surprised. My training comes from Chris, but my emotional content comes from a different era. I'm steeped in a 1970s, pre-'Star Wars' period, films like 'Soylent Green.' Chris comes from a different place."

On trying to keep a project secret in the era of blogs:

"It wasn't like we had some deep, amazing secret to keep; we just didn't want too many plot elements to leak out. But it's interesting with blogs. Sometimes just keeping your mouth shut becomes a veil of secrecy... Technology strikes again."

This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews , Wally Pfister, Transcendence, Christopher Nolan, Johnny Depp, Johnny Depp


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.