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How Christopher Nolan became a corn farmer while making 'Interstellar'

You’re never going to learn something as profoundly as when it’s purely out of curiosity.
– Christopher Nolan

One of the most accomplished contemporary directors, British-American filmmaker Christopher Nolan has established himself as one of the biggest names in the world of cinema with critical as well as commercial successes like InceptionThe Dark Knight and more. With a total of 34 Academy Award nominations and 10 wins, Nolan has received both institutional and mainstream recognition for his works.

Inspired by filmmakers like the great Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan grew up wanting to make films. He first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at the age of seven with his dad in London. “I think what I’ve carried about that experience as far as my own films is really just a sense that films can be anything,” Nolan said. “What Kubrick did in 1968, he simply refused to acknowledge that there were any rules you had to play by in terms of narrative.”

Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi film Interstellar explores the very real possibility of Earth becoming uninhabitable, a future where farmer and ex-NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a team of space researchers in order to find another planet for our doomed species. Interstellar’s greatest virtue is that Nolan imparts his transcendental vision to the 2014 sci-fi drama. It is his attempt to imagine and capture the impenetrable cosmic mysteries, to look for a ray of light in the face of an inevitable apocalypse.

While making Interstellar, Nolan decided not to use CGI to portray Cooper’s farm. In the cinematic world of Interstellar, a phenomenon called “The Blight” had wiped out most of the plants on Earth except corn and okra (the latter was being pushed out of existence as well). Nolan was inspired by Zack Snyder actually growing corn crops for 2013 film Man of Steel, planting 500 acres of corn for the sake of cinematic realism. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he said: “Luckily, Zack [Snyder] had grown a bunch of corn, so I said, ‘How much can you really grow practically? And they had done a couple hundred acres [for Man of Steel], so we looked into it; we found that where we wanted to build our farmhouse really close to the mountains [outside] Calgary. In the end, we got a pretty good crop, and we actually made money on this.”

According to the script, they had to set up the corn farm in a place with mountains visible in the distance. Their plan for going ahead with it in Calgary cost them $100K which is relatively small compared to the $165 million budget for the film but it was still a big risk because experts warned Nolan that the corn would fail to grow. The filmmaker went ahead with it anyway because it was better for Interstellar’s atmospheric immersion than a computer-generated cornfield.

Nolan added, “It looked like the Ken Burns film about the Dust Bowl that he did for PBS, which was really a remarkable piece of work. We really had to scale back from the reality of what those things were actually like in the Dust Bowl because you look at the photographs, and it actually seems too crazy. I was always fascinated with the idea of presenting what seems like a science fiction doomsday scenario on this sort of big scale that’s actually less than [what] really happened in America.”