It wasn’t a simple task for a $100 million Hollywood blockbuster to be made, but Cillian Murphy disclosed in July that Christopher Nolan shot “Oppenheimer” in fewer than 60 days. However, it turns out that Nolan’s initial plans called for a significantly lengthier filming period. This month’s “Team Deakins” podcast featured an interview with “Oppenheimer” production designer Ruth De Jong, who disclosed that director Christopher Nolan had cut about 30 days from the film’s schedule in order to shift more money to production design and set locations.
De Jong said, “It felt like a $100 million indie. This is not ‘Tenet, Chris wanted to shoot all over the United States…just plane tickets alone and putting crew up all over the place [is 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.”
De Jong reminisced how Nolan did the most “the most incredible thing” to “achieve all of the desired looks and designs. ” The filmmaker apparently stated to her, “I’ve got to go do my homework,” She later realized that he meant rearranging the film’s shooting schedule to combine days and free up funds for the production design. According to De Jong, “Oppenheimer” was originally scheduled for an 85-day, or even longer, shoot, but Nolan shaved off at least 30 days.
De Jong recalled, “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.”
Due to a condensed shooting schedule, De Jong was able to secure the funding necessary to completely rebuild Los Alamos in New Mexico. Since Nolan was not allowed to film in actual government buildings in D.C., one of the few compromises she was forced to make was to shoot parts of the movie in New Mexico. On Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast, Murphy previously remarked, “We made the movie unbelievably quickly. The pace of that was insane”