Interview: The Dark Knight Scribes David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan

The Dark Knight

In Christopher Nolan’s world, a comic book movie doesn’t have to be based on just one version, just one book in a 60+ year lineage. And no one knows this better than the two men who worked with him to craft the story for The Dark Knight, screenwriters David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan.

We had a chance to sit down with them during the press junket for The Dark Knight to talk about where the film’s story comes from, how they crafted the very unique dynamic between Batman and The Joker, and where Harvey Dent fits into the picture. Take a look below at the Q&A with the scribes of The Dark Knight.

There is an interesting dynamic between Batman and The Joker in this film…

David Goyer: A little bit of that dynamic between The Joker and Batman.

Jonah Nolan: I think there’s a ton of it, if you look at it from a slightly different perspective, what is The Joker trying to do in the killing // he’s trying to drive one of the Batman’s allies crazy.

David Goyer: Yeah, I think that relationship we definitely called from “The Killing Joke.”

Heath Ledger as The JokerWhat other comic books did you reference?

Jonah Nolan: Well, it’s easier to say what didn’t we reference, I felt like we read all of them. I mean I grew up Batman fan, David did too, so there’s a lot of that already in there but then when you embark on these things, DC sends you everything.

David Goyer: Obviously there’s some “Long Halloween” in there. There’s some Miller stuff there’s I think in this one less though than the first one, some of the Denny O’Neil stuff but it’s like yeah, we were looking at stuff from the eighties.

Jonah Nolan: And we got sort of midway through the process and went back and looked at the first appearance of The Joker in the books and found like we kind of wandered all the way back to it, there’s a couple of moments in Batman I which are almost sort of shot for shot moments that emerged in the film which felt very gratifying to have kind of reverse engineered your way back to what felt like a starting point for the character.

David Goyer: But the truth is we read every single Joker and Two-Faced appearance from, all of them.

Jonah Nolan: Yeah, hundreds of them.

There’s a real richness to this story. How much of that is you going to Chris and saying this is what you want to do and how much is it Chris saying I want a richer deeper story?

David Goyer: Chris definitely wanted to, it was not a foregone conclusion that we were going to do a second film and even when we started talking about a second film, then it was a long process where we talked about whether or not this story that we were coming up with was worthy or better than the first one, but Chris is great, the best experience I’ve ever had is working with Chris, because it’s a very open environment, we fight, we argue

Jonah Nolan: A lot.

Christopher NolanDavid Goyer: A lot, yeah, I mean it’s he fosters that. You know, and it’s just let the best idea win, he’s not a dictator, or he’s a benevolent dictator,

Jonah Nolan: That’s what I’d say, absolutely

David Goyer: So you know, it’s definitely we fight, we scream we say that sucks, that’s stupid, that’s you know,

Can you talk about a little bit more about the process?

Jonah Nolan: David and Chris went off and butted heads for a while and came up with a story, and then a really great story and then you [David] had to go off and direct, we were, he’s a busy guy, we’re very lucky to get him and get in there, and then they handed it over to me and gave me, let me take a crack at it at a first draft. Chris is always going to take the last pass on these scripts going in, he’s a writer as well as a director kind of 50/50. and so he’s always going to get in there and take that last crack at it, so our job is done well in advance of the film, so for us it’s been this kind of fascinating experience of getting the work done and then waiting a couple of years to see what comes out the other end, and it’s been enormously satisfying this time.

Talking about how difficult it is to write a sequel that’s better than the first film, are you also going to – what do you think are the chances are for a sequel to this one?

David Goyer: It’s I mean, I think Warner Brothers would like to do it I don’t want to, and so I think as far as Chris goes, we haven’t had any long conversations about it yet, I mean it wasn’t until three or four months after Batman Begins that it opened that Chris and I sit down and talked about another one and we’ll have to see it. It definitely it’s a much scarier proposition. It was a scary proposition trying to do The Dark Knight and it’s sort of a geometrically proportional scary proposition for to try to do another one, but

Jonah Nolan: Absolutely.

But you selected such an opening space where now, you know, you’ve got to —

Jonah Nolan: I think the idea as much as anything is to make a complete film but also one that suggests the universe that the comic books, to me this is how I’ve always imagined it. You can, if we hadn’t made a sequel to Batman Begins you would imagine that that Joker card explained where we’re at in the comic books and sort of opened into that universe so really the idea was to

Jonah Nolan: The movies still feel complete I mean I think if there was not a third one, it’s not like Omigod! These things haven’t been answered you know.

David Goyer: That’s the idea very much is to make complete films.

Aaron Eckhart in The Dark KnightSo how early in the story development did Harvey Dent come in to the story? I mean was he part and parcel of the idea?

David Goyer: He wasn’t immediate I mean but fairly soon I mean it became apparent as we were talking fairly quickly on that Harvey was actually the protagonist of the movie, you know, that The Joker doesn’t change and Batman doesn’t really change, but Harvey is the one that changes as a result of his interaction between The Joker the Batman. And obviously he changes in a tragic way so you know, that means the movie has to be a tragedy.

Speaking back to the mythology of it, I’m curious and Chris spoke a little bit about this earlier, but both Harvey Dent and The Joker don’t really have an origin in this movie and I wonder how you feel about that.

Jonah Nolan: Well, we covered Batman’s origin in the first film. And there’s obviously the arc of the film as David was saying is the tragedy of Harvey Dent, which is in a sense the origin of the villain Two-Face, sort of like we told a more complete story here, and I think the idea was most appealing to all of us about The Joker was that he cuts through the film, that he’s an elemental villain.

What was the biggest challenge with the character of The Joker?

Jonah Nolan: You know, weirdly, somewhat frighteningly he was the easiest character ever written, I think that character is common to a sort of long history of – you’ll find a version of him in almost every culture, going back thousands of years, sort of taps into something elemental the sort of jokester, the trickster, and it just kind of, you sit down and write that character and there’s a, it just kind of appears.

Because he doesn’t seem to be motivated by power…

David Goyer: And he doesn’t have a cause, so you don’t have to justify any of his actions, so it’s one of these rare instances in telling a story where in fact the whole point of the character is that you’re not justifying what he’s doing.

Jonah Nolan: Yeah, his emotional life consists of pleasure in watching the world crumble around him.

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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