Christopher Nolan Cut 30 Days From ‘Oppenheimer’ Filming to Boost Budget for Los Alamos Set

Christopher Nolan shaved 30 days off the shooting calendar for “Oppenheimer” in order to make the movie more realistic.

Production designer Ruth De Jong told the “Team Deakins” podcast earlier this month that the blockbuster about the development of the atom bomb was supposed to have a longer production timeline, but the director reduced the number of shooting days in order to prioritize the production design.

“Oppenheimer” has grossed nearly $778 million worldwide, including more than $299 million domestically, and last week passed the totals of 2014’s “Interstellar” and this year’s “Fast X” at the global box office.

The three-hour biopic was filmed in just 55 days, instead of the original 85, De Jong told the podcast hosts, cinematographer Roger Deakins and his collaborator, James Deakins.

The money saved from consolidating the filming, she said, enabled the reconstruction of Los Alamos, New Mexico, without relying on visual effects.

“I felt like this was a $100 million indie,” she said, noting that the first budget for building the town was $20 million, which had to be significantly scaled back.

One tactic she employed was making every single building in 360 degrees, so during the filming, they were able to take advantage of different angles and the alleys in between.

“He likes to do things a very specific way,” she said of Nolan. But they were unable to film on the grounds of any federal building, so she “had to find Washington, D.C., in New Mexico.”

The one thing they couldn’t find in New Mexico was the Oval Office. She thought they had a deal with the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California, but that arrangement fell through.

So she had to build an Oval Office — and several other rooms in the White House. “It had to be exact,” De Jong said.

The problem reflected the need for flexibility on her part — she watched the dailies every night and communicated with Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema to make sure no changes were needed.

“He focuses and he is very unique. He is like any other director I’ve worked with,” De Jong said of Nolan. “He knows exactly what he wants and exactly how he wants to do it, and I respect that.”

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