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Pass the popcorn to create a team effort

Moviemaking is a team effort, according to director Christopher Nolan, who acknowledges everyone from the stars to those who sell popcorn, writes John Baldoni.

3 min read


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In an awards speech at CinemaCon 2023, Christopher Nolan, director of major motion pictures like Tenant, Dunkirk, Batman, and many others, stated his belief in the collective “we” in moviemaking. It includes “distributors, theater owners, marketers, [and] the people serving popcorn.” In that one statement, Nolan clarified that moviemaking is a team effort. “We all work in what is the greatest art form ever created, the one that combines pictorial beauty, two-dimensional, three-dimensional, sound, music, and language.”

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Nolan’s nod to the distribution part of the motion picture is a welcome endorsement from a business that has seen its fortunes decline during the pandemic and due to the rise of streaming video networks.

Team effort lessons from the speech

Nolan’s speech can serve as a template for any executive seeking to frame what the organization does, how it does it and why it matters.

State the purpose. According to Nolan, those in the film business “are all engaged in a process that in some small way can make the world a better place.”

Iterate the why.Does it make the world a better place?” asks Nolan. “It’s an absolute good because we all work in what is the greatest art form ever created, the one that combines pictorial beauty, two-dimensional, three-dimensional, sound, music, and language.”

Touch the hearts. The film says Nolan “can combine the subjective experience of another human being the way a novel can, but it can combine that at the same time with the empathetic experience of being in a theater and feeling what the rest of the audience is feeling. I’m often accused of magical thinking, nostalgia, or daydreaming as opposed to a sound business plan.”

Embrace the efforts of everyone.It’s taken the last few years for us all to realize that when you’re talking about movies, magical thinking, nostalgia, and daydreaming, that is the sound business plan. It’s the only sound business plan. That’s what movies are. And whatever spires and aspirations and dreamlike stories are allowed to come out of this medium, stands on the foundation built in your theaters.” And that includes the people selling the concessions, like popcorn, to movie patrons.

Putting lessons to work

Managers who emulate what Nolan sketches are doing two important things. One, echoing purpose. Two, recognizing the contributions of everyone. Purpose becomes the lodestone. It is the rallying point for people to point to. Recognition fires the urge to contribute and do what is necessary to succeed. 

Or as Harry Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” 

Note: Special thanks to Nolan Analyst for these excerpts


John Baldoni is a member of 100 coaches and leadership keynote presenter. He has been recognized as a top 20 leadership expert by Global Gurus, a list he has been on since 2007. He is also ranked as a Global 100 Leader and Top 50 Leadership Expert by John is the author of 15 books. His leadership resource website is 

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