Hello, everyone! This week I wanted to dive into the cinematography of Sam Mendes’ 1917. It’s roughly a two hour war epic following the journey of English soldiers, Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield, who were tasked with halting an attack which would result in an ambush on the German’s side.
The movie was shot, similarly to Birdman, and edited to look as it followed one long, continuous take. After much in depth research, I learned that the actors were brought on empty outdoor sets months before filming started to ensure that everything was choreographed (movement and dialogue) down to the second. Every set built to scale had a matching mini version of the set and an immense amount of thought and care went into planning every single shot filmed. For example, there is one section of the film only lit up by flares in the nighttime (shown below), so the flares had to be timed exactly to the length of the time it took for the actors to move around the set and get where they need to be.
Other problems the makers of 1917, particularly Roger Deakins, the cinematographer, had to deal with included lighting and weather. Deakins mentioned in an interview that he had a bunch of different weather apps on his phone and constantly was checking to ensure there was proper cloud coverage to shoot for that day. If it was too sunny, filming had to be shut down for the day as the shots would lack continuity necessary to allow one shot to flow seamlessly into the next.
There was also the fact that shooting certain scenes required different handling of the camera(s). On multiple occasions, cameras were rigged onto cranes and then lowered and taken off the crane to either be hand held or strapped to a motor cycle or whatever was needed to make the script come to life. There were also times when sets had to be built a certain way to allow the camera to fit through a space (i.e. when the Lance Corporals cross through “no-man’s land” the was a specific path created for the camera to follow since there was so much barbed wire and other obstacles for the actors to walk through). It was a huge endeavor to take on, but I wholeheartedly believe that this was a successful movie and it deserves as many awards and recognition as possible.
I highly recommend that everyone check this film out before it leaves theaters as it’s not one that you can fully experience in the comfort of your own home. 1917 takes you through an incredibly personal journey and it’s amazing how the camera stays on the two main actors the whole time. Between the set design and the writing and the camera work, you feel like you’re constantly in the present and experiencing every emotion these characters feel and it’s nothing like you’ll ever see in your lifetime, so have a great week and check out 1917! (https://www.thewrap.com/how-1917-cinematographer-roger-deakins-pulled-off-sam-mendes-one-shot-wwi-film/)