Ready for a deep-dive into 1917, the latest film from Sam Mendes? A new, unusually long featurette goes behind-the-scenes of the World War I epic, with Mendes talking about the origins of the movie, and cinematographer Roger Deakins delving into how he pulled off the film’s impressive “one-shot” set-up. Watch the 1917 featurette below.
1917 is a technical marvel, but it’s also a powerful film overall. The entire movie is designed to look like it was done in one very long take, and while that could’ve come across as a gimmick, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins manage to pull it off, and make an emotional saga in the process. As I said in my review:
Much is going to be made about the technical elements of 1917, but it’s important to acknowledge that the film is more than a series of impressive camera angles. The script, by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, is often disarmingly powerful in the way it presents both the horrors of war and the glimpses of beauty lurking beneath. 1917 is a consistently frightening film, full of landscapes littered with corpses wrapped in barbed-wire, dotted with burning houses, and brimming with rats feeding on the dead. It’s like a long one-take journey through the bowels of hell. We feel the weight of all that nightmarish imagery, and we also feel the weight of it on our characters. As Schofield, MacKay, giving a quiet, devastating performance, fully embodies weariness – we feel the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion placed on him the further he goes.
The featurette above covers both Mendes’ inspiration for making the film – his grandfather fought in World War I – and how the one-shot trick was pulled off. We see lots of behind-the-scenes footage of cameras being moved about on wires, or being run from one spot to the next by camera operators. The camera is always moving in 1917, propelling us forward with the characters. My favorite part of this featurette examines how the best scene in the film – where flares are constantly going off and casting shadows in a bombed-out town – was created. Deakins and company used models to figure out just how the shadows fell, and timed the flares themselves to get the exact length of the lighting. It all sounds very tedious, but the end result is perfect.
In 1917, “At the of the First World War, two young British soldiers, Schofield Captain Fantastic’s George MacKay and Blake Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman are given a seemingly impossible mission. In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers—Blake’s own brother among them.”
1917 opens in limited release on December 25, 2019 and wide on January 10, 2020.
Sam Mendes directed what many James Bond fans would call one of the best 007 movies ever made with the Oscar-winning “Skyfall,” but don’t expect the “American Beauty” and “1917” filmmaker to return to the spy franchise in the future. Mendes calls the Bond production machine “unhealthy” in a new GQ profile on 007 leading man Daniel Craig. Mendes went through a tumultuous production on “Skyfall” follow-up movie “Spectre,” which continued to have various script changes through the film shoot. That’s nothing compared to Craig’s “Quantum of Solace,” which started filming without a completed screenplay. Mendes says, “There has always been an element that Bond has been on the wing and a prayer. It is not a particularly healthy way to work.”
Bond’s on-the-fly production machine left Mendes and Craig emotionally and physically exhausted, so much so in the latter’s case that Craig infamously joked he’d rather “slit his wrists” than make another Bond movie. Craig was being hyperbolic, but he was serious about wanting to walk away. As the actor told GQ, “I was never going to do one again. I was like, 'Is this work really genuinely worth this, to go through this, this whole thing?' And I didn't feel...I felt physically really low. So the prospect of doing another movie was just like, it was off the cards. And that's why it has been five years.”
Mendes made headlines last December for being critical of getting involved with the Bond franchise. “When I think of them my stomach churns,” Mendes told The Sunday Times of his Bond movies. “It's just so hard. You feel like the England football manager. You think, if I win, I'll survive. If I lose, I'll be pilloried. There is no victory. Just survival.” The director added there are simply too many fans across the world to please when it comes to the James Bond films, saying, “Everyone has their own version of it in their head.
Craig’s next Bond outing, “No Time to Die,” will be his final time playing 007. The Cary Fukunaga-directed tentpole recently pushed back its release from April to the Thanksgiving holiday in November because of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.
The “hidden man” is how editor Lee Smith sees himself in 1917. Not for a second did Smith want audiences paying attention to his cuts or tricks, but to instead immerse themselves in director Sam Mendes‘ World War I story, which is constructed to take place in one seemingly unbroken take. Despite the obvious technical wizardry and razzle-dazzle, they pulled it off. Audiences were caught up in the feeling and exhilaration of 1917, not the craft of 1917.
The war pic isn’t the first time Smith and Mendes collaborated. The two worked together on Spectre, which involved a long take that gave the editor and filmmaker some ideas of how to accomplish 1917. Outside of Smith’s collaborations with Mendes, he’s edited several Christopher Nolan films, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and an underrated gem from the early 2000s, Buffalo Soldiers.
Recently, Smith spoke to us about his intense work on 1917, a few of the movie’s standout sequences, and doing what hasn’t been done before.
Congratulations on the movie. I think it’s an incredible accomplishment.
Thank you. I was definitely the hidden man on that one if I did my job correctly.
That’s what you always want anyway, right?
It’s impressive how you can admire the craft while watching it, but not in a way that makes the movie feel artificial.
That was the thing we always spoke about. The film itself had to be front and center. We never really wanted anyone thinking about how it was made while watching it because our leading thought was just making a great story with great performances. That’s what we were aiming for. As we started to test screen the movie, we realized we achieved that. A lot of people around us were talking about the technique before we started screening, so I’d go, “We gotta stop banging on about technique and make sure the movie works.” As soon as we started screening it, we realized everything is working and all the audience can do is talk about the film. That’s exactly what we wanted to do.
You were editing as they were filming and on the set often. Usually, you have so much time to decide on a take, so how intense was moving at that speed?
Yeah, you could say you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Every day I would watch the shoot the day before the shoot, which could run for two hours worth of material and 39 takes for big sequences. I’d have to talk to Sam in the morning. He’d tell me what he likes, I’d tell him what I like, and we’d ask each other why we liked certain takes. It was a fun conversation, but we had to make up our minds because they were setting up for the next shot.