How Sam Mendes, Roger Deakins shot 1917 to look like one unbroken take
In a new making-of featurette from Universal Pictures, the Skyfall director and his Oscar-winning director of photography discuss their approach to presenting the World War I-set action-drama — about two young soldiers (George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman) as they search for the latter’s brother while attempting to deliver a life-saving message through battle-ravaged enemy territory — as if it were shot in one unbroken take.
“From the very beginning, I felt this movie should be told in real time. Every step of the journey, breathing every breath with these men, felt integral, and there’s no better way to tell this story than with one continuous shot,” Mendes says of the film’s visual style, which trains entirely on the leading duo as a means to immerse audiences into their struggle through the bloody trenches of war.
The video goes on to show Mendes and Deakins achieving the effect by using a mix of free-range cameras transferred from human hands to wire mounts to moving vehicles — sometimes all in the same sequence.
“This is endless exteriors. No location ever repeats, so you’re constantly moving through landscapes,” Mendes says. Deakins adds that the ever-changing weather proved particularly difficult to grapple with, forcing the cast and crew to film “in the lap of the gods” every minute. “Until you actually see it on a screen, you don’t realize how immersive it is and how that technique draws you into it.”
Widely expected to be a key player in the awards race, Mendes — who previously won an Academy Award for his work on 2000’s Best Picture-winning drama American Beauty — worked with a handful of his Skyfall collaborators (including Deakins and 14-time Oscar-nominated composer Thomas Newman) to bring the project to life.