1917 follows the story of two British soldiers as they rush in trying to stop the British attack from falling into an ambush. The film received numerous awards and positive reviews and is credited as an incredible achievement in planning, camera work, and editing. The final result looks as if the film was shot in one take as it followed soldiers during their whole mission. However, this was achieved with a series of continuous uncut shots that were cleverly connected to give the feeling of one long take (Matthews). Although such a technique is not new, the intense war action makes the film much more complex from the filmmaker’s point of view. After watching the behind-the-scenes extras to this movie, some of the creative decisions behind 1917 can be seen.
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Roger Deakins, who was presented with a task to never use the same location twice, made the cinematography for the film. In order to accomplish the task of an action movie, which looks like it is shot in one take, the crew had to build a mini-model of every set (Giardina). The footage where the models are shown is included in the extra material, where it is compared to the actual movie. Those models helped the crew know how the scene should look.
For example, the movie contained a scene where soldiers were running through the destroyed city, and the only source of light in certain shots of the scene was the flare that was lit up. Flares could be unpredictable during the shooting, and are work in a very short period, so it was hard to rehearse this kind of scene. Hence, the crew tested it on a mini model of the city with the light contraption that traced which direction the shadows would move and how light would fall through the buildings’ windows.
Another challenge, which filmmakers had to overcome, is the editing of the scenes, so they look as they are made in one take. The filming had to take place in the same weather condition, meaning that in case the weather was too sunny or not consistent enough, the production had to stop (Giardina). Then, the cuts were made when the characters entered dark tunnels or were blocked by some objects. At other times, the camera work had to be really creative in ensuring movement forward. This was done by utilizing cranes and camera holders that allowed 360 degrees movement.
The famous battlefield run scene, where the main actor had to run across the trenches while the army attacked, is an example of how important the planning and the rehearsals were to the movie. And yet, the was a place for chaos and accidents, which made it to the final cut. The main character had to run a quarter of the mile while there were explosions everywhere around him, and other soldiers were running ahead. The amount of the explosives on the set allowed for only four takes. However, the scenes were rehearsed four months prior to the filming, so the scene was shot quickly. Nevertheless, one of the extra’s in the scene bumped into the main actor, causing his fall. It was accidental; however, the director decided to keep that in the final cut because it represented the chaos of the war.
From watching the extras and behind the scenes I realized how many creative decisions and pre-work have to be done in order to come up with something unique in film. It is not only the budget, expensive equipment and actors that make a good blockbuster movie. Instead, it is the groundbreaking technical work that make large scale production films a masterpiece.
Giardina Carolyn. Roger Deakins Shares Secrets Behind ‘1917’s’ Complex Choreography. Hollywood Reporter. Web.
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Matthews, Joshua. “Movie Review: 1917.“, 2020.