Raising the stakes on the war picture subgenre, Sam Mendes’ 1917 is told in one long camera shot.
The Universal release tells the story of two young British soldiers during WWI who are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop their own men, and Blake’s own brother, from walking straight into a deadly trap. Total lives that could be potentially saved? We’re talking about 1,600.
The whole single continuous shot take has been executed before in Hollywood history notably with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman. Pulling off the feat for Mendes is Blade Runner 2049 Oscar-winning DP Roger Deakins. “It looks incredibly difficult, said Deadline’s Peter White to Deakins. “Good, it was” replied Deakins.
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Said Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who co-wrote the script with Mendes, said the fact that 1917 was going to be one long shot “had to be innately in the script” so that one was reading from the two soldiers’ point of view. The whole technique is a means to draw the audiences into the action of the story.
“We rehearsed for months and months beforehand,” said actor George MacKay so that when it arrived time to shoot, the technical aspects of blocking came innately to the actors. “You get it drilled into you so you can let the scenes be real,” added MacKay. If the actors got a scene correctly blocked, rest assured that shot moved forward to the editor. “What you achieve in a day goes into the film,” said MacKay.
The actors in total prepped for six months, even going through a boot camp.
“We had to shape these men. They came to us as blobs,” said producer Pippa Harris, “Sam said ‘You’ll never be fit as that ever again’.”
Even though a trailer for 1917 was recently dropped, with the pic making a splash at New York Comic-Con, “Sam is still tinkering with it,” said Harris.
1917 hits theaters on Christmas Day.
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