Sam Mendes’ “1917” finished a week before it started screening on Nov. 23 for audiences, first in New York and then Los Angeles. The positive reactions put it near the top of the Oscar best picture race. The film, which follows two World War I soldiers on a mission as they carry a message to prevent a catastrophic disaster, is conceived as a single continuous shot. The crafts combine to help create a big-screen event.
“The idea to do a single-take approach was devised by the film’s co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns (with Mendes). The goal was to draw the viewer down into the trenches following Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George Mackay) on their mission. Blake is more determined than his partner to complete it because his brother is serving on the front and time is of the utmost essence. Lee Smith’s editing masks the cuts, while Roger Deakins’ immersive cinematography guides the viewer. The cameras and operators were in the mud, the water and out on the field. Sometimes the audience sees things before the two soldiers do; other times they experience it at the same time. “[One-shot] is not right for every story,” Deakins said speaking to Variety‘s Tim Gray, “But it’s a great way to tell this particular story.”
From the trenches to the battlefield, Dennis Gassner’s production design is on point in creating the suspense and horrors of WWI.
Mendes relied on the reaction shots; the confusion, the determination, the emotion and the questions the men are facing as the core of the movie, and it packs a punch. “It felt like the best way to give you a sense of all this happening in real-time,” says Mendes of the continous-shot perspective. “I wanted you to feel like you were there with the characters, breathing their every breath, walking in their footsteps. The best way to do that is not to cut away and give the audience a way out, as it were.”