1917—How Sam Mendes Made This Movie One Continuous Shot

Dean-Charles Chapman, director and co-writer Sam Mendes, and George McKay (Schofield) talk in a trench behind the scenes of the World War I movie 1917 (2019)

As if creating a war movie epic on WWI wasn’t a big enough challenge, 1917 director Sam Mendes took it to the next level by telling this legendary story in one continuous shot. Raising the stakes on the war movie genre, Mendes, along with co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, cinematography master Roger Deakins, and their incredible film crew, creates a hyper realistic point of view on the carnage of the First World War. 

Mendes’ new project follows the story of two young British soldiers in the midst of WWI who are given an impossible mission: to deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, including one of the soldier's brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap. Primarily capturing the journey of Schofield, one of the young soldiers played by George MacKay, Mendes shared that “The movie is essentially linear and moves through a huge variety of different locations, from the trenches, to No Man’s Land, to open countryside, farmland, orchards, rivers, woods, and bombed-out towns,” all done in one endless take. But creating a movie shoot like this wouldn’t be short on difficulties. 

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Schofield (George MacKay) in 1917 (2019)

Telling the story as one seamless shot meant that the whole cast and crew would face treacherous weather, not being able to cut, which would be difficult during editing, and not stopping if something (inevitably) went wrong. “We rehearsed for months and months beforehand,” confessed MacKay. “You get it drilled into you so you can let the scenes be real.” Each set location was designed and built to match the exact length of the scene, tracing each step that the actor would take; if the actors nailed each scene correctly, it would be immediately sent into editing. “What you achieve in a day goes into the film,” said MacKay.

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Schofield (George MacKay) in 1917 (2019)

1917 couldn’t have been completed without some technical innovation. Last year, Mendes came across one of the latest developments in filmmaking with the new Arri Alexa Mini LF camera, which is significantly lighter and more compact compared to most cinematic cameras. In order to achieve this continuous shot, Mendes knew he needed a camera that could fit into otherwise impossibly tight locations. According to Mendes, “Thanks to Arri, we got exactly this.”

Witness the stunning results of Sam Mendes’ WWI epic in a way that you’ve never experienced before when 1917 hits Regal on December 25th.

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