Sam Mendes, Roger Deakins Describe "Exhilarating" '1917' Production in 'Behind the Screen'

1917 BTS - roger deakins sam mendes - Publicity - H 2019
Universal Pictures

Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes and Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins take listeners behind the making of 1917 in a new episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Behind the Screen.

Mendes, an Academy Award winner for American Beauty, and Deakins, who has earned 14 Academy Award nominations and won the Oscar for 2017’s Blade Runner 2049, previously worked together on Jarhead, Revolutionary Road and Skyfall.

Universal's 1917 follows the story of two young British soldiers, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), as they race across enemy territory on the frontlines of World War I to deliver a message that could potentially save the lives of 1,600 of their fellow soldiers. To create the sense that it's happening in real time, it was lensed to appear as if it was one continuous take.

"I felt like that would immerse us in the world more completely and connect us to the emotional journey of the character more completely," says Mendes of his approach.

The movie was made by effectively stitching together a series of long shots, the longest of which was roughly eight and a half minutes. The work involved months of rehearsal and detailed blocking. Mendes and Deakins also describe the contributions of editor Lee Smith, the VFX team and the sound team to complete the experience.

As an example of the sort of work on a portion of one tricky shot, Deakins says, “The camera comes off a 50-foot Technocrane, it gets carried up the hill and walked backwards [with a] Mini Libra head. Then it gets put on another Technocrane that's on the back of a truck and it goes racing off and the grips that carried it are in uniform so they got paid as being extras. There was probably 13 grips and our camera car driver."

1917 was shot in various U.K. locations, from Salisbury Plain and Northumberland, to Glasgow and Bovingdon, in central England, where the filmmakers created more than a mile of trenches.

Hosted by THR tech editor Carolyn Giardina, Behind the Screen features the talent behind the making of motion pictures and episodic programs.

Hear it all below on Behind the Screen — and be sure to subscribe to the podcast to never miss an episode.