On December the 18th 2019, Director Sam Mendes’ critically acclaimed war epic ‘1917’ premiered at the iconic Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, with cast members and production crew alike in attendance.
At the event, we were able to speak to some of the film’s many cast and crew, who provided tidbits of insight into the making of Mendes’ expansive $100 million epic.
‘1917’ is the first time that you have worked on a film that is presented as one continuous take. How did you adapt to this change in format?
Thomas Newman, Composer: “With this film, I was still composing for ‘areas’, but the challenge for me came from making the transitions between those areas as seamless as possible.”
The story and heart of ‘1917’ is based upon a memoir written by Sam Mendes’ Grandfather. Did you face challenges in adapting the spirit of it faithfully? What challenges arose from writing a film shot in real-time?
Krysty Wilson-Cairns, co-writer: “It is a hugely personal story for Sam, and so we did feel as if we had a duty to tell it respectfully, not only for his Grandfather, but also for the countless other men who served and gave their lives. Shooting in real-time made writing the script challenging at times, as we couldn’t retroactively change anything in the script after wrapping a scene.”
Much has been said about the film’s ‘one-shot’ approach, which saw up to nine minute takes stitched together seamlessly. What was it like for you as an actor working within that process?
Andrew Scott, actor: “The first time that I worked with Sam was in the Theatre, and this is what I would equate it to more than anything else, because there you have to get it absolutely right from start to finish, and there are no opportunities to start again if you make a mistake. So if you’re working through a seven minute scene, the challenge there is simply not to mess up, at all. If you mess up at minute five, then you start over, even if you’ve captured something that you’re pleased with.”
You’ve worked with Sam Mendes since 2003 as part of Neal Street Productions. ‘1917’ is arguably his most ambitious film to date, and an incredibly demanding production to boot. As producer you moved regularly with the cast during filming. What was that experience like for you?
Pippa Harris, producer: “It was pretty hard, because you’ve got to map out each and every scene, and you’re typically working across five to six days. We had to get everything to match up, the locations, the weather, things that normally you could cut around. It was definitely demanding, but also very enjoyable, as everyone was very collaborative, which made it a real joy to be on set.”
This is a film with a lot of ‘firsts’ – not least including your screenwriter role. However, it isn’t your first war film, with that being 2005’s ‘Jarhead’. What lessons did you carry over from that film into this one?
Sam Mendes, Director: “One of the things that I had brought over from that film was actually Cinematographer Roger Deakins. I’m sure that if we hadn’t have made that, then we wouldn’t have been able to make this one. We made Jarhead, then Revolutionary Road, then Skyfall – and now this, and it feels like a natural progression of those experiences, of working together. This film really had its own rules. The way we shot it, the way we rehearsed it, the way we designed it, the way we scored it – it is very much a film in the present tense, which is unusual. When you can’t cut, you rely on music to give you tempo and rhythm and pace. This film is also very personal for me, as my Grandfather’s stories were in my family from as long ago as I can remember, and I can say that I have gotten closer to him and his life as a result.”
‘1917’ is in Theatres worldwide January 10th, 2020.
(Images via Universal Pictures)