There was already plenty of buzz revolving around Sam Mendes‘ upcoming WWI movie 1917. That buzz has just gotten louder as the rumours are true: the film has been shot to look like one continuous take. The news was confirmed in a behind-the-scenes featurette (below).
Roger Deakins, arguably the best living cinematographer, has shot the film too, in case you needed any other reason to salivate over how impressive this thing is going to look.
The reason Deakins and the crew can pull this trick off is that the actual story of 1917 is quite simple. It takes place over just an hour and 50 minutes – unsurprisingly the runtime of the film – and follows two soldiers who are tasked with crossing enemy territory to hand-deliver vital news. Considering the real time narrative, Mendes wanted to make it as immersive as possible. He told Vanity Fair:
“It was fundamentally an emotional choice. I wanted to travel every step with these men – to breathe every breath with them. It needed to be visceral and immersive. What they are asked to do is almost impossibly difficult. The way the movie is made is designed to bring you as close as possible to that experience”.
Deakins also explained that because so much of the film is shot outside, they couldn’t really light each take. Because production took place in the UK, they decided to shoot the majority of the film under cloud cover. Thus on the rare days where the British sun was out, they had to wait for clouds to arrive or their “unbroken” shot would lack continuity.
“Every location had to be exactly the correct length for the scene. We had to walk every step the characters would take long before we designed the sets and built them. I’ve never rehearsed a movie for as long, or in such detail”, Deakins said.
This fake one-take technique has been tried recently in Hollywood with Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu‘s Birdman pulling if off in 2014. That film won Best Picture so producers are probably aiming that high too. Mendes and co., however, just want to make the best, most immersive film they can. It looks like there’s every chance they may just pull off one of the best cinematic experiences of the decade.
1917 opens in limited capacity on Christmas Day before expanding wide on January 10, 2020.