Roger Deakins on the ‘extreme pressure’ of making 1917 look like one take
The war film reunites the cinematographer with Jarhead director Sir Sam Mendes.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins has discussed the challenges of making war film 1917 look like one continuous take and revealed how his work with Sir Sam Mendes on Jarhead informed the production.
The Oscar-winning filmmaker is a frequent collaborator of the director, having worked with him on movies including Skyfall and Revolutionary Road, but said “the anxiety level is a lot higher” on the complex war film.
Deakins has said the longest shot in the film is actually nine minutes long and told the PA news agency: “That is not unheard of, doing it on any film, but the difference is that you’re doing it over and over again.
“Sometimes you might do a nine minute take, that is not unusual, but if something went wrong you would be able to cut away or you say ‘Well I like that bit so maybe we go wide here’, you don’t always say ‘OK we’ve got to go back to number one because eight minutes in it didn’t quite work or somebody tripped or the sun came out or something screwed up’, it’s a little bit different, the anxiety level is a lot higher.”
He added: “With those long takes, when you get towards the end you think ‘Now I’ve got to pan with them as they go round here and it’s really fast and am I going to get that right?’ and the pressure was pretty extreme really.”
Deakins and Sir Sam first worked together on the 2005 film Jarhead and the cinematographer said: “I thought Jarhead really informed this quite a lot, not only in terms of our working relationship but Jarhead was also a very personal story in terms of how it was trying to portray this one character’s experience, a true story, and so it’s the relationship of the camera to the subject I think was kind of similar.
“On Jarhead I shot everything handheld and in this it’s a different technique and on Jarhead we had cuts and in Jarhead we basically didn’t rehearse, we just shot, we shot the rehearsal handheld and it was like I was shooting a documentary, which was fantastic.
“This was like the antithesis of that, we had to rehearse so much and figure out all the shots, we had to do it so much that it just became second nature so that the actors weren’t actually aware they were working in a technical environment.
“They just had to do what they wanted to do for the character, rather than for the technique. There is a danger with this kind of thing that the technique overwhelms the story and the content.”
1917 is released in UK cinemas on January 10.