1917 Cinematography

1917 Cinematography

The 2019 film “1917” has been widely acclaimed for its cinematography, which was described as one of the most technically innovative and daring approaches ever made2. Directed by Sam Mendes and cinematographed by Roger Deakins, the film tells the story of two young British soldiers during World War I who are tasked with delivering a message that could save the lives of 1,600 men. The film was inspired by fragments of stories from Mendes’ grandfather, who served as a messenger for the British on the Western Front1. In this article, we explore the making of “1917” and the challenges faced by the production team in bringing this masterpiece to life.

1917 Cinematography

“1917” is a 2019 British war film directed and produced by Sam Mendes, who co-wrote it with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The film tells the story of two young British soldiers during World War I who are tasked with delivering a message that could save the lives of 1,600 men. The cinematography of the film has been widely acclaimed for its technical innovation and daring approach.

The film utilized more than 500 extras in an effort to retain as much authenticity as possible, and it called for body exhuming, bird conservation, and stringent cloud coverage2. Roger Deakins, the film’s cinematographer, won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on the film4.

The film’s single-shot approach and the technical brilliance on display have been praised, but some critics have argued that it doesn’t leave room for other important aspects of filmmaking, such as a strong story and interesting characters1. Despite this, “1917” remains a testament to the power of filmmaking and the dedication of those who work behind the scenes to bring stories to life on the big screen.

What was special about the filming of 1917?

1917 was filmed and edited to look like one continuous shot, giving the movie a unique and immersive feel. Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins carefully choreographed and tracked the camera to follow the two main characters as they traverse across trenches and no-man’s land during World War I. The one-shot technique was very challenging but added to the realism and helped put the audience in the shoes of the soldiers.

Why was 1917 shot in one take?

Director Sam Mendes shot 1917 in one continuous take to help immerse the audience in the experience of the two young British soldiers at the center of the story. Mendes wanted to convey the tension, confusion, and constant danger the soldiers faced as they raced against time to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 men.

The one-take approach places the viewer alongside the protagonists on their harrowing journey across the French countryside during World War I. This technique brings an immediacy and realism that would be difficult to achieve through more conventional editing methods.

What camera technique was used in 1917?

The main camera technique used in 1917 was the long tracking shot. Cinematographer Roger Deakins employed both handheld shots as well as shots using a stabilizing rig to follow the actors throughout the trenches, across the battlefield, and through bombed-out towns.

The extensive long takes required extremely precise choreography between the camera operator, focus puller, and actors. Deakins also made use of natural light, reflections, silhouettes, and other cinematic techniques to create striking visuals that contributed to the immersive, one-shot feel.

What are the details of film 1917?

Here are some key details about the acclaimed 2019 WWI film 1917:

  • Directed by Sam Mendes
  • Stars Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay as two British soldiers
  • Story follows their dangerous mission to deliver a message that could save 1,600 men
  • Filmed and edited to look like one continuous shot
  • Cinematography by Roger Deakins is immersive and visually stunning
  • Score by Thomas Newman designed to build tension
  • Nominated for 10 Oscars, won 3 (Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects)
  • Gritty realistic depiction of life in the WWI trenches
  • Shot on location in the UK and produced with a budget around $90 million
  • Runtime is 1 hour 59 minutes
  • Released by Universal Pictures in December 2019 to critical acclaim

How many shots did it take to film 1917?

While the final edited version of 1917 appears as one continuous shot, the film was actually captured across a series of extended long takes that were later stitched together invisibly by editor Lee Smith. It’s estimated there were around 60-65 shots that made up the final version of 1917.

The longest single shot was around 9 minutes, with most shots averaging 5-8 minutes. So while not literally one shot, through very clever cinematography and editing, the illusion of one seamless take was achieved for the entire film. This required extremely complex coordination and resulted in an immersive, real-time viewer experience.

What is the most impactful scene in 1917?

One of the most impactful scenes in 1917 is the river crossing scene. After surviving explosions and gunfire, the two soldiers plunge into a raging river and desperately try to reach the other side. One soldier starts to drown as the heavy current drags him under and the other soldier frantically tries to rescue him.

The extended shot creates an extremely tense, emotionally draining scene as the audience experiences every panicked moment. The relief when they finally make it across the river is palpable. This scene showed the resilience of the human spirit, the horror of war, and the bond between the two young soldiers. It left many viewers breathless and gained widespread praise for its masterful execution.

What is the main message of the movie 1917?

The main message of the movie 1917 is the futility and tremendous human cost of war. While the story centers on two soldiers racing against time to deliver a message, this mission serves as a framework to explore the endless trauma, pain, and devastation wrought by World War I. 1917 depicts the horrors of trench warfare, bombardments, gunfire, and toxic gas attacks in gripping detail.

As the young soldiers encounter death and despair, the film shows war’s capacity to crush human souls. Ultimately, 1917 underscores the waste of young lives and the fact that, in war, there are often no winners – only survivors haunted by the experience. The film carries an anti-war message while paying tribute to the courage of soldiers.

What is the longest single shot in a movie?

The longest uninterrupted single shot in a feature film is believed to be a 17-minute scene in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014). This technically impressive extended shot follows actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) through a busy New York theatre as he prepares for opening night, interacts with castmates, and experiences a mental breakdown.

Other films with famously long single shots include Touch of Evil (1958) with a 3 minute 20 second opening tracking shot, Russian Ark (2002) shot in one 96-minute Steadicam sequence, and Hunger (2008) with a 17 minute 33 second static shot of a tabletop conversation. While 1917 used stitching to appear as one shot, Birdman’s 17 continuous minutes remains the longest verified single take in cinema.

Why 1917 is a masterpiece?

Here are some reasons why 1917 is considered a cinematic masterpiece:

  • The innovative one-shot format creates an immersive, intense viewing experience like no other WWI film.
  • Roger Deakins’ Oscar-winning cinematography is visually breathtaking with incredible technical skill.
  • Sam Mendes’ direction is tightly choreographed yet intimate and emotional.
  • Thomas Newman’s pulsating score ratchets up tension and perfectly complements the visuals.
  • The haunting depiction of war’s brutality conveys a powerful anti-war message.
  • Acting is superb, especially from relative newcomers George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman.
  • The real-time unfolding of events has palpable dramatic impact.
  • Ambitious production design vividly brings the nightmarish world of the trenches to life.
  • Editing by Lee Smith is precision-engineered to look like one continuous shot.
  • Universal praise for its technical mastery and profoundly cinematic storytelling.

What are the themes in 1917?

Some of the main themes explored in 1917 include:

  • The brutality and senselessness of war – the film is an anti-war statement, showing the horrific conditions and devastating trauma experienced by WWI soldiers.
  • Courage and heroism – despite fear, the two young protagonists rise to the occasion and perseverance through daunting odds to save fellow soldiers.
  • The human struggle for survival – the soldiers’ exhausting journey is about enduring profound physical and emotional challenges.
  • The fleeting nature of humanity in war – the film highlights how easily human life is extinguished in battle.
  • The bond between soldiers – the two men forge a deep connection through their shared trauma and sacrifice.
  • Overcoming adversity through cooperation – the soldiers can only survive by relying on and protecting each other.
  • The loss of innocence – the naïve, wide-eyed youths are subjected to experiences that force them into premature adulthood.

Is 1917 a realism film?

Yes, 1917 can be classified as a realism film. It uses a gritty, realistic visual style and historically accurate production design to authentically capture the grim conditions on the frontlines of World War I. The cinematography employs natural light and muted color palettes to create the look of a documentary or newsreel. The extended takes allow events to unfold in real time, increasing the naturalism.

The horrors of trench warfare, No Man’s Land, bombed-out towns, and battle carnage are portrayed with unsparing rawness. The characters act and react like ordinary soldiers just trying to survive, not heroes. Their fatigue, terror, injuries, and losses all feel intensely real. With its unflinching portrayal of combat in WWI, 1917 offers a profoundly realist perspective on the suffering and chaos of war.

Why is 1917 called 1917?

The movie 1917 is set in the year 1917 during World War I. The title therefore reflects the historical time period in which the film’s fictional story unfolds. The year 1917 was a pivotal point in WWI. Although the war began in 1914, 1917 saw two important developments:

  1. The United States entered WWI in April 1917 after initially remaining neutral. This tipped the military balance in favor of the Allied forces against Germany.
  2. On the Eastern Front, the October Revolution in Russia led to the Bolsheviks taking power. This resulted in Russia’s withdrawal from the war with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918.

Using the year 1917 as the film title connects the movie’s events to these crucial turns in the war. It also signifies that the characters are engaged in a specific, decisive battle during WWI, not just a generic wartime setting. Calling the film “1917” grounds it in a historical context for audiences familiar with WW1 history. The title choice evokes both the realities of war in 1917 as well as its mythic status in history.

How many Oscars did 1917 win?

The 1917 film won 3 Academy Awards out of its 10 nominations at the 2020 Oscars ceremony:

  • Best Cinematography – Roger Deakins
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Sound Mixing

While favored as a front-runner, 1917 did not win Best Picture, which went to Parasite. However, winning 3 Oscars out of 10 nominations was a significant achievement that recognized 1917’s technical mastery and scope of vision. Specifically, the awards for Roger Deakins’ one-shot cinematography and the sound design were acknowledgments of how 1917 broke new ground in immersive, cinema-driven storytelling. The 3 Oscar wins solidified 1917 as one of the most critically praised and influential films of 2019-2020.

How much did 1917 cost to film?

1917 had an estimated production budget of around $90-100 million.

The high budget can be attributed to:

  • Extensive location shooting in the UK to recreate World War I battlefields.
  • Building complex sets for trenches, bombed-out French villages, and battlefield carnage.
  • State-of-the-art equipment needed for the one-shot filming technique.
  • Rigorous preparation and coordination required to choreograph and rehearse the extended, continuous takes.
  • In-depth research to provide historical accuracy for props, uniforms, weapons, etc.
  • Top talent like director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth on set.
  • Significant visual effects by VFX studio MPC to enhance battle sequences.
  • Marketing costs to promote the film widely as an Oscars contender.

Given the technical complexity of the one-take format and need for large-scale physical production, the $90-100 million budget was warranted to bring Sam Mendes’ ambitious vision to life authentically. The film’s critical acclaim and award recognition validated the substantial financial investment.

How many different scenes are in 1917?

While 1917 appears to be one continuous shot, there are actually dozens of distinct scenes that were seamlessly stitched together. Estimates put the total number of scenes or individual camera takes at around 60-65. These can be broken down into some of the major sequence highlights:

  • The trenches
  • No Man’s Land
  • The deserted farmhouse
  • The woods and river crossing
  • The bombed-out city
  • The truck drive through nighttime ruins
  • The burning town and church
  • The ruined farmhouse with baby
  • The final run across the battlefield

Within each setting there are smaller scenes with additional characters that play out in extended takes of 5-9 minutes. The range of distinct locations and scenarios encountered creates the illusion of one fluid story despite containing numerous self-contained scenes and set pieces. The immersive flow between scenes is a credit to the mastery of director Sam Mendes and editor Lee Smith.

What happens in the conclusion of the film 1917?

In the climactic conclusion of 1917:

  • Lance Corporal Schofield, raced against time, finally reaches the 2nd Battalion and desperately stops them from walking into a German trap. His vital message is delivered.
  • However, his fellow soldier Blake dies from his injuries sustained in the truck explosion, leaving Schofield devastated.
  • In the final shot, Schofield sits resting under a tree at nightfall. His hand is bandaged and he is battered and bloody from his harrowing ordeal.
  • Schofield looks at a photo of Blake’s family, a reminder of the friends and loved ones involved in the horrific ordeal of war.
  • The moment poignantly symbolizes how Schofield has been shattered both physically and mentally by combat.
  • Yet the existence of the tree offers a glimmer of hope for renewal as Schofield will carry on Blake’s memory.
  • The scene closes on this somber, reflective note about war’s terrible cost to human lives and spirits.

How successful was the movie 1917?

By all accounts, the WWI film 1917 was a major critical and commercial success. It garnered universal praise from critics, who lauded its technical feats, visceral storytelling, and anti-war message. 1917 won 3 Academy Awards including Best Cinematography for Roger Deakins. At the box office, 1917 grossed over $385 million worldwide against a $90 million budget.

It had a strong opening of $36 million in North America despite debuting in a limited number of theaters in December 2019. Audiences were drawn in by the uniqueness of the one-take concept and intense, big-screen experience that felt immersive. Thanks to glowing reviews and Oscar buzz, 1917 had impressive legs through January and February 2020 to become a global hit. The film helped renew interest in thoughtful, artistic approaches to war films while cementing Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins as masters of their craft.

Was 1917 a success?

Yes, by almost any measure, the World War I epic 1917 was a major critical and commercial success. Some reasons why:

  • Grossed over $385 million at the global box office against a $90 million budget.
  • Praised by critics as an innovative technical feat, earning a Metacritic score of 78 and Rotten Tomatoes score of 89%.
  • Won 3 Academy Awards including highly competitive Best Cinematography for Roger Deakins.
  • Lauded for its immersive one-shot format and harrowing portrayal of war’s brutality.
  • Hailed as a deeply cinematic achievement by director Sam Mendes.
  • Debuted strongly at box office despite limited initial release in December 2019.
  • Continued attracting audiences for months thanks to word of mouth and Oscar buzz.
  • Cemented Roger Deakins as one of the pre-eminent cinematographers working today.
  • Regarded as one of the most memorable war films in years thanks to its originality.
  • Helped revitalize the WWI movie genre through a modern filming approach.

Which film was shot in the shortest time?

The horror film Sweetheart was reportedly shot in just 12 days, which is likely one of the shortest shooting schedules for a feature film. Written and directed by J.D. Dillard, the low-budget Sweetheart was filmed on location in Fiji and centered on a woman stranded on a deserted island. Dillard cited the need for efficiency in the tropical location as motivation to complete principal photography in under two weeks. Other films famously shot on incredibly tight schedules include The Blair Witch Project (8 days), Reservoir Dogs (less than a month), and Pieces of April (17 days). While major studio films take months to shoot, independent films often necessitate condensed filming due to budget constraints. But abbreviated schedules can also boost creativity and spontaneity in the right hands. Sweetheart stands out as an ultra-fast 12 day shoot that nonetheless resulted in a finished feature.

What film has the longest scene?

The Russian film Russian Ark (2002) is believed to have the longest continuous scene in any film, consisting of a single 96-minute Steadicam shot. Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov, the film was shot entirely in one take at the State Hermitage Museum. It follows a time traveler moving through various historical eras as figures from the past appear. While the World War I movie 1917 was designed to look like one continuous take through invisible cuts, Russian Ark holds the record for the literal longest uninterrupted scene ever committed to film. Other films with especially long single shot scenes include Touch of Evil (1957) with its famous 3 minute 20 second opening tracking shot, the 17-minute war scene in Atonement (2007), and several of Alfonso Cuarón’s films including Children of Men and Gravity. But Russian Ark’s one continuous 96-minute shot stands as an unprecedented and unmatched achievement in extended cinematic takes.

What movie took the most time to shoot?

The 1998 terrence Malick war film The Thin Red Line reportedly took the longest time to shoot at 200 days. Due to delays and reshoots, the World War II epic had an exceptionally long production schedule. Other movies that had very lengthy principal photography includes:

  • Avatar (James Cameron) – 194 days
  • Titanic (James Cameron) – 160 days
  • The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu) – 159 days
  • Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming) – 125 days
  • Ben-Hur (William Wyler) – 120 days

The reasons for such prolonged filming often involve complex special effects, extensive location shooting, director perfectionism requiring many takes, production issues causing delays, adding new scenes, and the challenges of large-scale films with big budgets. While most films shoot for several months, Malick’s insistency on capturing the perfect natural light and battle scenes caused The Thin Red Line’s production to extend far beyond industry norms. The result was a visually stunning if narratively opaque war epic.

What lenses were used on 1917?

Cinematographer Roger Deakins utilized customized ARRI Master Prime lenses for the majority of principal photography on 1917. These high-resolution primes allowed him to shoot in challenging low light situations, while capturing incredibly sharp, detailed images. Deakins also made use of Angenieux Optimo anamorphic lenses for a few specific scenes requiring a wider field of view and the distorted, painterly look from anamorphic glass.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins utilized customized ARRI Master Prime lenses for the majority of principal photography on 1917. These high-resolution primes allowed him to shoot in challenging low light situations, while capturing incredibly sharp, detailed images. Deakins also made use of Angenieux Optimo anamorphic lenses for a few specific scenes requiring a wider field of view and the distorted, painterly look from anamorphic glass.

  • Kaiser’s abdication – Wilhelm II abdicated in November 1918 as German collapse was imminent.
  • Armistice – Germany finally agreed to an armistice ending fighting on November 11, 1918 before Allied forces could invade German territory.

So despite Russia’s earlier exit, the cooperation of the remaining Allies and the arrival of American forces eventually overwhelmed Germany’s overextended military and crippled economy, leading to its surrender and the Allied victory in November 1918. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 formally cemented the war’s end on terms heavily favoring the victorious Allies.

What country stopped fighting in 1917?

Russia was the major country that effectively stopped fighting in World War I in 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution. The events leading to Russia’s withdrawal from the war include:

  • The February Revolution in 1917 forced Czar Nicholas II to abdicate. A provisional government was established.
  • The October Revolution later in 1917 initiated the Bolshevik takeover of power under Lenin’s leadership.
  • In March 1918, Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, formally ending its participation in the war.

Russia’s reasons for seeking peace included war-weariness after years of heavy casualties, economic distress exacerbated by the war, and Bolshevik opposition to what they saw as a capitalist conflict.

With Russia knocked out after 1917, Germany was able to shift forces to the Western Front. But the entry of the U.S. into the war in 1917 replenished Allied manpower and helped turn the tide against Germany.

What is tree of life in Bible?

In the Bible, the tree of life is mentioned in Genesis as a tree in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve are forbidden to eat from after they eat from the tree of knowledge. It confers immortality. After they disobey and are expelled from Eden, cherubim guard the tree of life to prevent access to it. The tree of life is also referenced in Proverbs and Revelation symbolizing wisdom, eternal life, and paradise. Across various Biblical passages, the tree of life represents:

  • Immortality and eternal life, if eaten from
  • Access to divine wisdom and truth
  • The source of life and sustenance
  • Paradise, grace, and God’s favor
  • The splendor and perfection of the Garden of Eden
  • Renewed fellowship with God in Heaven

While its exact nature is unclear, the Biblical tree of life is a powerful symbol of enduring life, knowledge, and the abundant blessings of God available to the righteous. It points to the afterlife promise of Heaven.

Where is the tree of life today?

The tree of life is largely considered to be a theological concept rather than a physical tree that exists today. Various faith traditions have differing perspectives:

  • In Christianity, the tree of life described in Genesis is viewed metaphorically as a symbol of eternal life in Heaven with God.
  • In Judaism, Jewish mysticism texts speak of a supernal tree of life, but this is seen as a metaphysical construct, not a literal tree.
  • In Islam, the tree of immortality that Allah forbade to Adam is considered to have existed only in the heavenly paradise of Eden.
  • In other religions like Hinduism, the tree of life may represent the interconnectedness of creation, but is generally not placed in a geographic location.
  • Secularly, very old trees like the 5,000 year old Bristlecone Pine are sometimes referred to as trees of life.

So while various real-world trees may evoke the symbolism of the tree of life, theologically it is typically considered an archetype representing spiritual wisdom, eternity, interconnectedness, and paradise rather than a physical tree existing today.

Is the tree of life mentioned in the Quran?

Yes, the tree of life (Shajarat-al-Hayat in Arabic) is mentioned in the Quran. It refers to the tree in paradise that God forbade to Adam and Eve after they sinned by eating from the tree of knowledge. Key references include:

  • The tree of immortality with sustenance and eternal sovereignty. (Quran 20:120)
  • Evil whispers caused Adam & Eve to approach the tree leading to their expulsion. (Quran 7:19-22)
  • God told Adam to eat of the trees except the forbidden tree or else he will become of the unjust. (Quran 20:115-117)
  • Parable of a good word is like a good tree whose roots are firm with branches to the sky. (Quran 14:24-27)

Though not described physically, the Quranic tree of life represents humanity’s state of bliss and sustenance in paradise that was lost. However, trees elsewhere symbolize faith, wisdom, splendor, and guidance as signs of God’s glory. So the tree retains powerful spiritual symbolism in Islam.


The cinematography of “1917” has been widely praised for its technical innovation and daring approach. The film utilized more than 500 extras in an effort to retain as much authenticity as possible, and it called for body exhuming, bird conservation, and stringent cloud coverage2.

1917 Cinematography

The film’s director, Sam Mendes, and cinematographer, Roger Deakins, worked tirelessly to make a war-film unlike any other, and their efforts paid off with numerous awards and critical acclaim. “1917” is a testament to the power of filmmaking and the dedication of those who work behind the scenes to bring stories to life on the big screen. Consider reading >>>> Movies With Great Cinematography to learn more.