‘1917’ Cinematographer Roger Deakins Describes Intense ‘Tension’ Filming 8-Minute Long Shot

Cinematographer Roger Deakins has received continuous praise, and an Oscar nom, following his incredible work on '1917.' He spoke to HL about his approach to the film.

Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins nabbed his 15th Academy Award nomination today for his stunning vision brought to life in 1917. On February 9th, we will find out if Deakins will win his second Oscar — his first was for Blade Runner 2049 in 2018. In partnership with Best Director nominee Sam Mendes, Deakins brought their vision to life by filming the World War I movie in several long shots, the longest of which was 8-and-a-half minutes long. “The whole thing was written with these long sequences in mind,” the cinematographer revealed in an EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife at the National Board of Review. “I think it almost traps the audience with the characters. It certainly puts the audience in the character’s perspective. You’re with them all the time.”

Deakins continued to say that the longer cuts add an intensity to the film that might otherwise not be there. “If you’ve got a cut, you cut to a wide shot or something, in a way it’s a release. You’re giving the audience a way out. So I hope it works in that sense, that it’s almost claustrophobic, and sometimes you don’t even see what the characters are seeing. It’s that kind of sense of what’s going on around you and that kind of suspense,” he said.

When it came to filming the longest sequence in the film, during which viewers witness a frantic George McKay make his final run across the battlefield, Deakins said the tension was palpable. “It was sort of a dance — for everybody. Maybe it was a camera operator or the grip, and I was operating remotely and then there was the focus puller. And then there’s all the elements and the actors and it all has to be…it’s all intensely choreographed,” he explained. “It all had to work on the day, and then the weather had to behave because it had to be cloudy. As the shot went on, you get to four minutes, five minutes, the tension really rose.”

Tune into the 92nd Academy Awards on February 9, 2020 on ABC. Deakins’ 1917 is joined in his category for Best Cinematography by The IrishmanThe Lighthouse, Joker and Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood.

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