Steps of the Journey
Departments Work As One
Mendes would not have been able to consider shooting a movie in such an
unusually daring way without the steadfast support of his core group of
collaborators, many of whom he had known for decades. As a great number of the
crew had worked together previously, there was an easy camaraderie and
shorthand. This symbiosis would prove beneficial, as all departments needed to
be fully prepared before stepping onto the sets. In fact, 1917's intense
rehearsal process was quite similar to the preparation of a piece of theater.
Producer Jayne-Ann Tenggren has worked with Mendes for more than 18 years,
and 1917 marks the third time that producer Callum McDougall and co-producer
MICHAEL LERMAN (Spectre) have collaborated with him. For cinematographer Roger
Deakins, this is his fourth outing with the director, while 1917 marks
production designer Dennis Gassner's fifth Mendes collaboration.
Makeup and hair designer Naomi Donne, production sound mixer Stuart Wilson,
supervising location manager Emma Pill, stunt coordinator Benjamin Cooke and
editor Lee Smith have all worked with the director before, and composer Thomas
Newman has created the scores for six prior Mendes films.
Joining Mendes for the first time are costume designers Jacqueline Durran and
David Crossman, casting director Nina Gold, VFX supervisor GUILLAUME ROCHERON
(Life of Pi) as well as set decorator Lee Sandales, prosthetic designer Tristan
Versluis and SFX supervisor Dominic Tuohy.
Mendes reflects that what made 1917 differ from any other movie he has made
is the way in which his entire team constructed it. Mendes says, "It was such a
unity. The collaboration between heads of department and my main collaborators
was daily, and started much earlier in the process than ever before. We
rehearsed for seven or eight weeks on and off location. Everyone was involved
and continued to be involved throughout the shoot. That's very moving when you
see such great artists at work, all as equals, with immense mutual respect, and
very little hierarchy."
Rehearsing World War I
Although all films require preparation, the prep period for 1917 was even
more important than on conventionally shot films. In fact, it was paramount. The
technical demands of how the epic would be shot meant that every step of the
journey had to be timed precisely during rehearsals.
Mendes admits that the challenges of prepping were the challenges of getting
ready for a normal movie...times five. "You have all the things you normally have
to do," Mendes says, "but here we simply had to work in much more detail. For
example, we had to measure every step of the journey. It's fine to write, 'They
walk through a copse of trees down a hillside, through an orchard, around a
pond, and into a farmhouse,' but the scene had to be the exact length of the
land. And the land could not be longer than the scene! We had to rehearse every
step of the journey, every line of dialogue on location."
The level of detail called for Mendes, MacKay, Chapman, Deakins, Gassner,
supporting cast, key creatives and team members to rehearse not just on
location, but on a huge soundstage at Shepperton Studios. There, they marked out
on the floor the dimensions of the sets for each scene. Every step of the
journey was rehearsed in this space. "We were in this massive room, the
rehearsal room, with all these cardboard boxes stacked up around us to sort of
map out the set shape," Chapman says. "Sam already knew exactly how the blocking
should look, but sometimes we'd come across something that didn't sync right or
didn't look right. When that happened, Sam would just stand there, he'd close
his eyes, think about it, and then just solve it. I've never seen anything like
that. His ability to do that was amazing."
Next, they went out on location for tech rehearsals. "This world had to be
crafted around the rhythm of the script," Mendes says. "You can't just jump 100
yards in a cut. If your location is 100 yards too long, you're not going to have
the scene that lasts the journey; the two things are obviously interlinked. That
made the prep much more complicated than normal. In many ways, it was more fun,
because we had to do it very early and walk the land, and physically feel the
reality of their journey. Then, we had to discuss and test the camera movement
and positioning for every moment of every scene, long before we shot it."
As well as storyboards, a schematic document of diagrams was created to
accompany the script. This mapped out where each character was moving at any
given time, as well as exactly where the camera would be during any given
scene-and in which direction it would be pointing.
By the time prep was finished, producer McDougall was confident that his team
was more than up to dealing with the myriad complexities of the shoot. "When you
have a film as well-prepped as we were-and with the expertise of the people
we've engaged-with our locations, production team, special effects and other
departments, we knew that whatever would be thrown that we were able to handle,"
During prep, Deakins and his crew were working on the camera moves and how
they would be able to complete a shot without cutting-all while constantly
moving. At times, the camera would need to seamlessly interchange-using a
variety of rigs during a take, which could involve a Steadicam operator,
followed by a wire cam and back to the operator on foot or on a vehicle.
One of the biggest challenges of production was that they were unable to
employ long-familiar tools. "We're used to having coverage and cuts and camera
placement to tell a story," Mendes says. "We can normally change the pace in
editing. We can tweak performances, timing, rhythm, dialogue. That is the
language of film. You can cut to a wide shot to establish geography for example,
or you cut to a close up and push in to feel connected to a character. We didn't
get to play with any of those tools with 1917, yet we still had to do all of
Getting Soldier Ready
Ex-paratrooper Paul Biddiss (Jason Bourne), the film's military technical
advisor-who served in the British Army for decades-put the main players through
their paces. To get them into the mindset of a soldier, he began their training
with extensive marching. Biddiss explained that once his men were in a uniform,
there were rules about what was expected of them. They were also taught the
importance of looking out for fellow soldiers, as well as bonding and
In Bovingdon, prior to the start of shoot, there was a boot camp to prepare
the actors for the scenes filmed there. As these were more sedentary, the
purpose of the camp was to learn primarily about trench life. The follow-up
Salisbury boot camp required more detail about tactics and aggression, as the
crowd selected for this trench-run scene was required to be more physically
"Contrary to popular belief, the soldiers of World War I didn't just get out
of a trench and run like a bunch of banshees towards the enemy," Biddiss says.
"They had section objectives. We needed to teach our performers how to move in
sections, under their section commanders, as well as how the Lewis gunners and
the Vickers gunners would operate to cover arcs."
The main cast and crowd were taught weapons handling and safety, plus how to
wear their webbing-how it is fitted, and from the rounds and the masks to the
water pouches...what equipment goes where. Biddiss also made a point to emphasize
with the importance of foot care with the principal cast. "It was the first
lesson I taught them," Biddiss says. The main cast, like actual World War I
soldiers, were not used to working in military boots, so the lessons helped them
avoid blisters from all the leg work required of them each day.
George MacKay found all of it invaluable. "Every time we'd do those
rehearsals Dean and I would put on the boots and the webbing, and work on just
really simple things like taking ammunition out of a pocket," MacKay says. "The
first time we did it, we were all fingers and thumbs. Or we'd kneel, and all of
our ammunition would fall out. We were just really green in the beginning, but
little by little, day after day, it becomes second nature."
The production also engaged the expertise of military historian ANDREW
ROBERTSHAW (War Horse), a former Military of Defense civil servant who spent
many years excavating trenches and mine craters in France and Belgium.
Robertshaw and Biddiss worked closely with JOSS SKOTTOWE (Spectre),
ex-military supervising armorer, and stunt coordinator Benjamin Cooke with the
main cast and crowd. The roles complemented one another-from explaining the
intricacies of the war, to the requisite soldier behavior, through how to load,
fire and reload weapons and apply dressings, in addition to how to approach the
reality of going over the top and all it might entail...
Margins for Error
Fulfilling Mendes' Mission
Implementing Mendes' painstaking plans meant ensuring a viable frequency
range was maintained to get the video and sound back to the director on his
monitor. As mentioned earlier, Deakins was often stationed with the focus puller
and DIT in a small white van, remotely operating the camera even if it was being
carried, frequently operating the camera remotely across huge distances.
During takes, Mendes was in a customized "horse box" with co-producer/first
assistant director Michael Lerman and script supervisor NICOLETTA MANI (Mission:
Impossible-Fallout). Producers Harris and Tenggren, along with writer
Wilson-Cairns and video operator JOHN 'JB' BOWMAN (Skyfall) were alongside the
director in another small trailer.
Due to the nature of the 360-degree shoot, those crew whom would normally be
behind the camera often could not stand alongside the set. A small group of key
crew would place themselves in a safe spot and all others, including the tech
trucks and support, were based much further away. On occasion, it was not
possible to keep everyone far enough away, which meant that, in post-production,
VFX would need to paint out whatever should not be in the frame.
Directly outside Mendes' horse box was a large black rehearsal tent for
playback. This allowed him to talk through the shot with the actors and Deakins,
as well as other key head of departments.
It was difficult to have a normal video village set up, as well as sound and
checks areas for makeup and hair, costumes and other departments. Another large
tent was set up with monitors and chairs to accommodate these crew members.
The need to be in sync with the actors and the complexity of the camera
movements meant there was no margin for error. Not only in prep was it vital to
rehearse, but also on every single day of filming. Mendes, the actors, Deakins,
the camera team and the rest of the crew would rehearse for a large part of the
day-until the light was ideal and everyone was primed and ready for the take.
While that might sound a bit draconian, Mendes was quite mindful that,
regardless of the planning, what he hoped for-however much he conceptualized-was
that the team embraced what could happen when they were all discovering the
undefinable. "If it had just gone to plan, in a way I'd be disappointed," Mendes
says. "What was exciting was when it went to plan...and then something unexpected
happened. As in all moviemaking, you always hope for happy accidents." Mendes
says, "It could be a look, a way the light falls or something that somebody
accidently says on that particular take...and it ends up in the movie. No matter
how much you imagine a scene, it can never stand up to the reality of actually
doing and seeing it. Part of the job was to leave myself available for moments
of inspiration, accidents or unplanned changes. You get to a certain point where
what you want to see is the shot you'd imagined. You get it, and then you have
to sit back and say, 'Yes, we've got that now... but is it enough? Could there be
other things happening we haven't conceived?' In almost every case, the answer
THE PRODUCTION DESIGN
Marrying Script to Mileage
Designers Lead the Charge
As the majority of Mendes and Wilson-Cairns' screenplay exists in the
exteriors, and no location through which the two principal characters move
repeats on screen, the enormity of the challenge in front of Oscar-winning
production designer Dennis Gassner and his colleagues was obvious to all
With the landscapes came the inescapable and unpredictable British weather.
Because the story is linear, the weather needed to consistently match from
scene to scene. While the production could control many aspects of the shoot,
weather would never be one of them. Armed with a Farmer's Almanac and
weather.com, Gassner examined multiple weather forecasts-from long range to
daily and hourly. At the mercy of the sun, clouds, rain, sleet and snow, the
indefatigable crewmembers crossed their fingers and said respective prayers
every night before the next shooting day. "You've never seen a group of people
so happy for bad weather," George MacKay says. "You get a bit of cloud of and
everyone will be like, 'Okay, let's go!' We're going to get two shots today!'"
Gassner has known Mendes for two decades and Deakins for three and offers
that their shorthand was the only way they could accomplish so much in such a
period. "I needed to build the world, Roger needed to light it, and Sam needed
to take us on the journey," Gassner says. "That connection among the three of us
was wonderful. We all did our jobs in the best way that we were possibly able to
do." The production designer extends the kudos to his fellow crew. "Everybody on
the production was so engaged," Gassner says. "I've never seen a film crew that
bonded together in such a strong way. It was technically really hard work. That
focus kept driving us forward to see what we were going to get. We got through
this because of all of our experiences...and a tremendous amount of luck."
Weather, Research and Planning
Although the weather occasionally presented challenges, for much of the shoot
the cast and crew of 1917 were blessed with dry, overcast days, crucial to the
matches that director of photography Deakins and editor Smith needed for scene
continuity. The not-so-flexible schedule of 65 days had little weather cover
inherent within. This meant Mendes' production was to be almost completely
exposed to the elements...for the majority of the time that was allotted to shoot.
Due to the duration of time at the locations, planning permissions and
numerous surveys were required for the building of sets. It was a massive
undertaking for supervising location manager Emma Pill and her locations team.
The unpredictable weather and constant movement on location created major
obstacles for the filmmakers, cast and crew, which they had to collectively
overcome. No stranger to lensing in the most complex of environments-007 films
are no joke-their captain had to take the elements in stride.
"Every location brings its own set of challenges," Mendes says. "Whether you
are shooting on land, shooting someone being carried down a river without being
able to cut-or traveling large distances through nighttime landscapes at great
speed-these are all immense challenges in different ways. Even if the weather is
perfect, each challenge has its own particular degree of difficulty."
Thanks to the extensive preparatory period, Gassner and his team carried out
a fastidious amount of deep-dive research. Inspired by the meticulous script,
his crew delved into archive material, photographs, art and other material from
As drawings, concept art, plans and set models evolved, the art department
found Mendes' rehearsals quite valuable. They allowed them to precisely plot out
the sets before they broke ground for the actual set builds. "It was all about
planning," Gassner says, "as well as the choreography, marrying the script to
the mileage-to how far we were going to have to go, step by step. It was an
amazing amount of work, and I have to say that I enjoyed it the whole time."
Pill and her team had the mammoth task of scouting multiple, massive-scale
locations at the same time other locales were being prepped, built upon, filmed
on and then struck...all over the country. "In Salisbury, we had the opening of
the movie and the opening trench," Pill says. "We're then at Bovingdon, where we
had the second-line trench moving into the frontline one. We also had No Man's
Land, which took us into the German trenches."
When not building "underground" sets for the German dugout at Shepperton
Studios-or the German tunnel set that was constructed in a Salisbury barn-Pill
was dealing with an Oxfordshire location, which served as a large quarry that
brings Blake and Schofield out of the enemy's tunnels and into an abandoned
ammunition site. "That then leads us to Salisbury Area 8, which takes us from a
copse down through a built French farm set, which takes us up a hill on a convoy
route that takes us to another location in Salisbury," Pill says. "This is
called Tinker's Track, which takes us to the canal in Glasgow...which takes us to
our backlots at Shepperton."
That still wasn't all. "That then takes us to a river in County Durham, where
we used a location, which is a white-water rafting center in Stockton-on-Tees,"
continues Pill, "which then takes us to the woods, Salisbury Area 14." Quick
pause... "Which then brings us out onto the final battle here, and then takes us
back to Area 2 at Salisbury for the end of the movie."
One of four art directors under the production designer's supervision, ELAINE
KUSMISHKO (Beauty and the Beast) was responsible for all trenches used in 1917.
From the Western Front where we meet Schofield and Blake to the trenches held by
Developed in central England, at Bovingdon, the almost-mile-long of trenches
were dug and dressed with great attention to detail. "This location was chosen
because of the duration of time that we could have the area," says Kusmishko.
"We had the frontline trench, which automatically leads into No Man's Land,
which we needed to show as a continuous set. That was quite a bit of land,
especially flatland that was required."
Out of historical accuracy, the team's German trenches were built quite a bit
wider than the Allied ones. Essentially, the enemy was there to stay. "They
always thought it was going to be a long-term war and bunkered in," Kusmishko
says. "They fortified their areas with concrete shoring and they really worked
on their trenches. The Allies basically showed up and thought they were going to
just take ground straight away; they believed they'd move forward and advance on
the Germans. They never realized they were going to be there for so long."
All that painstaking attention to detail had a profound impact on the actors
during filming. "George and I were standing in a trench on set in Bovingdon, the
rain was coming down really hard, and we were just waiting for it to pass,"
Dean-Charles Chapman says. "In the trenches there's not much cover at all, and
while we were standing there, George tapped me on the shoulder and pointed
beyond me to the background actors. They were all in their uniforms, and they
were all trying to get under this tiny bit of metal from the trench. I remember
looking at that and thinking, 'That is exactly how it would have been 100 years
ago: these men just waiting, bored, cold, trying to get cover from the rain.'"
Not to be outdone by a locations manager that eschewed sleep for several
months or the four art directors, set decorator Lee Sandales and his team
sourced nearly all the dressing seen in 1917. "Much of it was made, like our
German guns, which were in the quarry set," Sandales says. "We also had to make
6,000 shell casings for that set, as well as all the defensive gates, which were
then covered in layers of barbed wire. We also had to research, find and
purchase a lot of the set dressings for the rest of the production. We traveled
to multiple markets up and down the U.K. and to the south of France and Paris to
build up enough stock."
From Scotland to Southwest England
Locations of the Epic
Shot across the U.K., 1917's locations included Govan docks in Glasgow,
Scotland, the River Tees in North England, a disused quarry in Oxfordshire,
Bovingdon Airfield in Hertfordshire and Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, where the
Ministry of Defense owns 94,000 acres of land. In sum, during production, the
length of trenches dug at Bovingdon and Salisbury were an astonishing 5,200 feet
(approximately one mile).
Bovingdon Airfield was chosen for its proximity to Shepperton Studios and the
vast size of the site (60 acres). The height of set builds had to be taken into
consideration due to a National Air Traffic Services radar station in an
adjoining airfield. The art, construction and greens departments arrived in
January 2019 to commence prep, and the site was returned to its original state
and handed back by locations in early September. The Bovingdon trenches were
clay, and approximately 2,000 feet (610 meters) of Allied trench was built at
this location across both fields.
The Allied Trenches
To design the frontline trenches, the art department undertook a great deal
of research and discovered many Allied trenches with different construction
techniques. The frontline trenches created were almost all similar in width to
the ones in which the soldiers would have been fighting during World War I.
Primary considerations were safety and drainage. As the trenches had 15-degree
angles, shoring was required. The earth walls were retained with posts and
boards to prevent collapse. In addition, a combination of materials was used to
cover the framework and finish the look. These included textured, painted
timber, plaster-sheeted earth, corrugated iron and sandbags. Wire mesh- and
wattle-fencing were aged, and the paint team had a separate crew who would
travel down the trenches-with axes chains and hammers-to establish the requisite
No Man's Land
No Man's Land's set was split into two sections. There was the main section
from the "up and over" to the far side of the large shell crater. There was also
a repeat of a small section of the back rim of the large crater to the German
frontline trenches. It became a vast, bleak landscape with deep mud and craters,
barbed wire and the dead bodies of soldiers and horses. Due to its open nature,
the entire 360-degrees of the set had to be scanned by the VFX team for
The German Trenches differed from the Allied ones in many ways, but primarily
in size. During World War I, these trenches were dug deeper and wider. In
addition, different materials-such as concrete and constructed-timber
shuttering-were used to reinforce. The Germans also created vast trench systems
and dugouts much deeper and more extensive than the Allied ones. This meant they
were better able to protect and support their troops during key periods of being
dug in. The length of the German trenches here was approximately 330 feet (100
Ambrose Quarry, Oxfordshire
Ambrose Quarry is owned by Grundon Sand and Gravel Ltd. Founded in 1929, it
is one of the leading suppliers of sand and aggregates in the U.K. for
construction, landscaping, decorative and leisure markets. The set was vast and
chalky and served as the location where Schofield and Blake exit the German
dugout after an explosion. The lance corporals find huge guns that the Germans
have destroyed, as well as empty shells littered across the quarry.
Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire
Salisbury Plain was chosen because of its wide-open landscape, one that could
pass for France. Most open landscapes in the U.K. are either open-moorland or
dominated by hedge lines, stone-walling, villages and transmission towers, but
not Salisbury Plain.
Filming took place in Wiltshire, which is in southwest England, covers 300
square miles (775 square kilometers) and stretches into Hampshire and Berkshire.
It is a system of chalk-down lands with grassland, arable farmland and areas of
trees. Salisbury Plain is famous for its archaeology, including the world-famous
Stonehenge. A vast part of the plain has been used by the British military for
training purposes for more than 100 years. Therefore, much of the land remains
in a natural state. In certain areas, as far as the eye can see, there is little
to no evidence of modern living.
Planning permission was required for the set builds and-due to the sensitive
nature of the area-ecology, archaeology and geophysical surveys were required.
Daily during prep, shoot and strike, locations had to liaise closely with the
military as well, due to it being near a live-training site.
The construction department commenced excavation at Area 2 at Salisbury in
late February 2019, with the work ongoing up until filming took place. This
trench was chalk, as opposed to the Bovingdon clay one. Still, the Area 2 trench
was constructed in the same manner as Bovingdon's, using the same materials.
The French farmhouse, barn and the other outbuildings were built in workshops
at Shepperton Studios and then transported. Plaster sheeting and spreading,
aging of timbers and painting finishes were all carried out on site. Once the
set was complete, it looked like the farmhouse, barn, outbuildings and orchard
had been there forever.
Area 14 was chosen as a location due to its landscape and topography. The
combination of the copse that leads out onto a rising hillside was just what
Mendes required for the scenes where Schofield reaches the 2nd Battalion
frontline trenches. The quantity of chalk and top soil excavated from the site
to create the trenches measured approximately 1,615 tons. The length of the
trenches dug at Area 14 was approximately 2,500 feet (762 meters). For each
trench-run take, the SFX pits exploded approximately 35 tons of material into
Govan Graving Docks
River Clyde, Glasgow
For the canal-side scene in which Schofield and a German sniper battle it
out, locations found a former boatyard in Scotland that worked perfectly. With a
set build and dressing it was made to look like an industrial canal with a
destroyed bridge. The VFX team extended the set to make it look like a complete
Govan Graving Docks is a historic, listed site and planning permission was
required for filming, including conversations with structural engineers. The
locations and greens departments spent the first three weeks on site, from
mid-April, clearing the extensively overgrown land. The exterior of the existing
listed lockhouse was covered with a set build for exterior filming, and this was
matched to the lockhouse that was crafted on the backlot at Shepperton Studios
for interior scenes.
Low Force, County Durham
Low Force is an approximately 18-foot (5.5-meter) set of falls on the River
Tees in Upper Teesdale, County Durham. The water levels needed to be constantly
monitored, as MacKay and his stunt double were in the water at the falls, then
swept along by the rapids. A large fallen tree was lowered in sections down to
the river bank. It was then assembled and placed in the water for Schofield to
clamber across. Alongside it, dead bodies the prosthetics department made were
carefully set in the water.
Tees Barrage International Whitewater Centre
To shoot the motion sequences of Schofield in the river rapids, the team
headed to Tees Barrage-part of Tees Active-a 300-meter whitewater-course
outdoor-activity center on the River Tees in North East England in County
Durham. Testing took place across various dates in the run-up to shoot-with the
stunt, marine and camera departments, including trials with Mendes and MacKay.
The production took over the backlot at Shepperton Studios in Middlesex to
build the sprawling Ecoust set, as well as for some VFX-element shoots.
Extraordinarily impressive, the Ecoust set was a destroyed French town where
Schofield runs through in the dark from German gunfire. Representing a fully
functioning town that had been systematically shelled, the huge set included
crumbling buildings and shops, destroyed streets, a schoolhouse and a burning
THE COSTUME DESIGN
Individuality in the Ranks
Outfitting the Soldiers
Research for the costume department commenced in summer 2018. As World War I
is a much-covered period on screen, the costume designers, Jacqueline Durran and
David Crossman, felt it was important to bring the unique to this massive
undertaking. The department had a core team of 27 working full time, which
included the design team, costume makers, costume assistants, ager dyers and
prop makers. For the biggest crowd days, the department grew to approximately
Durran, Crossman and their crew closely examined hundreds of original
photographs, enlarging them to try and reveal details that highlight the
soldier's individual nature. In fact, World War I uniforms were not all the
same. They were customized by the men who wore them and conveyed aspects of
Within these photographs, there were images that became key to reference. The
costume team looked at the way in which things were worn, personal items such as
jewelry and knitwear, and the customization of jackets and coats. All intel was
taken into consideration for the key characters-as well as when dressing the
It was key for the director that we sense character from even the smallest of
roles. "Everyone has a sense of individuality," Mendes says. "It wasn't so much
a uniform. These were the clothes that they lived in for years. In many cases,
you can tell as much about the man from the little bits of clothing he
wears-which were sent from home-as from the things he has been given by the
Among the masses of khaki uniforms, systems of colored-cloth badges evolved
in the trenches. Commonplace by 1917, this allowed different units to be
identified quickly on the battlefield. This colored divisional insignia became a
major topic of research to create a reliable system within the film. Of course,
they needed to map out where Schofield and Blake were in France, and what their
journey through the trench lines would be.
Durran and Crossman found suitable divisions to which they could belong, or
serve alongside, and then went about finding the right insignia for the
locations. This enabled the costume department to give different sequences in
the film individual insignia systems, which can be seen on the soldiers
throughout the story, culminating in the Devonshire's depiction in the final
The rehearsal process was beneficial for Durran, Crossman and their team, as
well as the cast. "It was very useful for the actors as well as for us because
as we did fittings over the weeks they'd be doing more and more rehearsals with
Sam," Crossman says. "They'd get to know what they had to wear and became
completely acclimatized to working in all the webbing, helmet and all of the
One of the main items Schofield wears is a 1902-service-dress tunic with
brass shoulder titles that depict his regiment. Subdued lance corporal stripes
denote his rank, and maroon divisional badges are worn on his upper sleeves.
Durran and Crossman wanted him to wear every layer that a soldier would. They
started with wool underwear, then a grey neckband shirt, a civilian
cardigan-sent from home or the Red Cross-hobnail boots, grey wool socks, wool
trousers and canvas braces.
The costume department made some "field repair" details to Schofield's
sleeves. They cut the tunic slightly too big for MacKay, as it was designed to
accommodate layers of clothes underneath. He also wore a leather jerkin, which
had replaced the heavy and cumbersome wool greatcoat. These would normally be
taken away for spring in April 1917, when the story is set, but Crossman
discovered that year was very cold and soldiers on the Western Front continued
to wear these items for longer. He also found out that it snowed on April 10
(the story takes place on April 6).
In addition, Schofield also wears a personal scarf, which can be seen
protruding from his collar. Finally, for continuity purposes, Schofield had
25-30 uniforms. His helmet is a Brodie Mark I with a maroon band painted on to
denote his division.
Much as they did with Schofield's outfit, Durran and Crossman made Blake's
costume individual to his character. Together they form an example of how two
identically ranked soldiers, serving side by side, would have looked different
on the Western Front.
Blake wears the same items as Schofield, though his jerkin leather is a
different color and texture. He wears 1914-pattern equipment, which was issued
as a stopgap during canvas-'08 pattern equipment shortages earlier in the war.
He also wears a privately purchased ID bracelet, along with inexpensive gold
rings. His helmet is the same as Schofield's with the addition of a regimental
badge on it, which was common practice.
His cardigan is more like a military-issue item, as opposed to Schofield's
civilian version. Blake's lance corporal stripes are standard issue, while
Schofield wears subdued versions. For continuity, Blake had 24 uniforms
throughout the film.
Dressing the Crowds and Officers
Because of the fluid nature of the film, the correct ratio of NCO's
(sergeants, corporals, etc.) and officers (lieutenants, captains and the like)
were required for each scene and were dressed into the shot as required.
The crowd was supplied with as many layers as possible to achieve a good
silhouette and demeanor. An under-wool shirt, tunic, jerkin and webbing were
standard issue. The equipment was fully loaded with two gas masks and
groundsheet. For good measure, the mess tins and rations bags were hung off
their backpacks as well.
Overall, the officers' uniforms were made in the costume workroom and most of
the crowd costumes at the production's costume company in Poland. Durran and
Crossman had developed wool fabrics in the past with this group, which proved a
massive help when it came time to manufacture. Some uniforms were stock, and
around 300-400 were made. One officer's costume would take around two weeks to
make. The process was spread over several weeks, as it is made in stages, and
then refined through a series of fittings with the actors.
One of the biggest concerns was to get the look of the helmets right for the
film. Often, film and television productions have repurposed World War II
helmets to shoot World War I projects, as a cost-saving measure. That's because
the Brodie helmets of the Great War no longer exist in large numbers. But that
kind of corner cutting wouldn't do for this film. At the time the film is set,
the helmet shape was different and was undergoing both invention and
development. So, to capture this moment in time authentically, the helmets in
1917 appear to differ in size on different soldiers in the film. The helmets
often had ridges, or stretch marks, from the type of factory production, or
steel, that was used.
The scale of the helmet on a man of today may also look different, due to the
fact that humans are taller and larger than we were 100 years ago. The costume
department scanned some original helmets and built a faithful 100 percent copy
on a computer. They then scaled up some of the helmets to 105 percent to 108
percent. With the proportion altered, the silhouette was now correct on
modern-day actors and background artists.
Around 300 helmets were made for the production, which was more cost-
effective than trying to source the actual items. They appear to be made of
metal but are not. The remainder were covered in hessian and other rough
fabrics, as was done during the war.
Often helmets had cruise visors, which resembled a chain metal curtain, to
prevent eye wounds. These were issued to 100,000 men across the Western Front
and many were worn turned to the back of their heads, due to the heavy weight.
German Uniforms and Gear
Much like the British, the Germans wore heavy wool uniforms; though, for
economy, theirs were simpler at this time of the war. Due to its deeper style,
the iconic-shaped German helmet was very effective against shrapnel. At this
stage of the particularly cold early spring, greatcoats were worn rather than
German webbing was more basic, leather rather than canvas. Like the British
and French, the Germans adopted ankle boots and puttees mostly for economic
reasons. They are field grey, which is a greenish color to the eye. Discussing
the mandate that all had to be exacting, the costume designers were wholly on
board. "It felt very natural, and Sam's vision was very clear," Durran says. "We
all knew what we were doing and what we wanted to do. That was the beauty of
this ... we really understood what we were trying to achieve as a group of people
for Sam, and for the movie."
By 1917, the conflict had undergone a significant revolution-from large
formations on foot facing the enemy to the technological advancements of open
warfare. The introduction of automatic weapons, tanks, aerial support and
chemical weapons changed the face of conflict. Soldiers were given helmets and
gas masks in an effort to provide them with some protection from gas, artillery
and shrapnel, though for many thousands it could not protect them from
life-changing injuries and death.
Military historian Andy Robertshaw worked alongside set decoration and the
props departments, giving general advice and also providing original props, for
them to copy. Robertshaw also produced a bible of information about weapons and
tactics in use at the time. He engaged with costume designer David Crossman
about costumes and the units and graphics.
MAKEUP, HAIR AND PROSTHETICS
Authentic Period Looks
Makeup, Hair and Prosthetics
Makeup and hair designer Naomi Donne and prosthetics designer Tristan
Versluis worked closely with 1917's costume designers Jacqueline Durran and
David Crossman throughout the shoot. Discussing in detail countless photographs
and copious reference material, they processed the individuality of uniforms,
faces, haircuts and the teeth of the characters they were creating, as well as
any wounds and injuries. Mendes' team wanted the men living in the trenches to
look completely real-with their endless layers of dirt and mud-just as the
historical figures appear in photographs and documentaries.
Makeup and Hair
To prepare her makeup artists for the tasks at hand, Donne wrote a booklet
called "A Soldier's Life." This gave the creatives a sense of why she wanted the
actors to look a certain way, and the reasons why the characters would end up
appearing the way they did. Donne's material included everything from the
specific haircuts the men had, as well as how often they had it trimmed.
"As soon as I read the script, I started researching," Donne says. "You
always have a sense of World War I, but I knew very little compared to what I
know now about how the men lived. I did a lot of research on their day-to-day
life, how they washed and how they shaved-as well as when they washed, how they
dealt with the lice...everything that they went through and how it affected them."
As there was a soldier in the script with tattooed forearms, Donne extended
her studies to researching century-old ink. She discovered there once was a
tattooist at Waterloo station who would ply his art on the men before they went
off to war. Delving further, she found a tattoo museum in Liverpool that still
had all of his artwork, as well as the machinery from the artist himself. With
Donne's research, her team designed the tattoos she wanted for the character.
Not only would the principal actors have to go through this department, but
hundreds of extras were required to do the same. The production's criteria for
the crowd was that each member had good "characterful" faces. Donne, crowd hair
and makeup supervisor ANDREA FINCH (Wonder Woman), and her team fully prepped
prior to the start of the shoot. Many undertook their own research, as well as
watching documentaries and researching archive images.
The extras' hair would be cut a couple of weeks before they shot their key
scenes, and on filming days-as they went through makeup and hair-they were
carefully layered with dirt by the crowd team. This allowed each man to look as
if he had picked up the mud and the muck along his way.
"We fitted them about six weeks before they shot, and we got through vast
quantities of people," Donne says. "We had a lot of makeup artists, often up to
40, plus prosthetic makeup artists at times. We had all the stations set up and
reference pictures all around this vast room that locations set up. We had back
washes and shaving sinks. It made everything go through quite smoothly, but it
took a great deal of time. Their hands had to be filthy. Their hair had to be
cut, and it had to be dirty."
Likewise, Versluis spent a great deal of time with Donne examining images. As
he worked to re-create looks, injuries and blood rigs, the prosthetics designer
aimed to mirror the period. To bring to life the images in Mendes and
Wilson-Cairns' script, Versluis' team made many corpses-from human bodies of
soldiers and villagers to horses and a dog. As the bodies convey the destruction
and death that results from conflict of the era, the aim was to be realistic
without disrespecting the massive loss of life.
As everything on set included a 360-degree view, a camera could potentially
go anywhere as it moved among the scene. That facet meant that Versluis' team
had to build absolutely everything to a higher quality. "If we build a hedge,
for example," Versluis says, "you might not see the back of it, but everything
inside it needed to be lifelike on camera, right in front of you. This gave Sam
the flexibility to move the camera where he wanted. The actors could see the
prosthetics, touch them and interact with them, and it brought about more levels
of details than anything we have ever done before."
One of the grimmest moments of the shoot was when the prosthetics designer's
team was required to create a dam of bodies for Schofield to clamber over as he
crosses the river to Ecoust. This was a challenge in terms of making the
placement of the bodies look realistic-all the while allowing the movement of
MacKay across them and the water. In this exhausting and emotional moment for
his character, the audience can only imagine what the young soldiers who
encountered this madness must have felt.
Thomas Newman's Score
Composer Thomas Newman has worked with Sam Mendes on almost every film the
director has made over the past two decades, including Skyfall, Spectre, Road to
Perdition, Jarhead and American Beauty. From their first conversation about
1917, Newman understood that it would be like nothing he'd done before. "I knew
that the experience of time in this film was going to make it different from any
other project I had encountered," Newman says. "It meant exploring how musical
time works in lockstep with or in counterpoint to film time."
Because 1917 is experienced almost in real time, Newman and Mendes needed to
approach the score differently. "We wanted to make sure we had earned the right
to express emotion in musical terms," Newman says. "Because the movie takes
place in present tense, the more the music commented on any particular action,
the less exciting it was likely to be. Sam and I talked frequently about how to
earn those moments where music could be justifiably emotive, and likewise how
music could get out of the way and avoid the trap of being overly written."
The goal was to create a score that served the story and didn't distract from
it. "The challenge was getting the music to create a kind of neutral propulsion
that benefited from paleness and steered clear of comment," Newman continues.
"Viscera, we figured, would win out over needless complexity. So in many cases,
the music only hints at feeling, is absorbed by landscapes. Only in rare
instances does it reflect character, speak directly to drama or draw
Newman began working on the score before and during production. "The
composing process spilled out in real-time for me, too," Newman says. "That was
quite unique. 1917 was pretty much born as it was being shot."
The film's music was also shaped by the filming locations themselves. "The
locations did have an impact on the score, by virtue of color and palette
alone," Newman says. "Mud brown in the case of No Man's Land. Chalk and grass in
the case of the final run. They suggested an instrumental vocabulary that
affected my approach to harmony and tempo."
Throughout the writing process, the longtime creative partnership between
Newman and Mendes helped them navigate uncharted musical ground. "Sam has a very
reliable set of ears," Newman says. "And he can point very easily to colors and
sounds that move him or distract him. Lucky for me, music has always played
heavily into his manner of storytelling. So, the expectations were high but the
rewards were deeply meaningful."
Like every element of the film, the score was designed to bring the audience
inside the experience of these two young soldiers. "Mostly, I wanted the music
to propel action without complicating it, to hover passively at one moment, and
land and propel at another," Newman says. "1917 is compelling, immersive drama
without music. The goal was to avoid accidental redundancy and to add richness
and dimension to the drama only as it unfolded."
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