“Midway through [director] Sam Mendes’s 1917, ” writes Nate Jones, “a World War I soldier exits a truck, dives into a canal to avoid enemy fire, and emerges on the other side to confront a German sniper. Nailing such a thrilling set piece would be tough on any movie, but on 1917, the degree of difficulty was made even greater by the fact that, like the rest of the film, the sequence was meant to resemble a single continuous take.
“In reality, the scene spans 800 miles: The truck was based in Wiltshire in South West England, the canal in Scotland, the sniper in a studio backlot outside London. Every segment of the scene would have to be precisely choreographed to link up seamlessly with the last frame of the previous shot and the first frame of the subsequent one. Since there could be no visible cuts, any mistake would mean starting from the beginning.”
As they did throughout the film, Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins had to craft every element of a shot with precision, but in this article, each department recounts a day where unexpected challenges—including the unwelcome presence of the sun—put them to the test.