ARRI Interview: The immersive camera movement of “1917”

Obviously, this film was
an extreme amount of movement. The idea was to
have something that was
really kind of this remorseless solid frame
going across the landscape. That informed us about
the look of the whole film It is a real time story. And you are
following basically two characters. They are always moving. This is conceived as a
single shot in real time. A couple of people
have said about the film would it not have been just the same if there had
been some cuts but that would not have had the effect
that Sam was after – We really took a lot of trouble to make sure
that it was not a gimmick. That the
story was served. – For me,
it feels like you forget
about the technique but because it is there,
you are totally in it. There is no way the audience
is let off the hook, it is
almost claustrophobic. They are not allowed to
look away. – You are just with them
and they do not stop. So that is what I feel about is immersive about it. Sam and I really
were thinking about it and like where would we ideally
want to put the camera? As you would
normally on any film and say, well, this moment
I need to see their faces, at this moment I need to see
what they are seeing, I want to push in, I want to be wide and
see them little figures, Sam rehearsed
all the scenes for the actors. then we would discuss, okay, this is
their blocking. How do we want
to cover that? Once we had figured
and laid down that, in a lot of detail actually. James was like, let us look into
how we can move the camera, what techniques
do we want to explore? So then we spent a couple
of months did we not really? – Yes, testing. We went through
every possibility before we settled
on four basic rigs. The actors
were great because they always want
to do every rehearsal even when we
were just technically testing rigs. They would want to come
and do the scene for us. So, by the time
we actually came to shoot, the shot was so laid out it It was like
second nature. We were happy obviously
when we got the first prototype because everybody needed
to put it into the workflow. We got two quite early on. I was getting so neurotic about we have got this camera
I did not want somebody to drop it. So, we kept it in a box quite,
a lot did we not? Because we realized
there were not that many. We could not just
order up another one if we dropped one
or something went wrong. – And we needed two because we were
building two rigs. We had so little cloud that you have to go one
after another after another. You cannot wait to build up
another rig. I love that. The ALEXA, the censor,
the color sensitivity. – We did do some tests
on the Mini. On the same day, we had
done some on the Mini LF. So, we were looking
at the results side by side and there is
something about the Mini LF. – You could get
higher resolution, which is what Sam
initially wanted, but I wanted
a shallower depth of field. And I wanted the
feeling of a slightly, in normal terms,
of a slightly longer lens like the 40 I did not want that sort of
distortion on the face that you get
with a wider lens. For me, that was
a choice of the LF. Might say 99% shot on
the 40mm Signature Prime but there was a couple of shots… – Yes, on the 35
and the 47. In the river,
we shot some of it on a 47 because I want to lose the
background a bit more. And the gym basement, we use a 35 because I wanted the feeling
of the tunnel a bit more. The other
big bonus for me was the LF, I could write it as
1600 without … – Yes, you loved that. Well, I did because there is all the night scenes
and the interiors. There is quite a lot of
footage actually at night and in those
little bunkers, and I really needed
that speed so I could give Andy
a little bit of depth. The first bunker
is lit by these oil lamps. The oil lamps are dummied
with electric bulbs, but the 500-Watt bulbs
dimmed down I would have been
shooting wide open if I had been
at 800. The night scenes in
the interiors I wanted to shoot,
I guess around 2.4. And then the day exteriors
I wanted to shoot 3.5 to 4, but sometimes I was shooting
at 5.6 probably. When I had time, I would kind of ND
the exteriors down to shoot around 4 but a lot of times
I did not have the time, the light would change, the cloud would shift and sometimes I just shoot and it was a bit deeper stop
than I wanted really. We usually had
an interior ND on Like a six or something, and then we would put
something on the front as well. So, that would give us
the flexibility of changes,
the light changed. so there was no
color shift at all. so it was a real bonus. With a regular
oldstyle ND, your image would be green
and really ugly. I jumped into the Trinity having some experience
with the traditional Steadicam and stabilized remote heads, all the handheld gimbals,
when they came into the market, and once I saw the Trinity,
it was the perfect transition. What is unique with the Trinity, it is the hybrid
design of the rig, where it builds on the fluidity, where traditional Steadicam
will give you and you combine that with
the precision of a remote head. Its combination is
pretty amazing the placement of the camera used to be restricted
with traditional systems. Now with the Trinity, it really allows the operator to really explore
the whole space around you. It is not only about
the booming range per se, but you are able to push forward and then utilize
the whole space around you, and that translates really to just more versatility in terms of what shots you can offer. – Sometimes we would go, “The Trinity would
work better there,” and replace it. The stabilized nature
of the rig, that is what it mimics dolly, or it can carry
on a dolly shot the camera is always floating. It is that feeling
that you are on a dolly. That is what seems so
impressive to me about it. The takes were mainly set
around the performance. So they had to be
very long. Simply because you did not
want to break the performance and there was no
where you could put a fake cut. The pressure built as you got
towards the end of a shot. And if you knew it was good, if it felt good
up to the sixth minute, then it was,
oh, no, get to the seventh, now, I have got to
make this move or this move to finish and it has got to be
on the button because it has
either go to match what we have shot or it is got to be ready to match
what we are going to shoot. – And then of course,
there is the pressure of the fact that we have got this cloud now, but if we do not get this take and we go back to do it again,
we might have sun. So, it was
a lot of pressure. We could not have asked for
anything more than what we got from
Arri Rental. – All the testing time we had. We were there months and everybody was so
helpful and great. They probably wondered
what the hell we were doing, actually. There is not a single shot
in the film that could have done
with a bigger camera. It is very robust, but also at the same time, delicate stabilized system would not operate
with a heavy camera. even some of the wire shots, where you could have used a
Panaflex or whatever but the camera starts
being handheld and it is put on the wire, it is all like state of the art gimbal work and camera rigs, but it is also some
CGI state of the art as well. – Running down
the frontline trench, that was just a particularly
difficult one to do. On one side of the
trench, it started on a crane arm, dipped into the trench,
came up, was taken off, put on to
another crane while the actor came up,
stood for a moment, and then everybody
ran together. So, it was just an amazing shot
to be able to take and we certainly could not have
done it with a big camera, that is for sure. – So, it is a sort
of film … probably could not
have been made a few years ago. Here we are. Very thankful for this camera. Thank you very much. It certainly served our purpose
very well.

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