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- “1917” was the first movie to be shot on the Arri ALEXA Mini LF.
- The movie’s cinematographer, Roger Deakins, hand picked the camera because it could provide a top-quality cinematic look, but was small in size.
- This was vital, as the camera was navigated through some tight areas to pull off the single-shot feel of the movie.
- Deakins won his second best cinematography Oscar at the Academy Awards on Sunday.
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This story was originally published on January 24, and has been updated to reflect Deakins’ best cinematography win.
A major reason why director Sam Mendes’ latest movie, the World War I epic “1917,” is the frontrunner at this year’s Academy Awards is the edge-of-your seat experience that comes from its single-shot feel.
As we follow two soldiers who heroically go behind enemy lines to deliver an important message to a commander, the entire movie is made to resemble one continues shot (outside of a moment in the middle of the movie when the screen goes black).
To pull this off, the movie’s cinematographer, Oscar winner Roger Deakins, had to map out a way his crew could navigate through muddy trenches and attach the camera seamlessly to rigs without any breaks in the action. And he also needed a camera small enough to do it all.
Typically, the smaller the camera, the less epic the feel of the footage being shot (because often lenses used for major motion pictures can’t fit onto them). But Arri, one of the leading designers and manufacturers of cameras, was able to create something that gave Deakins the look he needed.
“1917” became the first movie to use the ALEXA Mini LF. It’s a camera that has a large-format sensor, which is perfect for shooting in natural light (which is Deakins’ specialty), but has a miniature body (it’s the size of a small radio), making it possible to fit in cramped spaces.
The outcome is a breathtaking visual experience that could earn Deakins his second Oscar.
Here’s how the ALEXA Mini LF was used in the movie:
A lucky start.
During the summer of 2018, Deakins went to Arri to discuss a miniature version of the ALEXA LF. The cinematographer felt it was the perfect camera to bring Mendes’ story to life, but the issue was the original camera was too big for the intimate shots needed in the movie.
Luckily for Deakins, Arri was already developing a mini.
A race to the beginning.
By February 2019, a prototype of the ALEXA Mini LF was sent to Deakins. He and his team began doing camera tests to see if it would in fact work for “1917.” That included not just trying out lenses, but also the proper rig that the camera operator would wear while filming.
To say Deakins was under the gun would be an understatement. Production on the movie was to start in two months.
Stand around and wait — for a cloud.
Deakins decided in preproduction the best way to make the movie’s look consistent throughout was to shoot it in overcast skies. But on the first day of shooting there was not a cloud in the sky.
Production was scrapped for the day.
“It certainly made me anxious,” Deakins told Business Insider.
However, the DP said the day allowed him and his team to continue rehearsing. Then the following day, which was full of clouds, they were so prepared they shot everything they needed to do on the day — plus made up what they missed the day before.
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The Deakins seal of approval.
Looking back on production, Deakins said in a promotional video for Arri that the ALEXA Mini LF was one of the smallest cameras he’d ever used, but that compared to the standard LF camera Arri makes, ALEXA was superior.
“If you study it on the big screen it’s remarkable the difference in quality,” he said. “That’s what struck me the most.”
It certainly has blown away audiences. Along with winning the best picture (drama) prize at the Golden Globes, and being the frontrunner to take home the best picture Oscar, the movie has brought in close to $150 million at the worldwide box office.
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