Writing a film conceived to look as though it’s captured in a single continuous shot “is very tricky to do, I can assure you,” admits Krysty Wilson-Cairns. She did just that, penning the script for the World War I drama “1917” with director Sam Mendes and earning an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for their efforts. “It took us a long time, a lot of sleepless nights for Sam and I to get the script to feel real.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Wilson-Cairns above.
One of the biggest challenges during the writing process was figuring out how to “push this to the absolute brink so that it’s packed full of cinematic goodness … but isn’t so far that it makes people feel like it’s not believable.” Understandably, the script had to go through “quite a few drafts” to achieve that balance, but actually “the film is the exact same structure as the first time we sat down at his kitchen table and worked out the A to B to C of the story.”
She explains, “We tweaked and tweaked and tweaked. I went through rehearsals with Sam, with the cast, with [cinematographer] Roger Deakins. [Production designer] Dennis Gassner was building the sets as we were rehearsing … creating those locations around the exact rhythm of the scene and the exact specifications of the movements. It was a very circular process.”
It also required significant research. Wilson-Cairns is a “history nerd,” so she already understood many of the political dynamics at play during the First World War, but this film is laser-focused on the experiences of two soldiers (played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) and their desperate mission to deliver a message, so she focused her research on “very intricate character pieces. I read a lot of first-hand accounts, hundreds of books that had diary entries, anything that would give me an exact experience men were having on the front lines.”
And she also walked in their footsteps, visiting the battle-scarred regions “where there’s still such a mark on the Earth of this war, the graveyards that litter that entire region of France.” That gave her “an understanding of the huge cost in human life that inches would require”; thousands of men would die trying to advance just a few hundred yards. “You can’t really fathom that until you stand in those places and see it.”
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