‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ cinematographer James Friend: ‘More physically demanding than it looks’

“We wanted it to be as realistic as humanly possible. And we wanted it to almost have a documentary approach, but not necessarily in the photography, but in the overall filmmaking you want everything to feel as authentic as possible,” explains “All Quiet on the Western Front” cinematographer James Friend about his approach to the Oscar contender. We talked to Friend as part of our “Meet the Experts” film cinematographers panel. Watch our exclusive video interview above.

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is the third adaptation of the classic anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque, following a 1930 Oscar-winning American version and a 1979 CBS telefilm. Notably, this is the first adaptation of the German story to be told in the German language. It follows Paul Bäumer (played by Felix Kammerer), an enthusiastic new soldier who quickly becomes hardened and traumatized by the realities of trench warfare.

The camerawork in the film is kinetic and stays nerve-rattlingly close to the action to “move the audience through that space as if you were a soldier and one of the band of brothers on the battlefield.” And getting all that footage as the action rages all around the production crew was “a lot more physically demanding than it actually looks.” Behind-the-scenes footage shows the “aggressive” nature of the shoot with “the screaming and shouting and the running with the camera.” But the advanced technology in use makes it look just like a “dolly shot.”

“So yeah, it was an extremely challenging shoot to say the least,” Friend adds. “I look back and I don’t think I would have changed any element of it, but it was by far the most challenging project of my career to date … I’m immensely proud of the crew and the cast and everyone involved because it was true collaboration in my mind. For me, it was what filmmaking is all about.”

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