Golden Globe winner Sam Mendes on the making of '1917'

The director talks to Peter Travers about the inspiration behind his new World War I film, "1917."
22:43 | 01/09/20

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Transcript for Golden Globe winner Sam Mendes on the making of '1917'
So I everybody I am Peter Travers this is popcorn we would tell you what's happening at the movies and there's an extraordinary movie right now called 1917. Directed by my guess them and be who of course when he began with making movies with American Beauty in 1999 when the Oscar for. The amounts up. We're of the mountains to climb a certain look at it that it's just. Well I that's what with the thank you for putting my Levy just live in my left solicit right there yet to be hit it I think you just move them around Italy's gonna and we're we're just not only that expert enough. To do that so you could just keep moving back so that we concede that that there to I kind of decided to treat it like a buying Clinton winning. You know academy will play first minute though. I'm gonna have to pay this back and it is. And still trying to keep lending and dying treated as if it means that I know what I do pain. And I'm testing myself you know it's. But I remember talking to you about this back in the day there and I remember you think. The first scene I was doing I just I thought I'd be fired. Or I'd be quick it was with speaking pretending he's selling hamburgers yet and will remember it was so bad. It was it was it was. My big luck was it was bad in and we were gone. Just performance we'll justice that we'll just the handling of the or just weren't put the camera it was all of those things but joking aside. That was a big moment for me I mean the first two days we're a bit of a disaster but it was so clear to me. The what was wrong. That in a way it clarify what I wanted to do I was able to go to the Syrian citizen. You know I think that everything about this this is wrong we let me redo them I was sent confident about what I didn't want to do because of that. That they kind of let me get let me. From then on the go back you know I didn't have my strive for a couple of weeks but definitely those first few days a very steep and heat and everything's a learning experience which leads you the journey not the destination it's. That. Pet. 1917. Is sold anyway though. You look at it and you say how'd they do that and then in a few minutes after this movie is is. Perceived as one continuous take yeah. Yeah you what trickery you do that but at the same time you look at it and you admire that technique that you get lost in these guys. And what they're doing what about the go about the go I mean you know you don't want people. Coming in what you want the cameras you you want them to forget about I mean you might be aware of it but the movie stops but I think quite shortly after that you just get lost. And in this story and the because it's always two hours of real time and they off. Experiencing. The clock ticking down and you realize racial views as an audience that you'll make spears every second policy with them and take every step of the Jenny. Does that Johns you gonna cut 200 yards downhill. Jump half an ounce on you're going to have that you're in it would you like you don't know. Then I think you saw watching in a different way I hope is that what she's a different way. And you make something that's a massive than it used to now but what you wanna do is an somebody in the environment you know and and made people. Look at it with new lines and no with tellem exactly with the though for now. So you begin to treat it as if you'll traveling through the world to. Well you do but of course he wanted to set that challenge for yeah well it's also I would torture the whole crew. He acts. These theories of long takes but set up if you will what's actually happening in 1970. What the assignment is for these two Lance corporal. And what they're told to do. That Ross the carry a message across Le Mans land and into enemy territory which has recently been abandoned. This particular point in 1970 the Germans retreated to the end of that line in this land that was important that the years suddenly is empty. The Germans and left behind booby traps and trip lies and snipers. But otherwise it's empty land. And that tossed with delivering this message before dawn the next day to potentially save the lives of 16100 people Blake's brother. Amongst them one of the cast as Brothers is is among 16100. And it's what happens to them on the continent what was the inspiration to do it. What inspiration is twofold and there was a personal inspiration which is my grandfather for the first global movies dedicated to him. He was seventeen year old weaves of these is a when he when he enlisted. But he never spoke about his experiences. To his and children. If you're sixty years between Israeli to two about it and in his late seventies and decided to tell the stories. Two officers two and say I suppose they were formative experience is being told those stories. That there was not person inspiration but there was also a kind of a sense though I'd been I've found myself off to the ball leave these kind of trapped in in this. Multiple plot multiple camera. Plates spinning exercise that is making a giant franchise maybe. The system and it was a reaction against. Towards single camera real time that a religious storytelling. Following just one figure rather than multiple taxes and I think that what I learned on the bomb that is which were great adventure for me. But also I let about things that I perhaps did wanted to hold traps I was pulling into. So that was another challenge as well which is how to make a story that has a purity of shape and form. That is kind of them. Something that you can't touch and he has him you know you can't you have to make it on the day with the people and Bo. Still that would days vital Y led on this than myself. And that those days tended to be. That said we have a 607 minute take. And six minutes of it is magic. And then the camera operates trip soul this someone's lights a dozen were school board united someone forgets a line just human error. And you can't use any of that six minutes of magic and leave it. And you're so used him as a filmmaker thing a while ago like he's not this you know putting it together. But here you have to start again and doodle again and sometimes it takes by the six takes just to get back to what you had in that one type. So he can be very cost right now Jeff listening to yet but what was going off. Let's look at a scene from us so everybody can better ethic on it but you'll be doing it in this this interviews. Going to be running out in 1970. But let's. Look at this. What I think app I spoke think I'm not sure. Threat that rejected its all of that that's when the movie it appears that this was a blow up so we shouldn't have had that a terrible thing which. But I could see you then torturing a few actors. I think now items like sex on you you do it too high everybody who's very particular immediately that they. Talk about these two guys these these wonderful actors that played scare. Well I mean I I wanted to act as the relatively speaking would need to be an excellent and rather than the exact I did I mean they have to be young student I'd hate to say brilliant at the Bradley I don't know I'm not young any mall. But IE as the that was I wanted that. Feeling that they with two months three million unit it was nothing initially special about Anthony when you begin to go on the Jenny with the do you realize how especially now. And any acts of heroism on accidental in that way. So I wanted I wanted to very different times I want to the that's a solitary. A bit of alone very quiet introverted life English is. And and dignified. Man who did their little longer and suitable here. That's too which we'll collides Schofield awards and younger more vulnerable chat he warmed. But only hadn't seen them much action and from a different club student working cost contention that he tells John on this play. And that kind of unlikely friendship develops in war the war situation between he believe in civilian life probably would ever even me and then become friends. And that it would he know why their friends in a way that they just the drawn together and they end up on this Jenny almost accidentally. Together. And then at the same time I wanted the figures that they Matt these figures of authority and status. To be people who have that kind of whites as axes say that's way that. Calling for that come about Andrew Scott malls don't which amount of these acts is about you more familiarly. Coming in. But obviously the irony of appeal to me that the unknowns on central characters in this they know and act as one and act is that you pulse through you know. What a torture. Did you put him through and their addition to or did you just see if only adhere to a club Jessica cannot. It out. Their auditions are they waiting for a call backs. Constantly over months at a time it was too onerous that the whole thing and I did do this immune maybe 34 times he should put together right to the end. The tricky stuff was hustles the cure is. We had to measure every step of the Jenny before we built the sense that we constructed landscape they would call. So we started this process within that Scripps and that is empty fields. Walking planting flags in the ground where the trenches would be when Amazon would be. And then getting into the cities they ten left him that's him right then they stop in his crate to that this trend that. And then you had to do that every single step of the Jenny foot. Quarries and farm houses and canals and towns that night. And only then could you stop constructing this so everything was built around the act as everything was built around the Nazi. Within I was coming to judge judge long periods where they weren't speaking which actually for me was the most difficult. Having the courage. Sit to have. Here is a silence implies a possibly. Because I want to the leading to breathe in and week out and have a sense of Evan flatly not just be trapped in this one place. So that was what we have to do us a so I think the most tricky part of it for them woes. Litigate for months and onion in costume the entire time in uniform in tots on having that weapons why and then. When you shoot you want this mixture of precision obviously the dons the cameras very very precise the rigs refutes you know. You have to be very Kathy planned but at same time. You want spontaneity in front of the camera you don't want people just were both simply gotten believes that they've lived for months. So you giving them things that. The changes flight mess it up slightly. At hoping waiting for happy accidents united. And and then when adults about the accidents weather conditions change and people full live in the mud animals behave differently babies behave differently. People and knocked off that feeds it means amendment the into the mainly George Buckeyes running. The loss they didn't Jenny which you can see the trailing USC and he's knocked off his feet and that was not planned he that was just a very very over enthusiastic. Extra Hughes though this is well taken I better get it brightens. You know general it wasn't the torture team. Argues that idea highways and I didn't do individually. Run him ammo but I'm going in the opposite direction which operate a herald going it there perpendicular. To this I mean you don't take a breath. During. You will. And good feet diligently on Internet about not to hold yes that's it but we're did you shoot. We shall it mostly on souls we planes in the west of England which is a kind of less than changes and that's that's a thousand feet of a civil but it's very flat. A primeval. Landscape in a way. And it's most enlisted military lapses in the building on this guy can it disappears under the laws in these huge skyline is big salaries guys. But of course that is designed to replicate the glass case in old problems. Where the first what was force in the case the western front and but of course he if you can't shoot in the reallocation because there'll heritage sites protected land now because of what happened. You know there's a lot of talk about we made the VVP to put it the more interesting question on some that was the line. And yes it was imposed on my grandfather but it's also about a world. That's not dissimilar to what we going through now in the winds that were blowing before the first war. A blowing again they were fighting for a free unified view we believe that that is now in question again. You know it's a war with no obvious and lot sat well with themselves as you can have to complete that it will basically then god. Every one to some degree in office what was in this it was a colossal. Sixty million. Dead in five years civilians and soldiers. And it's falling out of women its its its award which went the entire. You hold your applause the generations of this again and he. And you that we do well to remember these things there are lessons that we can instilled from history and and one of them is how to stop it happening again. You know there other movies made about the great war I thought mostly of kubrick's paths of glory because of the trenches and that way that moves. And yet this moving camera. Which is it technique which is following him through it and what looks like one take is also keeps you in wit. And what. Yet you just wouldn't feel otherwise. And we've we've seen that people have done this what looks like a continuous take before most recently in upper yes yeah but it's a war. Yet and an eight I mean that was a media Loveman. A bit of maybe it was closer and its spirit I was by the big fat Alfonse accord on the children Matt Newton which you know. That would loan contiguous states it was no one shall that. But I felt absolutely. Gray line. Combination of content old being 11 thing. So yeah I mean if you law. Constantly. Shrines. Without wanting to be simplistic about it we go through life. In one show we've we've trouble we experience the world as one continuous means the red. It's editing. That is the game editing is the given now be making a will be added because we get well really if you need to jump time and space fuel added. Do you need to edit the EC every single line of dialogue back and forth incessant they add and sometimes that's the that's the case it's the right way to tell the story. But novel ways and sometimes one's default position is maybe directors this is trying to become the scene. Close up close and over the children's shelter to show you should probably about twelve sets unit. That's prevalent I mean an and it it before you know it it's become just the past and youthful instant. And working this way within its rights alone was who takes them through ties you can't argue that it doesn't force you. As a filmmaker to trying to find new and different ways for the camera to express story. Which is what we're up to hold time you know you're trying to find a way. This is we had done it goes on between the camera catches landscape. To express things and then you would. And that feeling you haven't abilities I. That you can't escape this yet. That once you realize uncle to see where in this. There's no way now then you know then suddenly begin to experience time difference in your eyes against the wonder it any differently you relate to count differently. You know that is one of the reasons why what you're describing is torture but at. Is that's constant fear of being pulled through debate. By gravitational force rather than being presented with the mean old. It's true but I mean I think of young looking that you and you know I'm Marty probably out of time and yet I haven't even dealt with you. In terms of the theater and what you do I can mean Don Marr the royals everything that you've done the classics. You can't. Usually do definitely a bond movie like you've done too well the only Oscar winning director to director bond. Answer he does to a you know a would. You would learn on the job a lot of the tricks but sky fall and Specter. Have their own differences but in the theater. You mean he can't cover what you think there is no editing. Yeah now that's where you come from that's what I feel and it. I don't ever seeing your work a a style that says this is Sam Mendes that did this but I see you just like. Thrusting yourself into these different werewolves that are there which is a great. Thing to do you look at me. About your life what you well I'm I'm I'm proud of this community and that and you know I know enough to know what it feels like when you we've used at all. People don't excited about you'll movie to feel all have problems oh no that's true you know I've trotted around the world with people going. Well it's it's we enjoyed it tell me about anything you know that's what a night and it's that's different places sometimes. It's a lot for me it's it's lovely to have people debating the film and talking about it and excited about it though. Say it so that that's great but. You know. I never wanted to be a filmmaker you have a single file line I mean that's not on the right to direct until this movie. So I don't write my own work and I want to each one to be a different set of challenges. A different mountain to climb that my bullets and also of yours yes I don't franchise navy's two of them. But the media did before that was the time a tiny independent maybe that was on the ten million dollars. And yet for me each one is a totally new series of tests and it's I mean now. That I think all of those things that getting combined with the it's and film into something. That is a unified style. And so it's not by chance that this was the one that I write if you know of him. And let's take a question or two from the outside oh yeah instead of just me. Kyle cases what advice do you have for making it in the film industry as a director you're what is that. Had you do it. How long ago. Well. I think you have to have a story to tell and I think you have to. Work out what it is. I know that sounds simplistic. But you go how summing to side. I think though when I was growing up in movies I realize we will have great filmmakers. There weren't many great storytellers. And for me story is the thing that comes to us so don't concentrate too much on style and to you know what the story is. And then try to match the style to the continent that would be my my first thing I think people get obsessed with. Is ironic coming from me I just made him it is one shot but the united technique and it's the island unit but they didn't really have anything to say. And I think that that would be mine my first thing one more question. Max lives. How things your approach to direction changed when directing something for either the screen of the stage I think you kind of describe what that it's I think that. On a I'd I treat. Russ who acts is quite different you know and in in on the stage you really on its it's like. Making up a Paul you know it's it's this constant molding. All the single shape which then asked that you find in the killings of remains heels of a wagon trying to make the actor aware of shape the whole time. Because they don't have to repeats it. And so you have to engage outside a line that call just do something accidentally this million and then not remember so that always. Both in and out side the same time. On screen use claim to do the opposite saying don't look at yourself dye be self conscious. Embrace accident UN you have to do ones united and don't think too much about it just just be any be in the moment live somehow. And that is quite different and say in that respect that's more like a mosaic that was and who was a mosaic is that. You know you make a thousand different pieces in them. Late this is a normal so no not this one might view and his later on you put you take all the pieces out John put them together like magic so in a formal picture there. And actors opened all the way have the pictures you'll forming you know whereas on stage that have to be so yeah appalled. Or OG Exel. Look at that a partner Jake Sam this the first time you've been on the show so you don't know we always and install. Look at him laughing at the director of so many musicals and I earlier cabaret and it was there. But why are you laughing I'm sure that you sweating out whether don't think go to quit our day where they bring all but don't you have a moment in 1970 where we listen to weight bearing structures yeah. Was some big museum. Although I did know yet mostly we'll do you give us a little that. A series series every one passages that you wouldn't stop things pull away famine strange. Traveling improve this will war. In this moves something form danger. And that Bryant land to which. Seen. And go in. Through a sea lion love that hit the half them back. Good. Thank you belida.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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