Several of the camera rigs required a compact and lightweight camera, but Mendes also wanted very high-resolution images and Deakins was drawn to a large-format look: “I wanted a shallower depth of field and the feeling of—in normal terms—a longer lens,” says Roger. What they needed was ALEXA image quality (which Roger has trusted on many movies), a large-format aesthetic, and a compact form factor.
Fortunately, ARRI was at the time finalizing its new ALEXA Mini LF and was able to rush some early prototypes to the set of “1917,” which became the first film to use the camera. “We were happy, obviously, when we got the first prototype,” says Roger. “I was getting so neurotic because I didn’t want somebody to drop it…we realized there weren’t that many, and we couldn’t just order up another if we dropped one or something went wrong!”
Since the camera stayed on the same characters throughout the film, there was little need to vary focal length. “I’d say 99% was shot on a 40 mm Signature Prime,” says Roger. “In the river we shot some of it on a 47 mm because I wanted to lose the background a bit more, and in the German basement we used a 35 mm because I wanted the feeling of the tunnel.”
Successful teamwork between ARRI in Munich manufacturing the new cameras, and ARRI Rental in the UK supporting the production, allowed “1917” to benefit from the advantages of the ALEXA Mini LF. “We couldn’t have asked for more than what we got from ARRI Rental,” says James. Roger agrees, and notes, “There’s not a single shot in the film we could have done with a bigger camera…It’s the sort of film that probably couldn’t have been made a few years ago.”