How They Made ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ Like a Gripping Horror Movie – Yahoo Entertainment | Episode Movies

    IndieWire Craftsmanship at its best

IndieWire Craftsmanship at its best

In “1917,” Sam Mendes described the experience of fighting in the trenches of World War I as a masterpiece thriller. Looking at the conflict from the other side – and through the lens of a classic anti-war novel – Edward Berger’s acclaimed All Quiet on the Western Front is reminiscent of a different genre. The sheer scale of the relentless artillery bombardment and massive carnage in Germany’s entry for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film paints the Great War like a gripping horror film. Thanks to the brilliant work of cinematographer James Friend (“Willow” and “Star Wars: The Acolyte”), we are right by Paul’s (Felix Kammerer) side in the harrowing days leading up to the Compiegne armistice.

“We always associate horror with the supernatural when it comes to cinema,” Friend told IndieWire. “But we actually had a foundation to build on with war. I think that’s really poignant and very real for our generation [in Europe] that hasn’t really seen much war other than what’s going on inside [Ukraine].”

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The key was to shoot large format with a range of cameras for different purposes. The Alexa 65 was the main camera on the battlefield after the action; the Alexa Mini LF meandered through the long and narrow ditches; the Sony Venice took night shots with torches; and the RED was the kamikaze camera for FX blasts compensated to the background in post.

“The Alexa 65 is a beast in terms of image and physique,” Friend said, “but it records an extremely wide field of view. So when you make a war film, you have to bolster the image with it and send the cast and audience through hell. Then we had to move the camera seamlessly through the trenches and for that we used the Alexa mini LF with a stabilized gimbal (with the Stabileye) and with crane work. Also because of the smaller sensor, it worked better for actions due to better pan speeds. We wanted to try to draw a documentary perception of the picture.”

“Calm on the Western Front” – Credit: Reiner Bajo

Reiner Bajo

Shooting at night, meanwhile, turned out to be quite an undertaking to look natural and unlit. “The Sony Venice gave us more flexibility with the image and opened up much faster,” Friend continued. “And we really wanted to fire off explosions on the battlefield, and the RED gave us great resolution with that lo-fi solution. We also buried the RED in the ground so we can run a tank over them. But it was my camera.”

The film opens with a bang as the Alexa Mini LF moves through the muddy ditch on a steadicam; then the Technocrane rises and the frantic German advance is now being captured by the Alexa 65, with random bodies falling everywhere as a result of the French attack. Later, as Paul runs for his life, the Alexa 65 tracks his fall into a mud crater, symbolizing his bottoming out and the utter futility of the German cause. The seamless transition from one large format camera to another is remarkable.

“Calm on the Western Front” – Credit: Reiner Bajo

Reiner Bajo

The location of the trenches and battlefield was also crucial. Production designer Christian Goldbeck found a former airport in the Czech Republic that, at 650 meters long, proved ideal in terms of size, distance and topography, especially since Friend shot a lot of the footage without editing. It was advantageous for the German perspective: the sun rose on the French side and set on the German side. They planned their shots with a full storyboard so they could shoot against the light all day.

The color palette helped convey the journey from winter to spring, starting with a bluish hue to emphasize the frost at the beginning. “Then, as we followed the uniforms into spring, we saw a slightly more hopeful, almost childlike part of the world where everything is clean and beautiful,” added Friend, who loved natural light that was often cloudy and backlit.

“And there is a beautiful shot of Kropp [Aaron Hilmer] when he ends up sitting at the gate of the farm and this wonderful snow came down,” added the cameraman. “We retrofitted all the other scenes from that [with fake snow] because we didn’t want to let go of that image.” Ultimately, this seasonal approach provided an atmosphere to understand what was going on in the minds of soldiers and how they perceived the world.”

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