BTS: All Calm on the Western Front, Netflix | Industry trends

“People said it was a beautiful film, but it should be beautiful in its horror,” says James Friend, ASC BSC. “It shouldn’t be comfortable to watch. It doesn’t have to be aesthetically lavish.

He adds, “If you have a story that takes place in the trenches, there are only a limited number of ways to do it without it feeling fancy or too forced. We wanted our film to be very natural. People have compared it to [Sam Mendes’] 1917, but the only thing they have in common is the World War I setting.

“It exposes the reality of war and how to enter with a naive attitude like those poor children did, because they are seduced by their government, their country and their elders. There is a saying of [credited to Franklin D. Roosevelt] “War is young people dying and old people talking”. It’s something that has always affected me. Audiences should be very optimistic at first and should come out completely broken.

German director Edward Berger, with whom Friend worked the mini-series Patrick Melrose, is traced back to the 1929 source novel by Erich Maria Remarque who wrote the fiction inspired by his personal experience of World War I. In all areas, from the scenography by Christian Goldbeck to the arms, props and costumes by Lisy Christl, they sought historical authenticity.

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“I read the novel by Remarque in school when I was about 16,” says Friend. “Edward and I were very conscious not to remake the previous films but to make a new adaptation of the book. I reread it cover to cover in two nights. Our approach was to show the horror of the war, how brutal it really was.

Quiet on the western front_©Reiner Bajo (3)

The story is largely experienced from the point of view of a young soldier, a fresh recruit at the start of the film (played by Felix Kammerer). Berger’s screenplay adds scenes from the November 1918 ceasefire negotiations in a railway carriage in the forest of northern France. Thus, we get a bird’s eye view to complement the bird’s eye view of the soldiers. He also wrote a prologue in which we follow the fate of a soldier in scenes that seem strangely prescient of what may be happening in Russia currently during his public mobilization.

All Quiet On The Western Front, Netflix: The Set

The extensive battlefield scenes were shot at a Soviet-era airport in Milovice, Czech Republic. Production dug several hundred yards of trenches for the French and German lines, a no man’s land between the two and the hinterland strewn with barbed wire, bomb craters, carcasses and dead animals. The trenches were linked to allow the construction of extended camera shots following the actors over long distances.

BTS All Calm on the Western Front (10)

The airfield was also chosen because it faced completely south of its hero angle. The sun rose on the “French” side, and it set perfectly on the “German” side, which allowed Friend to film all day against the light.

“What’s not very apparent when you watch the movie is that there was a battlefield dead zone in the north direction, so we could treat the location as a three-walled set. “, he says. “I was a little afraid that it wouldn’t work. But it did.

Getting around this battlefield while filming was a challenge. The production had imported mud to cover the set and dug craters, also moving this dirt through the location. It snowed before filming began in March and April, thawing to exacerbate the mudbath.

“Even getting from A to B on foot was a huge challenge, not to mention carrying the camera and lighting handle. Much of what you see is hands-on with special effects digging mortars into the ground, exploding large amounts of dirt and dust.The general approach was to do as much as possible behind closed doors.

All Quiet On The Western Front, Netflix: cameras and lighting

The logistics of transporting a camera to this terrain dictated the use of a smaller and lighter Alexa Mini LF and DNA lens on a Stabileye gimbal operated by Danny Bishop.

A shot near the start of the film could only have been accomplished with this kit (and Bishop’s skills). In it, the operator moves through the muddy corridor of a trench with extras passing by and explosions going off. A Technocrane then lifts the camera from the Grip’s hands and places it over the trench before two more Grips grab the camera again to rush through no man’s land. Berger added an explosion at the top of the trench to mask the second or two it took for the handles to regain control of the camera from the crane.

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Another remarkable shot follows Paul (in this case, a stuntman) running away from the camera before being suddenly thrown (by a grenade) into a deep crater and rolling in the water. For this, Bishop was hitched to a wire drop rig normally used to suspend actors allowing him to perform the jump with the stuntman.

“The technique has been used a few times, such as tracking stuntmen out of windows, but this is the first time I’ve seen it used in a high-octane warfare environment,” Friend says.

BTS All Calm on the Western Front (3)

Camera ‘A’ was the IMAX-certified Alexa 65 which gave Friend greater immersion. “People tend to associate 65mm with landscape photography, but we’ve found it very appealing to place these large format cameras in tight spaces, such as trenches, hallways or smaller rooms where it can enhance the claustrophobia. Also, we wanted to bring the human field of vision into these environments.

For example, in a scene showing the play’s villain, General Friedrichs, enjoying a rich candlelit dinner, the 65 lent a majesty that the LF may not have had. “The softer look and shallower depth of field captures the essence of the scene we’re trying to portray, which is how far the officer class is from the front line,” says Friend.

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For the night work, he chose the superior light sensitivity of the Sony Venice plus Tribe7 Blackwing7 Primes and had a huge softbox built to float above the set of 60 SkyPanels casting background lighting.


“I put a lot of smoke in the deep bottom and it was dissipating fast enough that it didn’t get too close to the camera,” the DP explains. “I didn’t want it to look hazy or smoky, just to feel like things were smoldering. I lit the smoke using two ARRI Max 18kW (at the furthest point from the battlefield) to give a sense of scale and we used a SkyPanel S-360 on a rig aerial Condor through a 12″ x 12″ spread to illuminate the actors with a few additional small LED lights on the floor.

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An ARRI Orbiter light was also deployed for nighttime visuals. This LED luminaire has a sensor capable of recording the color and intensity of the light. After turning off all the lights, the team fired flares to get a reading, then programmed that information through a lighting desk.

“When I wanted to light up the actors on the battlefield with the illusion of a real flare, we could run that information through the softbox so it would flicker at an appropriate frequency and give us an accurate color to match the flares. This worked surprisingly well.

All Quiet on the Western Front, Netflix: LUT

The budget didn’t allow for Livegrade, Friend’s favorite software for appearance management, so he needed an alternative that was both portable and durable; “We couldn’t push DIT carts on set.” He shot a variety of costume tests and worked with Goldcrest colorist Andrew Daniel to build a LUT show. Daniel then noted with Friend for two weeks around Christmas 2021.

BTS All Calm on the Western Front (9)

“I love working with natural light and did our best to shoot in flat, overcast light as much as possible to give the story the atmosphere it needed.”

The local architecture, largely Bohemian, has been transformed into Flemish or French architecture. Other sets were created at the Barrandov studio in Prague, including several train compartments used for scenes where German and French military leaders negotiate peace.

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The Netflix release is a German foreign-language film that presented additional hurdles for Friend.

“When Edward called me and said we were going to do it in German, he asked me what I thought. I had never really had this problem before, how to navigate an entire movie in foreign language. On the set, the team was Czech and English was the common language. I had an English version of the script and I had read it dozens of times, so it was very easy to follow what was happening Every once in a while, when we had to do a camera move, my operator would check with the script supervisor if we had the right line. At first it was a little daunting, but after we shot the first scene it has become second nature.

All Quiet On The Western Front is now available on Netflix.

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