After months of preparation and filming on Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) in the South West, the WW1 film, 1917, directed by Sam Mendes, Oscar-winning director of Skyfall, Spectre and American Beauty, was released in the UK on the 10 January and has already won Best Motion Picture at this year’s Golden Globe Awards.  

The idea for 1917 was sparked by stories shared by Mendes’ grandfather, the late Alfred H. Mendes, about his time as a Lance Corporal in the First World War, as well as the colourful characters he met during his service. In the year 1917, Alfred was a 19-year-old who enlisted in the British Army and due to his small stature, the five foot-four-inch soldier was chosen to be a messenger on the Western Front. Adam Young, Account Manager, explains how SPTA came to be the location of choice to help bring Sam’s dream to a reality.

“Preparations began back in July and August of 2018 with multiple visits to SPTA with Emma Pill, the Supervising Location Manager for the film. It was Emma’s job to look around the UK for locations that matched the scenery in Northern France and discover where sets could be built. Months of director visits and scouting brought the team to specific spots on Salisbury Plain for the key sequences set in North East France and for the endless line of trenches that were needed for the film.

“One of the main challenges that we faced was to ensure that this third party activity didn’t impact on the military training area. We worked tirelessly with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) in the South West region to ensure that we maintained a safe working environment, not only for the film crew but also for the troops training out on the ground and members of the public who were sometimes in the area at the same time. We had to do this whilst ensuring that the locations chosen still met the needs of the film crew.

“Filmed over numerous locations on SPTA between April and June 2019, the crew built bunker stages, tunnel systems and dug over 200 metres of trenches to recreate the scenes and environment of northern France. The film is special in the way it has been captured, it has been shot as if it’s been filmed in one single take. All of the scenes are seamlessly stitched together as if you’re with the two main characters on every step of their journey.

“The film also provided a much needed boost to Salisbury in a time when the city was in the press for the wrong reasons. The cast and crew contributed to 22,000 bed nights in the local area and numerous local contractors were used to carry out surveys, maintenance and construction jobs. The production also advertised locally for up to 500 extras to appear in the film.”

Emma Pill, Supervising Location Manager said, “It has been the most incredible experience working with Landmarc and DIO over the last year. It was June 2018 when I first scouted Salisbury Plain with Adam and from our initial recces with Sam Mendes there was no doubt that we wanted to feature the training estate as major locations within our film. We were on the estate for a total of eight months in five different areas.

“All of the Landmarc and DIO team were so helpful during the entire process, especially when filming is such a creative process and plans change last minute! Each film you work on you learn something new, and for me 1917 focused on planning, ecology and archaeology to name but a few of the challenges we encountered.

“Thank you to everyone involved that made 1917 happen on the estate, it has been a privilege to work with you and we hope you enjoy the film.”

Pippa Harris, Producer added, “I can’t imagine being able to make 1917 without the support of the Army and Landmarc. The landscape of SPTA gave us the wide open vistas which were so important to Sam Mendes’ vision for the film. We were able to create not only the film’s iconic final trench run, but also the devastated Northern French landscape, including a farmhouse, barn and orchard.”

Chris Ockleton, Regional Operations Manager for the South West concluded, “I would like to say a particular thanks to the South West Third Party team, Paul Rideout, Adam Young and Gemma Poolman. They have worked methodically and in great detail to help pave the way for 1917 to be filmed on Salisbury Plain, an incredibly complex and busy training area. This film has been the pinnacle for the South West Region Third Party Income Generation (3PIG) effort – the biggest, the most complicated and most challenging activity yet.  Despite the tests that this film has created, the team continued to make fantastic headway with all of the other 3PIG activities and this particular film has also helped to open the doors to other new and exciting opportunities.  For a number of months, at almost every hour of the day, Adam has been at the beck and call of the film crew, assisting them with any issues they encountered helping to manage a complex network stakeholders. Well done to the team.”