1917 took the movie world by storm when it was released in December 2019. The Oscar-winning World War 1 epic was directed by world-famous director Sir Sam Mendes and starred the likes of George MacKay, Mark Strong, Richard Madden, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. Partly filmed on location on the River Tees in the North East, we were delighted to be able to advise and support the cast and crew with some difficult and technical scenes.
It all started when Lee, founder of Keswick Adventures, received a surprise invitation to lunch with Sir Sam Mendes, who directed, co-wrote and produced 1917. The initial call came from Mendes' locations manager, Emma Pill, who asked if Lee was available to go for lunch with the director. Lee admits that he didn't know who Sam Mendes was but his partner, Becca (who also works for Keswick Adventures), was squealing with excitement in the background! They met - along with an entire entourage - at the location where they were hoping to film on the River Tees and talked through what would be required. Lee was able to offer advice based on his in-depth knowledge both of outdoor activities on the river, and of the location itself.
Over the following weeks, members of our team swam the river with Go Pro cameras and sent the footage to Sir Sam’s team. Soon after, we were signed up to look after safety and advise the crew, starting work just before Christmas 2018 and continuing on and off until July 2019.
The experience wasn't without its difficulties: bad weather meant that filming on the river had to be cancelled four times, which was unnerving with 200 members of the crew waiting on Lee's word that it was safe to film! But safety was paramount, and Lee worked with lead actor George MacKay and his stunt double to ensure that the stunts were done properly and with minimum risk.
We carried out all of the stunts ourselves in the first instance and then worked through them slowly with the stunt man to make sure he wasn't bashed about before final filming! As we were working in freezing conditions for much of the time, we also developed a special Hydro suit, which was worn by both George MacKay and his stunt double under their character's costumes to keep them warm.
Lee describes MacKay as "a really nice guy" who said to him that he was happy to have Lee by his side during this particular bit of filming.
Much of the filming for the water scenes was carried out by drone, and the angles of the shots could be worked out before the stunt team got into the water to begin work. Because the movie is made to look as though it is one continuous shot, some careful choreographing was required to make sure we got the right effect. No easy feat when your being washed down waterfalls and white water rapids!
Lee's 12-strong team from both Keswick Adventures and our sister company, Hydrospeeding UK, was involved in the filming. This included Becca Newton, Tom Hoyland, Dan Jones, Allen Wearmouth, Brian Robinson, Emma Brocklehurst, Richard Duckett, Paul Weller, Angus Beardsmore, Lee Coils, Ben Loveday and Lee's daughter, Kaylyn Carroll.
When the film was released in December 2019, Lee was invited to the premier in London. However, he preferred to go with the whole team once it came to the local cinema. He said, “We got to see the fruits of our labour all together. Being involved in the journey of this film is something that will stay with us forever and I am so proud of our amazing team. It was exciting to watch the waterfall scene knowing what it looks like on the ground then to see how it came out in the final film”.
We enjoyed every moment being a part of film set, the whole thing was so surreal and we would love to do it again!
You can catch a quick glimpse of Lee on set in this behind the scenes video (at approximately 8:15).
Why not have your own river adventure and come hydrospeeding with us? Or check out all of our outdoor activities around the Lake District and in the North East.