What cinematic techniques are used to grab the audience’s attention in the opening 10 minutes of Saving Private Ryan?
When Steven Spielberg made Saving Private Ryan he aimed to portray “the terrors and triumphs of D-Day as more than just make-believe.” He has taught the entire world to view history as he sees it: in black and white, with musical accompaniment. A legend who has stamped his mark on every film genre known to man; and we asked that little boy from Cincinnati how he created one of the most realistic, intense and memorable war movies of our time. Spielberg produced a film that was praised for its authenticity and uncanny likeness to the surviving 1940’s footage and that gritty feeling of reality that runs down your spine is what made this film critically-acclaimed by peers and audiences alike.
The first 10 minutes are the most heralded sequence of the film, which depict the Omaha beachhead assault of June 6 1944, but how did he capture the past so magnificently?
Shoni Vaknin: The opening of SPR was very patriotic, with the overflowing American flag, so why was it saturated?
Steven Spielberg: Well, the flag was there in the first place to show, like you said, patriotism and to give an idea of the film. It was saturated with a reddish tint to show that you can’t wash away the blood of those brave soldiers and to show that they only had black and white in those days.
Vaknin: The score in that scene is very slow, sombre and quiet; why is it not patriotic and loud to match the massive flag?
Spielberg: It needed to be like that, in my opinion; it really set the scene and the atmosphere for the movie.
Vaknin: When the old man and family are introduced, you used a mid range shot to begin with and gradually followed from feet to face with a close-up, why didn’t you just begin with a close-up shot?
Spielberg: Because a mid range shot showed that he had a family and at that point it was leading into the action and not trying to show that the man was really emotional.
Vaknin: The graveyard scene was very touching, because you captured his sorrow brilliantly, so why did the score begin to darken and why did add a growing drum beat?
Spielberg: Oh, the score was to prepare you for the bloody battle you were about to see. To let you know that you were no longer in the graveyard, but in a place that was terrifying and forgotten.
Vaknin: There is no dialogue until the soldiers start preparing for landing, why aren’t we introduced to the main characters earlier?
Spielberg: In war, it is all a rush and struggle for survival, so you wouldn’t have time to meet and greet, as such, the main characters.
Vaknin: The lighting in the graveyard and war scenes are very different, why did you choose opposite lighting?
Spielberg: I think that in the graveyard you would want to feel some sense of happiness of closure, so it had to be colourful and bright. In the 1940’s they didn’t have colour TV’s and the dull and dark lighting used is what makes it incredibly like its 1940’s counterparts.
Vaknin: If you take five minutes of the graveyard scene and five minutes of the war scene, there are almost three times more frames in the war scene, why?
Spielberg: Like I said earlier, you have to rush or be shot and the atmosphere in war is like that.
Vaknin: You like to stick to historical truths as well as fictional realities, is that why you continually swap point of view?
Spielberg: I just went to war and did things the way I thought a combat cameraman would have. I instructed the cameramen to carry unprotected cameras and to follow the actors, filming them wherever they went, underwater or with blood on the camera, and to not wipe anything off the lens because that’s how I gained that classic, sharp wartime charm amidst the blood and gore.
Vaknin: The editing in this film is just fantastic and there is a shot of Tom Hanks (Capt. Miller) when everything is slowed down and a soldier is shouting orders at him, why did you use a high shot type and slow editing?
Spielberg: Personally, I think that a high shot type showed how small, insignificant and just as scared as the next man Capt. Miller really was and when I used slow editing it really showed his emotion and the drama of it all.
There are lots of different types of cinematic techniques that were used in the opening 10 minutes of SPR and all were used in a truly realistic and intelligent way. Steven Allan Spielberg is a genius when it comes to directing or producing. Saving Private Ryan will always be remembered as one of the last great war films that recognizes that older generation who bravely fought and died with pride for their country. Overall, it was a great way to round off that last millennium.