Video Production Techniques – The Long Take
January 12th 2015
A lot of our recent blogs have focused on post-production including editing techniques. The real skill in all post-production techniques is to try to hide from the viewer the fact that there has been any post-production work carried out at all. Whether it’s the pacing of the edit, the colour correction, special effects or sound engineering, all of these aspects should be perfectly integrated into the video so it appears to the viewer as one seamless production.
What about those cases then when there is none of that stuff, when everything you see on screen actually happened and is not covered up by clever editing or special effects? I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite examples of the long take.
The opening shot of the 1992 film The Player is an absolute work of art and has to be seen to be believed. It’s an 8 minute long tracking shot that perfectly sets up the film that’s about to play out in front of us and introduces Tim Robbins’ as the main protagonist. It took an entire day to rehearse and they shot it 15 times. Epic.
Alfred Hitchcock is known as a master of cinema and of his 53 films Rope is probably one of the most technically complex. What’s remarkable about the 1948 film is that is contains just 10 cuts in the whole of the 80 minute running time. All of the cuts are “hidden” using techniques such as clever dissolves. Interestingly the only reason there are any cuts in this film is because film reels could only hold a maximum of around 9 minutes before needing to be changed. The video below shows all 10 edits.
Going one better than Rope (or should I say 10 better) is the 2002 film Russian Ark. The film charts 200 years of Russian history as played out inside the Russian Heritage Museum and at 99 minutes long it remains the longest feature film without any cuts. Just think what Alfred Hitchcock could have achieved with a digital camera…
Children of Men
For all the technical brilliance of the aforementioned films, no film utilizes the long take to better effect that the 2006 film Children of Men. By using this technique, director Alfonso Cuaron gives the audience a sight at unflinching reality of war. We’re plunged into the depths of a conflict with no end in sight and no chance to look away or escape. By not cutting we’re kept wholly engrossed in the moment and only when the sequence below is over do you realise that it was filmed in one shot.
These are just a sample of long takes from films and they’re probably my favourite. What’s so great about these 4 examples is the range of camera techniques used to achieve the unedited sequence. The Player and Rope both using cranes to sweep across the sets and add levels of verticality. In comparison, Russian Ark is all filmed using a steadicam which adds a sense of weightlessness and floatiness which enhances the dreamlike state that the entire film exists in. Finally, Children of Men is hand held so you get the drama and grittiness of being right in the middle of the combat and it ratchets up the tension with a realism that is missing from the other three.
We love exploring different techniques either in filming or post-production. If there’s an example you’ve seen and want to share it with us or you feel I’ve missed something completely please don’t hesitate to get in touch.