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One Scene, One Shot
May 19, 2014 4:44 PM   Subscribe

The Spielberg Oner: "One overlooked aspect of Spielberg is that he's actually a stealth master of the long take. From Duel to Tintin, for forty years, he has sneakily filmed many scenes in a single continuous shot." posted by brundlefly (58 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Re the note that his oners are typically only a minute or two long, this is because really, seriously, the vast majority of all scenes, period, should not be over a minute or two long.

I've seen lots and lots of scenes get cut from scripts (more in TV, but also features) solely on the basis that it's fucking impossible to shoot a 4 or 5 page scene, and much better to cut them down or get rid of them or figure out a different way to do what the writer is trying to do.

A five minute one-shot scene would be pure masturbation.
posted by Sara C. at 4:54 PM on May 19


A five minute one-shot scene would be pure masturbation.

There are websites where this is the entire business model
posted by Benjy at 4:57 PM on May 19 [38 favorites]


A five minute one-shot scene would be pure masturbation.

This pretty succinctly sums up one of the main reasons why I hated Gus Van Sant's 'Elephant' so much.
posted by TwoWordReview at 5:04 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


A five minute one-shot scene would be pure masturbation.

Good thing Orson Welles kept it down to about three and a half, then.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:05 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


Good thing Orson Welles kept it down to about three and a half, then.

Always masturbate with Orson Welles. He knows exactly where to find the rosebud.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:22 PM on May 19 [19 favorites]


Also, all of Tony Zhou's cinematography videos on his Vimeo account are worth watching, BTW.
posted by Sara C. at 5:23 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


It's interesting watching the video of long takes, because I never noticed any of that when watching the original films.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:31 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


It's weird to think of Spielberg as being a restrained and subtle.
posted by octothorpe at 5:40 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


Great post. I always thought that Jaws ferry boat scene was amazing. The perfect timing of the actors matching the lines to with the ferry arriving at the dock...it's really impressive. I wonder how many takes that took to get right.
posted by zardoz at 5:47 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


I think long takes work well in 3D movies. Action shots cutting from scene to scene in quick succession don't give my old eyes enough time to readjust to the new depth of field in each new cut. I also think that Gravity did this very well - most of the scenes seemed to be very long takes.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 5:51 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


this is because really, seriously, the vast majority of all scenes, period, should not be over a minute or two long.

Counterpoint: oh Jesus where to start
posted by shakespeherian at 6:07 PM on May 19 [20 favorites]


Some more analysis of Spielberg, with more examples of of long takes.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 6:08 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


I totally remember that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. as cutting back and forth. Amazing
posted by xingcat at 6:17 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]


Sara C.: "
A five minute one-shot scene would be pure masturbation.
"

The one (heh) in True Detective is 6 minutes, and you don't even notice it, it works so well.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:27 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


While I think most long single takes can get into a little cinematic masturbation the long take from Children of Men was spectacular. I was kinda surprised that he didn't have a longer take in Private Ryan because that would be a perfect excuse for wankery.
posted by vuron at 6:35 PM on May 19


The line about practical effects over green-screen is particularly ironic given the big deal Spielberg made about using practical effects in the last Indiana Jones movie... which fucking opened with the most obvious of green-screen shots.
posted by asterix at 6:36 PM on May 19


A five minute one-shot scene would be pure masturbation.

Philistine! Hollywood norms shouldn't be the only moviemaking norms. You can find great long one-shot scenes in Mizoguchi's The 47 Ronin, Jansco's Red Psalm, and Angelopoulos' The Traveling Players.
posted by jonp72 at 6:39 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


Agreed about the long take in Children of Men. I remember watching it with my husband and the tension just kept building and building. It was noticible, yeah, but it was phenomenal.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:47 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


Ass pennies
posted by rifflesby at 7:00 PM on May 19 [10 favorites]


I was watching Jaws again recently and noticed for the first time the length of the single shot when Brody, Hooper and the mayor are arguing by the defaced billboard. It includes a lot of dialogue and a natural introduction of the sign's defacing. Quite well done, if not as showy as the ferry shot.
posted by Man-Thing at 7:05 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


Behold: The Protector. One single take, four minutes long, nothing but uninterrupted violence. The camera follows our hero upstairs, downstairs, and parkouring over and around obstacles as he plows through wave after wave of goons. Punching, kicking, throwing people off balconies (!), disappearing like a ninja when the camera's back is turned...

Even if you don't like action movies, this is worth a few minutes of your time. It's the fistfightingest thing ever filmed.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:14 PM on May 19 [5 favorites]


The one (heh) in True Detective is 6 minutes, and you don't even notice it, it works so well.

It really does! I'd been hearing about that shot for weeks before I finally watched the episode... and then suddenly the credits were rolling, and I realized I'd somehow missed it, I was that caught up in the moment. The long take so perfectly meshes with the tense and chaotic scene that you don't even notice that something special's going on. It's a virtuoso moment, done entirely for effect and not in the least but show-off-y. Truly spectacular filmmaking.

Another amazing bit about that scene: set a stopwatch from when Cohle tells Hart to meet him in 90 seconds until they actually meet. Yup, almost exactly 90 seconds. The scene isn't just shot in a single take, it's shot in a single, real-time-equals-movie-time, no-faking take. Simply beautiful.
posted by jacobian at 7:14 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


Always masturbate with Orson Welles. He knows exactly where to find the rosebud.

Can we cut it out with the sled-shaming comments?

Back on topic, Joss Whedon (with the help of veteran cinematographer Jack Green) also threw a one-er into the opening credits scene of Serenity.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:29 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]


Behold: The Protector.

Damn. Now I want to know if that building is a set or of they actually found a perfect layout like that.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:33 PM on May 19


the long take from Children of Men was spectacular

That one long take you are thinking of is spectacular, but I think this one is even more incredible. (How they did it.)
posted by hippybear at 7:53 PM on May 19 [9 favorites]


asterix: "The line about practical effects over green-screen is particularly ironic given the big deal Spielberg made about using practical effects in the last Indiana Jones movie... which fucking opened with the most obvious of green-screen shots."

Ehh, that movie was so much more a Lucas joint than Spielberg's. And I don't think that anyone could have directed a decent movie out of that script, green-screen or no.
posted by octothorpe at 8:14 PM on May 19


Where can I find more videos that are like Tony Zhou's?
posted by gucci mane at 8:24 PM on May 19


Also, for those who haven't otherwise seen it, here is the True Detective Episode 4 long shot.
posted by hippybear at 8:57 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


hippybear: "That one long take you are thinking of is spectacular, but I think this one is even more incredible."


Yeah usually people focus on the one scene from Children of Men, but that's just the most extreme example in a movie which has filled with this.

Right at the start, there's a 1 minute (I just checked) shot when he gets his coffee, and the camera follows him out onto the street, when the shop he was just in explodes. When they're sneaking out of the compound there's a nearly 2 minute shot before he gets the car rolling down the hill.




The Jaws scene, with the actors repositioning themselves over the course of the scene, rather than moving the camera, reminded me of David Bordwell's writing, which first got me thinking about that. They might not have the camera swooping through air vents and in and out of cars most of the time, but the idea of shooting a conversation between a few people in one shot would have been commonplace in 1950.
posted by RobotHero at 9:24 PM on May 19


Antonioni's The Passenger: One shot, 7 minutes.
posted by marvin at 10:05 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


I was watching Jaws again recently and noticed for the first time the length of the single shot when Brody, Hooper and the mayor are arguing by the defaced billboard. It includes a lot of dialogue and a natural introduction of the sign's defacing. Quite well done, if not as showy as the ferry shot.

I recall hearing that the crew and actors knew that scene was just pure exposition so they just rehearsed it and rehearsed it until they could drill through it super quickly. But it is wonderfully staged so it's oner-ness doesn't feel dragging.

Also, Dreyfuss didn't know how to pronounce "carcharodon carcharias" and if you watch, you can see him look over at the cue cards someone out of frame was holding up.
posted by Brainy at 10:08 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


Also Spielberg seems to be using it frequently for establishing shots of new locations. Raiders, this is the first we see Marion's bar, and the first we see of Marion. In A.I. he's introducing us to the carnival. In The Terminal and Schindler's List we follow a character as they enter a new location.


E.T. and Catch Me If You Can both times it emphasizes that whatever you expected to be over there moved when you looked away.
posted by RobotHero at 10:25 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


Maybe I've missed it, I'm kinda surprised that Steve McQueen hasn't been recognised for the development of his long takes. There's a pretty clear line from the 17 minute shot in Hunger to the long shots in Shame to some of the long shots in 12 Years a Slave. I don't think the extreme lengths would have worked in 12 Years a Slave but the evolution is definitely there, kinda like how Spielberg was experimenting with it in Jaws and then uses them later on when they work for the material.
posted by dogwalker at 11:00 PM on May 19


Don't forget, Hitchcock filmed Rope to appear as a single long take, pushing the limits of film as used in film cameras then to their limits and using clever editing to disguise the breaks between swapping out of film cartridges.

The long take is not a new phenomenon, it's been part of film from the beginning (when cameras would roll on a single scene without edit until the spool of film ran out and that was printed and exhibited to audiences).

It's in the modern era of film and film editing, post Eisenstein basically, where it is more remarkable to have extended takes without a cut that serves the story in a cinematic way.

The amount of choreography and planning and rehearsal required to make these modern shots work would be unfathomable in earlier eras of filmmaking, except in very rare circumstances.

Cloverfield should be mentioned here, although to be honest I have not watched that movie in quite a while so maybe it has more cuts than I remember it having.

I really REALLY like long takes. But then, I really REALLY like live theater, where every single night is a single take with all the pitfalls and possibility for success that can be imagined, all done before an audience who is seeing everything happen exactly in real time right in front of their eyes.

I wish more movies felt like that. Because it's one of the most exciting things on the planet.

Speaking of which, no mention of the long solo song performances in the Les Miserables movies? They were also astounding.
posted by hippybear at 11:20 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


I once saw this show about the detective show Columbo with Peter Falk. They said that for the first episode they hired this guy recently out of film school to direct. He talked them into doing this shot where Columbo was walking with the suspect on the sidewalk downtown while having a conversation. The camera was hidden in a van moving ahead of them, so the other people walking around them didn't even notice that a television shot was taking place!

That young director was, of course, Steven Spielberg.
posted by eye of newt at 12:02 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


I'm kinda surprised that Steve McQueen hasn't been recognised for the development of his long takes

I think the key is the shot has to be the entire scene. That's what a "oner" is. It's not just any long shot.

I was all about to start giving myself props for this (I recently pulled off a really long and extremely choreographed shot that had a ton of physical comedy in it and IT WAS GLORIOUS), but then I remember that there's tons of cutting in the scene.
posted by Sara C. at 12:04 AM on May 20


This post caused me to realize: Spielberg has made some amazing pictures. His popularity--for me, at least--can obscure how good he is.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:28 AM on May 20 [10 favorites]


Wow, I just watched that True Detective episode and now this is here on Metafilter! Yeah, the scene was so good, I didn't realize what was happening until a couple minutes into it. Even then I didn't realize it was 6 minutes! Wow.
posted by saul wright at 12:28 AM on May 20


In my experience, a lot of people who claim to dislike Spielberg will stumble a bit when you start listing off the great films he's made. Sure, he's got his annoying tendencies and he's made his fair share of stinkers. There are plenty of valid criticisms to make, but I think a lot people are too blinkered by how successful he's been.
posted by brundlefly at 1:52 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I see your The Protector, and I give you the opening scene of JCVD.

(spoiler) It's very difficult for me, *wheezing* to do everything in one shot. I'm 47 years old...'
posted by glasseyes at 2:43 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I think the key is the shot has to be the entire scene. That's what a "oner" is. It's not just any long shot.

But that's exactly my point. He started with a 17 minute long one shot scene, which evolved to his later films having varying degrees of long shots in it. I think that evolution is interesting because I don't think he would be using that style without his previous experiences. And I'm interested to see where he goes with it from here.

And all that is to say nothing of the multitude of examples given in this thread and the links in the original post that are of long shots that don't compose an entire scene (which can sometimes be a somewhat arbitrary distinction at this point).

For example, the main link to the Spielberg compilation ends on a clip from Jurassic Park that supposedly represents a "oner" that clearly has a cut within the scene.
posted by dogwalker at 3:30 AM on May 20


"the vast majority of all scenes, period, should not be over a minute or two long."

Big Manos fan then? ;)

If anyone has seen Fellini's Roma, how long is the traffic jam scene at the end, and is it one shot? Because it shure goes on for ages. (Haven't seen it for a while.) Also I am pretty sure there are some long shots in Tarkovsky's Solyaris, and Stalker, but again it has been a while.
posted by marienbad at 3:42 AM on May 20


Also, Dreyfuss didn't know how to pronounce "carcharodon carcharias" and if you watch, you can see him look over at the cue cards someone out of frame was holding up.

Also that line is clearly ADR'ed, so I guess even with the cue card he didn't get it right on the set.

If you need any technical proof of how much of a hand Spielberg had in the direction of Poltergeist, look at the scene where the Freeling parents and the parapsychologists are outside of the kids' bedroom preparing to go in to rescue Carol Ann. It opens with a closeup of Ryan writing numbers on tennis balls, and ends with a closeup of Tangina turning the doorknob. In between is a dialogue scene of Tangina coaching the Freelings on how to call to Carol Ann, and the Freelings taking turns trying to get her to respond. All a single shot.
posted by doctornecessiter at 4:41 AM on May 20


For me, the single 96-minute shot from the Russian Ark is still one of the most amazing long-shots. The sheer amount of choreography (2,000 actors, 3 orchestras) and the trickery used (the "floating" camera!) baffles me.
posted by florzinha at 5:54 AM on May 20 [5 favorites]


My favorite 1-shot take was the ECU of Sophie finally telling her story at the end of Sophie's Choice. It may have been intercut with some flashback but dammit Meryl deserved two oscars for that performance.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:34 AM on May 20


I can't believe I haven't posted this yet: the 3 minute shot in John Woo's Hard Boiled.

When the actors go in the "elevator" the crew is actually running around rearranging the set to create a "second floor".
posted by brundlefly at 10:01 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


Have to mention the famous 3-minute Copacabana tracking shot from Goodfellas.
posted by Kabanos at 10:42 AM on May 20


The 8 minute shot that opens The Player was pretty good, IMHO.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:55 AM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Have to mention the famous 3-minute Copacabana tracking shot yt from Goodfellas.

What I like about that one is that it was a practical problem-solver. The restaurant wouldn't let them use the front door for whatever reason (I wonder if there was some modern alteration that was the sticking point), so he used what that gave him. I <3 Marty.

The 8 minute shot that opens The Player was pretty good, IMHO.

Now, that is a fantastic movie in its own right, and there are many things to praise about that film and specifically about the long crane shot (it sets up a lot of both expositional and thematic elements), but boy, is that an example of the flashy kind. It even goes meta with a discussion about long shots within the shot.
posted by dhartung at 2:56 PM on May 20 [3 favorites]


I second florzinha. Russian Ark or gtfo.
posted by Snowishberlin at 3:14 PM on May 20


Kabanos: "Have to mention the famous 3-minute Copacabana tracking shot from Goodfellas."

The Tony Zhou video does show that at the start when he says it's the "most jerked-off to type of shot in film-making."

Again if I remember correctly, it's an establishing shot for the Copacabana. I suppose it also helps to underline how Ray Liotta gracefully navigates this world.
posted by RobotHero at 3:15 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Another director who should be on this list, but I can't find any good examples online, is Woody Allen. Allen is known for his witty dialogue, but his movies have a really nice visual language, with plenty of long shots. And something he does that's really interesting is have his characters move out of frame while still talking, and have the camera pointed at something seemingly irrelevant to the conversation. Then the character eventually walks back into frame. It makes for a really natural feel to the scenes.

Allen does get a lot of credit for his great cinematographers, but his long shots are equally impressive. Yet another director who has some nice long shots is Robert Zemeckis. Watch the opening credits of Back to the Future as the camera moves (his cameras are always moving) through the steps of one of Doc Browns weird machines. Good stuff.
posted by zardoz at 8:42 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


The single shot of Russian Ark is an amazing technical achievement, but I thought it was not a particularly good movie for other reasons. My main complaint is that it couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a travelogue or a historical drama, and as a result ended up doing neither one very well.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:56 PM on May 20


Allen is known for his witty dialogue, but his movies have a really nice visual language, with plenty of long shots.

I'm not sure if there's a separate obit FPP, but it bears mentioning that Woody's cinematographer, Gordon Willis, passed away yesterday. He also worked with Coppola on all the Godfather films. And shot a bunch of other really important movies, but those two seem germane to the conversation at hand.

It's actually vaguely sad that this video doesn't mention the cinematographers of the films at all.
posted by Sara C. at 9:04 PM on May 20


The single shot of Russian Ark is an amazing technical achievement, but I thought it was not a particularly good movie for other reasons.

I feel that way about Timecode, which is, if I remember (haven't not watched it but once and that was a few years back), four simultaneous long-takes on the screen at the same time for the entire duration of the film.
posted by hippybear at 9:43 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


(btw, last night I timed the Poltergeist one-shot scene that I mentioned upthread, it's 2:55.)
posted by doctornecessiter at 5:23 AM on May 21


argument against: Rohmer and that "Greek film-maker long takes" i literally put that into Startpage and got Angelopoulos. Who apparently is RIP, which explains why i haven't seen any of his films for a while. Tarkovskys (think there were plural) and... i haven't seen most of those directors famous for long takes, although i did see Pasolini's Theorem and it was hell (i'm too polite to climb over 24 people mid-film)(and his The Gospel According to St. Matthew is my favourite film of all time) and most of the ones i have seen i agree. Isn't Nuri Bilge Ceylan (something like that) that long though? Or does it just feel that way?

First Spielberg film i saw was Duel, which makes Rear Window look roccocco in what it allows itself, and it works perfectly. On telly (i think it's half an hour long). Bumped into it at random, couldn't stop watching, that kind of 'saw a film'.

My experience of editing - essays, paintings, interviews etc. is the opposite, but then i'm editing a finished product down: edit in the best bits as huge long chunks, chuck the nice but inessential bits. Don't trim and pinch the good bits, let them breathe. Context needs leaving in.
posted by maiamaia at 12:59 PM on May 21


Another director who should be on this list, but I can't find any good examples online, is Woody Allen. Allen is known for his witty dialogue, but his movies have a really nice visual language, with plenty of long shots. And something he does that's really interesting is have his characters move out of frame while still talking, and have the camera pointed at something seemingly irrelevant to the conversation. Then the character eventually walks back into frame. It makes for a really natural feel to the scenes.

I love this technique of Allen's and I've always thought it would be interesting to use it in a non-Alleny context. Like a science fiction film.
posted by brundlefly at 6:00 PM on May 21


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