How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Like the Long Take

Remember the raid sequence in the first season of True Detective? How about all of Birdman? These are inspirations to me. The long take is something I wanted to do but was never confident enough to commit to until recently.

Alejandro González Iñárritu on the set of Birdman (2014)

Whenever I’ve created films or music videos, I’ve normally been the type of person to set up a shot and keep it mostly static for the entirety of it. Maybe a bit of movement here or there, but it was minimal and I never lingered on it for too long. High-intensity scene? My approach was quick cuts, similar to the ‘getting high’ sequences in Requiem for a Dream. I enjoy setting up the shot in terms of its composition and leaving it at that. This felt like the attributes of a still photographer. But that changed when I worked on my forthcoming film Consumer Beware, which is currently in post-production and due out in the first half of 2016. Anthony Martel, who plays the main character Lincoln and also serves as co-writer and editor, brought up, on more than one occasion, the camera movements in Birdman, so we tried something similar to that for some of the scenes. They captured the intensity that I was looking for in certain scenes where I believed a cut to a different shot would have broken that up. I gained an appreciation for them. It made me want to commit to more tracking shots not only for this film, but for future films, too.

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True Detective (2014)

To me, and from a technical standpoint, a good long take, especially one that is a tracking shot, shows both proper planning and a steady hand behind the camera. This may take numerous rehearsals and also take longer than if you were to do quick cuts. And even if you don’t have the best equipment for it, you can get away with shortening the legs of a tripod and using that as a makeshift rig to do the job with the result looking pretty good if you have a decent cameraman. What held me back from them was lack of confidence in getting the shot I wanted. But with lots of practice, we were able to use the equipment we had at hand to create satisfying shots.

My word of advice is this: keep an open mind, experiment, and don’t knock it ’til you try it. And if it feels worth it to you, do it. These may sound generic, but they all certainly apply to the filmmaking world. I think a lot of things that budding filmmakers should do is just try new things. Write different genre screenplays. Try different camera movements. You just might find new styles to add to your arsenal.

One of the long take scenes in Consumer Beware took over 20 takes to do. But we kept going and going until we got it because we knew this was the shot we wanted. We didn’t want to sacrifice the shot due to it being a challenge. And neither should anyone.


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