Long takes are a rarity these days. Shooting them introduces many challenges during the production stage. But the result might be just what your film needs in order to stand out. Director Christopher Nolan’s new teaser trailer for Dunkirk was released last week, and it looks fantastic. Apart from being an effective teaser, we also might get a hint as to the overall pace of the film — specifically with a long take (by trailer standards) at the very end of the teaser, which you can find at around the 33 sec mark. Seeing a director willing to use restraint and hold a moment with a single shot is an enjoyable rarity these days (unless your name is Inarritu), especially in a war movie like Dunkirk. I love a good long take, but some productions shy away. It’s certainly not the easiest route: shorter takes give you much more control in post to cut up the action and hide flubs. There are also creative teams that simply prefer it. Most action movies rely on shorter shots these days to build suspense and give audiences higher energy viewing experiences. The Bourne Supremacy, for example, has an average cut time of 2.4 seconds. Personally, I think that is too fast: it’s a good movie in a great franchise, but the pace of The Bourne Supremacy can be distracting. I’m not saying a quickly cut movie can’t be masterfully crafted. Look at Mad Max: Fury Road, where George Miller reportedly had the camera team “keep the crosshairs on her nose.” This was a rapid paced film, but the composition of each shot kept the pace from being disorienting. More and more, I’m seeing feature action films cut so fast that the action can be almost incomprehensible. Let’s slow things down, and give the power back to the audience with longer motivated takes. Watching the Dunkirk trailer brings me back to my first time watching Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film, Rope. Hitchcock, with cinematographers Joseph A. Valentine and William V. Skall, works throughout the film to give the sense that the camera never cuts. However, technological limitations of the time (namely the 10 minutes worth of 35mm film limit) meant that there are actually multiple cuts in the film. They are hidden by doorframes, actor’s backs or lines in the wall – techniques that are now very often used in modern cinema. You can see the different hidden cuts within the film Rope in the excellent video below by Jim Lynn. Today, we see the long take both as a tension-building device and as simply a way to let the actors truly work. It demands more of the audience and it demands more of the crew shooting the project. Just think about it: how do you hide lights when the camera might see 360 degrees of a scene? The long take has it moments in modern cinematic history, but blockbusters these days choose to fast cut the action to hide the possibly dubious fighting abilities of the actors, or to simply amp up the excitement of the scene in an artificial way. Action is extremely difficult to block, but can it be done in a long take? Sure. You can find proof in this long action scene in Children of Men, by director Alfonso Cuarón. When you are blocking your scenes, consider if the story would be better served by a long take. However, bear in mind that they often present a host of new production hurdles to overcome, such as: BLOCKING: The movement of the camera and audio team now becomes even more essential and the possibility of failure is increased, as the reset on a seven-minute scene is long. TALENT: Are the actors comfortable working this way? Long takes are often more akin to theatre within the acting world, and they require patience and rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. LIGHTING: As mentioned above, finding spots for lighting instruments is now more complicated. Consider mounting in the ceiling, or bumping up practicals if it’s an interior. EQUIPMENT: Often, long takes demand additional gear requirements such as Steadicam or the ever-popular 3-axis gimbal. You also usually need to feed video and audio wirelessly to Video Village. CREW: Keep in mind that you should give your crew, especially operators, breaks between long takes. Don’t just reset and go again without giving the Steadicam Op a moment to rest his or her shoulders. It’s important to understand what you are giving up with a long take. It’s also important to know the why of a long take. For example, “I don’t want to give the audience a break from what this character’s experiencing.” It could also be that you want the viewer to experience a moment in real time. The real point is: don’t do them just for the sake of it. Ask yourself when it’s best to compose a scene in camera, and when it’s best to cut it together in the editing bay. If you’re going for a long one, you’ll lose control in post, giving up your freedom to mold the scene after the fact… unless there’s no dialogue and your editor is a magician with jump cuts. But, fear not; give yourself license to slow your film down. A slower movie doesn’t necessarily need to be a boring one. What is your favorite long take in cinema? Comment below!Read more
With “Photographs of Films” Jason Shulman presents us with long-exposure photographs of iconic movies, resulting in images that are both eerie and intriguing. Browsing the end result, there was a question that I couldn’t help but ask myself: could they teach us anything about cinematography? There are many ways to analyse a film: the script, the acting, the editing, the technical elements chosen to bring the production to fruition and so much more. Ultimately, what you experience as a viewer is the director’s vision brought to life as the sum of all of these elements. For decades we have studied film in retrospect, only turning to analysis after all of the frames have passed in front of our eyes, one twenty-fourth of a second at a time. But, what if we could see the entirety of a movie in a single frame? Jason Shulman’s exhibition “Photographs of Films” is a collection of images that capture the whole duration of classic movies in a series of long exposure photographs. Examples include Citizen Kane, Voyage de la Lune, Rear Window, The Wizard of Oz and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others. Hitchcock’s Rear Window in a single frame Yes, the experiments are jumbled and they are chaotic, but they are never cluttered. The results, all bordering on the abstract and the impressionistic, could even be said to be quite pleasing. Still from Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) Describing the photographs, Shulman equates each of the film’s individual frames as a deck of cards, “and no matter the shuffle, you would end up with the same image I have arrived at. Each of these photographs is the genetic code of a film – its visual DNA”. Is there, then, anything we could learn from reading such a code? In some, the ghostly shapes are all but hints of the actor’s silhouettes, only outlines of shoulders and faces whose framing perhaps offer an indication of the director’s preoccupations with character and their representation. Faster-paced movies, on the other hand, don’t allow human shapes to be imprinted on the image — perhaps, even, our eye — losing all recognisable tangibility in favour of the movement of colour. This, of course, reveals at a single glance the general colour scheme chosen for each particular movie. To dive deeper into colour schemes and their importance in the production of a film, make sure to read Richard’s excellent article. Spielberg’s Duel (1971) in a single frame Of course, there is a valid argument that Shulman’s photographs should stand as pieces of visual art on their own. But their very nature makes it unavoidable to want to see them in connection to the source material. We want to forensically compare them to the originals, to the emotions that we felt when we watched them, to our own experience in front of the screen. It is almost inevitable to wonder if the photographs offer any added layer of meaning. Still from Spielberg’s Duel (1971) Maybe there is some further insight we can infer from the photos and maybe there isn’t. Where they succeed, though, is in inviting us to revisit the films in our mind’s eye. To question them, to breathe new life into these icons of popular culture whose medium we have chosen as a channel to express our own creativity — a medium which in most of our cases we have turned into our profession. In short, these photographs make us think about something old in a new way. And — at least the way I see it — that is what art is all about. The Cob hosts Shulman The Cob Gallery in London is presenting Jason Shulman’s “Photographs of Films” exhibition from 12th May – 4th June 2016.Read more
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