The Long Take

Watch this video, then we discuss…

While in college, I came within inches of pressing the button on becoming a “film” major (I decided against it, changed to an “education” major, left school, became a Games Manager, the rest is history). I almost picked “film” because the production aspect of making movies fascinates me. The clip above is a perfect example of why I’m fascinated. Any time I come across a behind-the-scenes clip, for whatever, I hit play, immediately.

So background, the clip above is taken from a small camera, which is placed on the top of a steadicam, which is being maneuvered in and out of people and objects for the final shot in the 2011 Martin Scorsese film, Hugo. In the film biz (can I say biz?), this is called a “long take,” a sophisticated uninterrupted shot that only crazy directors use (I made that last part up, Scorsese isn’t crazy, he’s brilliant) (*).

*Side note – Is it obvious why I changed my major? I can’t write about movies for even two paragraphs without geeking out over the intricacies of a “long take”, and then I don’t possess the ability to discuss the powerful narrative meanings that these shots convey without calling someone a crazy person.

So why are we discussing this? Watch that clip again, but watch everything but the people. Did you see the wall move? Did you realize there is member of the film crew following behind the camera holding a microphone in the air? Did you see the other crew member in the rafters holding a microphone? Did you see the cabinet move, and then move back again? Did you see the lighting change? There are even more little intricacies that go into this shot, but that’s still not what I’m getting at.

At 1 minute 41 seconds of the video, we learn everything we need to know about this shot. Did you hear it? At 1:41, there is a breath of relief, a breath of great accomplishment. The amount of planning that goes into something like this is extraordinary, the choreography, the lighting, the sound, the wall moving to make room for the steadicam operator to get a sweeping shot around one of our main characters then pan back towards the dancing, walk through the hallway, and focus in on the final frame of the film. That breath is the culmination of hours and hours of hard work. That breath is the feeling you get when you know you have done something great. That breath is what happens when you accomplish something with a team. That breath is what happens when you take a group of individuals that work hard together, strive towards a common goal, and achieve it.

I’ve gotten that breath several times in my life. It’s happened at the end of a long busy Saturday after helping thousands of people win prizes. It’s happened when I’ve watched members of my staff go above and beyond in their work. It’s happened when I was able to brighten up someone’s day by helping them with a problem. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but when it happens, you know it.

So while you ponder about accomplishments, or breaths, or teamwork, or whatever else moves you from this blog post. Let’s watch what the crew on Hugo accomplished with the clip embedded below, a side by side comparison of the behind-the-scenes shot, and the completed/finished shot that appeared in the film. It’s quite the accomplishment, and worth that breath. (**)

**For you film nerds out there, yes, I know ‘Hugo’ is a weird film to mention in this blog post. And yes, I know there are lots of great steadicam shots out there, like this oneand this onedefinitely this oneor my personal favoriteBut this one is still the greatest.