Creating one moment that stands out in the minds of the viewer after your film or tv show ends can be hard, but it is possible. Today we’re going to go over the best long takes in film and television. We’ll also learn how you can use them to put your stamp on your work and entertain the audience all at once.
Long take definition
n filmmaking, a long take is a shot that lasts much longer than the standard editing pace of the film or of films in general. Camera movement and elaborate blocking are often involved in long takes, but they are not mandates.
Other Terms: Some people called them “oners,” “oner film shot,” or the “one shot take.”
Note: The term "long take" is not synonymous with the term "long shot." A long shot refers to the distance between the camera and its subject, and not to the length of the shot itself.
Watch: 3 Strategies Behind the Best Long Takes
Why use a long take?
There’s a lot of emphasis in Film Theory and Critique about who is truly the “author” of the film. The rise of auteur theory gave directors carte blanche to put their stamp on movies.
The long take is a complicated shot, and for many directors, it’s become their signature. It’s a way of showing how in control they are and how creative they can be with the visuals.
But aside from showing off, what can the long take do for you?
PTA's long take starts at the 2:28 mark. Masterful stuff.
Different ways to use a long take
Let’s take a look at this shot from Atonement. There are no edits here, but lots of different camera angles. We travel so far and go through so many emotions that you almost forget there haven’t been any edits. The best long shots are virtually invisible but carry the audience with them.
Atonement (2007) has an incredible long take.
Does the camera always have to travel in a long take? Not at all. You can have one long take that is also effective in carrying the weight of a scene.
This is almost an entire long take film.
In this clip, Andrei Tarkovsky uses it to show the scope of the scene. We don’t cut because he wants us to feel the breadth of the burning home along with the people in the scene.
We stay wide so we can follow the frantic nature of the people. They’re hysterical. And when we sit without interruption so are we.
Here’s a more modern long take from Rachel Morrison and Ryan Coogler. It encapsulates the energy in a boxing ring and the tension of an actual round of fighting.
Coogler breaks down the scene from Creed in his director’s commentary. He uses the long take to put the pressure on us as a fighter. For a few minutes, we’re in the ring too.
How to shot list wide shots
So you want to put your stamp on your next project with a long take? There’s a lot to think about. Are you tracking with characters? Will you need to pull focus? Do you want a dolly? A Crane? Or even some combination of all of the above.
Add your long takes and storyboards to your shot list.
You want capture all these important details in your shot list. With StudioBinder, these details are already listed as options, so you only need to check them off. This allows you to create creative combinations that make your movie come to life.
Your signature long take is only a click away.
We also made collaborating and finalizing the shot list fast and efficient. You can share your thoughts, storyboards, and plans with our e-mail client. Just click the name of the person you want to get the shot list and it’ll show up in their inbox seconds later.
This gives you more time to think about the intangibles. For example, what if you want your long take to start off your movie?
What about using a long take to set up an entire movie?
In the opening of The Player by Robert Altman, the long take is used to set up a series of chaotic scenes on the backlot of a movie studio. This long take shows us how busy the backlot of a studio can be. Thematically, it forces us to concentrate and study the world.
This seems like an entire long take film.
Our story will be one of the many that happen all over the lot. In the end, we’re left wondering how many other crazy things happen in Hollywood during the timeline of The Player.
In Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson uses the long take to set up the whole film and its atmosphere. The seedy world of pornography is still glamorous. It’s an escape from Dirk Diggler’s everyday routine. A fantasy land where dreams can come true.
Is there an entire film built from long takes?
The long take shot has a rich history. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope disguises the movie edits so it appears to be one continuous shot. It brings tension to the murder at the center of the plot.
This is a movie filled with continuous shots.
A more modern example would be Birdman, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. The movie gives the illusion of being one continuous long take. It drops us in the mind and spiraling journey of its characters. As their worlds crash down, so does ours.
This is an innovative long take.
A lot of directors use them to showcase dozens of camera moves and angles. They give the illusion of edits without there being any. Guess who’s the master?
The most celebrated director uses continuous shots and camera angles to give the illusion of a cut.
Spielberg uses the long take to move with people. It’s part of his point of thought.
Let’s look at some other famous long take shots and what they contribute.
The best long takes in movie history
In order to get inspired to shoot your long take, we’ve compiled some of the great oners of all time. First on the list is the car scene from Alfonso Cuaron’s Children Of Men.
This continuous shots must have taken forever to get correct.
Cuaron traps us inside the car for this craziness. It’s claustrophobic and allows us to go from a joyous moment to pure horror as the world breaks down.
We are almost in POV shots here. As the chaos ensues, we want to leave, but the oner keeps us trapped. It’s not the only long take in the movie.
But what about long takes that want to set us free?
This is a packed long take.
The long take in action movies
In Oldboy, Chan-Wook Park uses a long take for its famous hallway fight scene. It keeps everything claustrophobic and dangerous.
This is long take movie magic! The impressive choreography here accentuates the isolation of Oldboy. This is one man against the world.
The long take can be used in many action scenes. John Woo uses the long take in this hallway scene from Hard Boiled. He gives us two men who are working in tandem. We can tell they’re seasoned experts.
The camera dances around the action. It’s there to show us how well these men work together and how amazing they are at their jobs.
There’s a reverie to it.
An animated long take
Not to belabor the point, but look how much fun Spielberg has with this action-packed long take in The Adventures of Tintin.
Is it cheating to do a long take that’s animated?
This shot, even in animation, is a pure delight. But what about when it’s used to create terror?
The long take from Paths of Glory
Stanley Kubrick uses the shot in Paths of Glory to track with the men in the trenches. We’re treated to the horror and pending horror that’s befallen the men on the frontlines. Not breaking from the shot gives importance to the walk. It’s determined and deliberate.
Long takes are not only confined to film. In season one of True Detective, filmmaker Cary Fukunaga uses this kidnapping scene to create tension and mania. You’re on the edge of your seat as the characters navigate homes, open spaces, and the road to unite on the other side.
Is this the best long take of all time?
Lastly, let’s look at what many consider to be the most magnificent long take of all time. It comes from Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.
The opening lines of Goodfellas are about Henry Hill’s desire to be a gangster. This oner is about how he takes us into an elusive world most of us will never know.
We go through the backdoor and into dark spaces. This long take is used as a metaphor for the entire film itself.
Up Next: Tips from Roger Deakins!
Ready to start planning your long take? StudioBinder wants to help. Before you dive in, check out six pro-tips from one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, Roger Deakins. Use his wisdom and our storyboard and shot list tools to get your long take right.
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