By Jahnavi Patwardhan. Posted on April 02, 2015
Birdman, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu not only won an Oscar for the best film, but also got Emmanuel Lubezki an Oscar for his cinematography. Amongst all its accolades, the illusion of the movie being shot in a single long take stood out the most.
A long take or a long shot, as the term suggests, is one continuous take without a cut in the shot. Most of the times, a long shot is a blend of the director’s vision, the cinematographer's skills and the editor’s magic (in most cases). Alfred Hitchcock was one of the earliest masters of long shots which he used superbly in ‘Rope’. Today with the advent of CGI and other softwares, there are many options available to filmmakers for shooting long takes.
Coming back to Birdman, Emmanuel Lubezki has taken it a step beyond just plain cinematography. The cinematography of this movie, apart from great camera skills, plays very emphatically on technical trickery and finesse. A video by Variety shows the techniques used by Lubezki and his team to create the illusion of the film being a single long take.
Before Birdman, Lubezki shot to fame due to his work in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity and Children of Men. Both were widely appreciated for the direction as well as the cinematography.
It might be argued that the logic behind the one-take idea appears to be more of a technical showmanship rather than it being a narrative technique. Ideally it should be a mix of both. There are things that directors must consider apart from what the audiences think. With every cut, the audience is required to reorient themselves with the character as well as the background.
When there are too many cuts, the audience automatically relates only to the characters, while the background is eventually forgotten and left unexplored. In short, the who becomes more important than the where.
On the other hand, in a long shot, the focus can be shifted between the character and the background, so that the audience can notice things they otherwise wouldn't. Scenes shot in long takes feel more real not only due to the continuity of time but also because the audience invests their time and emotions in every element of the frame.In Gravity, most of those backgrounds are completely computer-generated, which shows how good Cuarón’s work is. Space in Gravity feels so real, partly because we get to see it in such long stretches.
Filmmakers who love the power of a cut should always ask themselves about what they could gain by not cutting a scene.
Also watch a video by Refocused Media containing some of the longest takes from Children of Men.
Are there any other films which have great single take sequences. If yes, then we would love to know and write about it on our site.