One and Done
A long take or “oner” is when an entire scene is captured in a single, unbroken take. These are technically difficult shots that require a lot of planning and coordination. The history of cinema is full of incredible long takes; some frequently-cited examples are in Touch of Evil, Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, Children of Men, and Gravity, but there are many more. There are even films that appear to be a single continuous shot; Hitchcock’s Rope and Iñárritu’s Birdman use clever cutting to simulate a continuous take. Alexander Sokurov’s 2002 film Russian Ark is an ambitious, unconventional historical drama that was filmed in a single take at the Russian Hermitage museum.
There are also many notable long takes from recent television. The “Two Storms” episode of The Haunting of Hill House (discussed in a previous blog post) is comprised almost entirely of long takes; there’s an epic long take fight scene in the first season of Daredevil; and the first season of True Detective has an incredible long take in the fourth episode, “Who Goes There.”
Because they are so technically demanding, many long takes are actually simulated using editing (such as cutting on a whip pan or when the camera is blocked) or visual effects. The famous car chase in Children of Men is comprised of several shots captured over a three day shoot and Birdman actually has over 100 hidden cuts. Check out this video from Fandor for additional details:
Long takes are fun and flashy – they’re a way for the director and cinematographer to show off for the audience. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they are appropriate for every situation. Check out the following video from Now You See It, which analyzes the limitations of the oner.