Ok, long takes are cool and there are numerous Best Of lists to prove it. Birdman is one of my favorite movies and who can argue that the opening of Gravity is anything but jaw-droppingly awesome. But there’s a time and a place for everything in filmmaking – some scenes call for fast editing and some may call for uninterrupted camera movement.
Now You See It recently posted a video about what long takes can’t do, rather than what they might accomplish, and there are some really great examples. It’s food for thought and a welcome reminder that great filmmaking is about motivation. Are your character’s actions motivated? Are you lens choices? Dialogue? Edits? Movement? If you’re doing something just to do it, you may want to take a step back and rethink what it’s actually doing for (or against) your story.
Check out the video. Take notes.
And then – still on the subject of motivated choices – take a minute to appreciate how Spielberg uses the long take, almost unnoticeably, to move his stories forward. Towards the end of the movie, Tony from Every Frame A Painting really does a great job of breaking down how Spielberg manages to keep the pacing brisk, the story moving and the visuals interesting, while staying in a long take – and why he does it. Two scenes that he points out, are masterful uses (and examples) in my opinion; the drinking contest from Indiana Jones and the scene from E.T.