The art of the long continuous shot hasalways beenrooted in exhaustive pre-production planning, precision timing, disciplined talent, and more than just a little bit of luck. To shoot a video in one continuous take means getting the ball rolling (sometimes literally) and then following the action, hitting one's marks along the way, until the climactic end. Filmmakers and videographers have been pushing the boundaries of the continuous shot, aiming for longer duration and challenging themselves, and their talent, to nail these long shots in single takes.
When thinking about long continuous shots, most of us start with Alfred Hitchcock's iconic Rope. Rope (1948) is often casually referred to as the best example of a feature length movie shot in a single continuous take. The reality is, of course, that the film was shot in 10 segments, ranging in length from 4:37 to 10:06. (The maximum shot length at the time was approximately ten minutes due to the limit of the film magazine.) But even though Rope is not actually a single continuous shot, the length of the shots, the beauty of the transitional edits,and the resulting real time narrative is still astonishing 63 years after it was made.
Hitchcock may have been a pioneer of the marathon continuous shot, but he has been joined by others since. Robert Altman's The Player (1992) features the famous opening sequence, a continuous shot with a duration of 7:47. Orson Welles' 1958 Touch of Evil opens with a 3:20 continuous shot. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is famous for it's long shots, as is Martin Scorsese's The Godfather.
Much more extreme are examples like Timecode (2000) and Russian Ark (2002), both feature length films shot in acontinuous take. Timecode, in fact, consists of not one, but four continuous shots displayed simultaneously with each shotoccupying a quadrant of the screen andrelying on the audio to direct the audience's focusand to drive the storyline. Russian Ark, is a 99 minute feature film shot in one continuous take; it follows the narrator (in first-person POV, no less) as he wanders from room to room in a palace (actuallyThe Hermitage Museum) in St. Petersburg encountering figures from 300 years of Russian history. Pretty heady stuff and a masterful technical achievement. And, of course, one of the most extreme examples of the continuous take is Andy Warhol's Empire.
Made in 1964 with cinematographer Jonas
YouTube and Vimeo are both replete with examples of continuous shot videos (at least in part made famous by our favorite contemporary example, the band OK Go and their continuous-shot music videos). While perhaps doing something of an end-around on the editing side, these unbroken shooting sessions are great exercises in pre-production work, from storyboarding to set-design and from directing to complex camera work. After checking out the examples we've described here, give the long continuous shot a try and let us know how it turns out.