The One Shot
By: Freyja Pakarinen
The one shot or "long take" is a long, uninterrupted shot that lasts longer than the normal editing pace. They are relatively rare in films, in comparison to other camera techniques, and are usually done with a dolly or Steadicam. Lately, with films such as Birdman and Victoria, one shots are becoming a more gimmicky selling point, whereby everyone is impressed at the idea of a long take. However, the purpose of a one shot is not meant to be a “look at me! I can keep the camera rolling forever! Aren’t I artsy and amazing?!” In fact, overall, one shot scenes don’t take longer to do than a normal scene with more common takes. The idea that if one person messes up, you have to do the whole shot again suggests that one shots will be gruelling, repetitive tasks which are very time consuming. However, in a normal (non-one shot) scene where characters interact, each character has to be lit, set-up and shot individually and the scene will have to be played out over and over with the camera focussing on different characters each time. Therefore, setting up the lighting and all the actors for a one shot scene is less time consuming and so, even though if one person messes up and you have to start again, it will overall take the same amount of time to shoot a one shot scene as a scene with more conventional takes. Hence, whilst one shots can be visually impressive, that is not the main purpose of them and the best one shots should be ones that you don’t even notice.
Some Directors Known for One Shots:
- Wes Anderson
- Alfred Hitchcock
- Stanley Kubrick
- Martin Scorsese
- Orson Welles
- Woody Allen
- Joss Whedon
- David Lean
Some Examples of One Shots:
Loki has orchestrated an alien invasion at the Stark tower in New York and uses the Tesseract to open the portal that unleashes the Chitauri fleet over Manhattan. After breaking off into separate groups, the Avengers finally assemble to defeat Loki and the alien army.
Effect of the One Shot
Joss Whedon is a big fan of one shots and he mainly uses them to bring characters together. In Buffy, he often uses one shots in the episodes he personally wrote and directed, this technique being very unusual for TV and are often not very noticeable Rather they create a good feel of characters interacting with each other and demonstrating their entwining relationships. In The Avengers, although this is shorter than most one shots, it still highlights the desired effect of uniting the characters. It's used at a point in the movie where The Avengers are finally working together as a team, which is why it’s apt to illustrate this with a one shot as it shows the fluidity of the group acting almost with one mind. One shots are unusual for action scenes, however, this shot doesn’t slow down the pace of the final battle, but more highlights the power they have as a team, when they collaborate.
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS
The Tenenbaum family have been distant from each other for several years, and when their father (Royal Tenenbaum) tries to bring his family together by faking stomach cancer and attempting to break-up his ex-wife’s new relationship, things go awry as the relations try to deal with their dysfunctions. START CLIP AT 00:47
Effect of One Shot
Wes Anderson, like Whedon, is a huge admirer of using one shots to bring characters together. Throughout the film, the family has been a ticking time bomb and it takes the big family breakdown at a wedding to finally connect them. This is why the one shot works so well as it portrays how the family is finally coming together and working as a unit.
Joss Whedon’s cult show Firefly was abruptly cancelled by Fox and as a response to the fans outrage, Whedon was green lit to make an follow up feature film called Serenity to give the fans some closure. This is the opening credits, a one shot sequence.
Effect of One Shot
Joss Whedon has been given a very difficult task, in that he has to maintain the characters that have been developed and built on the previous show, but simultaneously introduce them to any new viewers of the film. Therefore, Joss Whedon, again, uses a one shot to convey all the characters relationships with each other and how they also work together as a crew. In this 4-minute one shot, we learn about each character (in order of appearance):
MAL: Captain of the crew whose status is proven by how the shot follows his journey through the ship and how all the interactions centre around him. We can see that although he can have fun and joke around, his word is final and he is harsh and emotionally disconnected when required.
WASH: The pilot of the ship with a very care-free positive attitude. Clearly not part of the group’s jobs or heists, meaning that he doesn’t have to face much danger, emphasised by his Hawaiian shirt, dinosaur toys and lack of weapons.
JAYNE: The violent wild card that no one takes seriously, who is clearly there to do more mindless aggressive tasks rather than something like negotiation.
ZOË: A level-headed member of the crew, like Mal, who is shown to be a more serious figure with a higher position. Also, married to Wash (indicated through the line “Ask your husband”).
KAYLEE: The mechanic responsible for maintaining the ship, clearly a very sweet and endearing character. Like Wash, it is implied that she does not go out with the group to experience danger.
SIMON: The doctor. It is highlighted that he is much more disconnected from the captain and crew based on the feel of their conversation and the blueish tone. It is established that him and his sister are not truly part of the family and that they are seen as burdens that have to earn their keep. Although there is great hostility between the captain and Simon, it is also established that he cares deeply about protecting his sister and has great love for her.
RIVER: Simon’s sister who we know is a fugitive. There is discussion about her having powers of predicting events. She is also clearly socially and spatially disconnected from the crew and Simon is her only family, shown through him being the one having to get her to go on with the others. The fact that the one shot ends on a close up of her face implies that she is an integral part to the story and the crew’s predicaments.
PLOT: We learn that Serenity is a ship that is falling apart and that the crew is doing back door jobs that are illegal in the eyes of the Alliance, a government that is constantly growing (“come a time there won’t be room for naughty men like us”).
Obviously, this is a very impressive amount of character development and relationships to establish and doing it in a one shot makes it all the more understandable for the audience to visualise the crew’s lives with each other and on the ship.
TOUCH OF EVIL
The opening to Orson Welles' film Touch of Evil. In this scene an American building contractor is killed after someone places a bomb in his car. He's killed on the US side of the border but it's clear that the bomb was planted on the Mexican side.
Effect of One Shot
The one shot here is used differently to what was previously discussed, as it is not used to bring characters together, but to build up suspense as it shifts from the bomb, to the car, to Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. We are aware that the bomb will go off, but it makes the audience cautious as we are aware there is a bomb, but not why it's there or when it's going to explode. This particular scene pre-dates the invention of the Steadicam by some considerable years, so the shot was filmed on a 22” crane on the back of a slow-moving truck. This gave the motion and fluidity Welles desired, whilst leaving no dolly track behind to sneak into frame.
While I appreciate that one shots can be used for suspense (as slow-paced editing is commonly used for), my favourite one shots are not of these kind. I love interesting one shots that explore the dynamics between characters, which is why the best one shots should not be noticeable as the audience should be already fascinated in the relationships between the characters. There is a sense of coming together that is felt in one shots which isn’t felt by the standard over, over, two-shot scene. Therefore, I feel that one shots are at their best when they are used subtly, to tie people together, rather than the feat of ‘look how long I can keep my camera rolling for.’