A solid long take is one of the most difficult shots in a film. But if you get it right, it’s a completely immersive point of view.
So what is a long take? Well, it’s a shot that follows a certain character or situation through the action without cutting away to a different shot. This one shot can include many others, all stitched together through fluid camera movement. The only way to combine all of those different shots into a continuous one is a whole lot of planning.
Plotting it Out
For our scene here, we wanted to create a bank heist that follows a thief as he makes off with his loot — from different perspectives and without interrupting the action. And we wanted the thief to run. So we needed multiple camera operators, meaning multiple gear hand offs.
We start with him bursting out of the door, and camera op 1 follows in front.
We track the thief down the breezeway until we get to the stairs, where we hand the camera off to camera op 2.
Op 1 sprints away to a car, where the second handoff will take place.
Op 2 follows him down the stairs, gives the thief a Michael Bay-type spin, then tracks his run as a side profile. We want to add a bit of action to make this more exciting, so we add a run-in with an extra carrying a load of groceries. As the groceries fly into the air, the thief takes off, and we get a wide over-the-shoulder of him approaching an oncoming car.
He stops the car, forces the driver out, and gets in. The camera goes to op 1 (now in the back seat). The camera then follows the driver as he makes his escape.
When the car comes to the intersection, the camera goes back to op 2, who captures the thief driving off into the sunset.
For our shoot, we used most of our own equipment, which included a Sony A6500 and a handheld gimbal. But we wanted to add something to make it a bit more interesting . . . something a little more . . . radical. That item? Roller Blades. This helped us track the thief while he ran and kept our footage mostly stable, but it also necessitated some hand offs. Ever try to get in and out of a car in Roller Blades in a hurry? While holding a camera? Try it. You’ll see.
So with Roller Blades and gimbal, we began our rehearsal. I will note that a gimbal is absolutely necessary for a long take like this. With all the running you’ll be doing, you want your footage to still look smooth and stabilized. We use a Zhyun 3-axis stabilizer that cost us about $500. It will dramatically increase the stability of your footage.
Timing the movements of your crew is extremely important. You don’t want someone to be late for their mark during a long take — one mistake can ruin the whole shot. Give your actors queues for their movements so they know exactly where to be — and when.
If you only have a few camera ops, know that there will be a lot of sprinting to hit your marks. In our scene, when Todd (camera op 1) handed off the camera at the first mark, he had to blade down to the car as fast as possible to be ready for the window handoff. After I handed the camera back to him, I had to sprint up the parking lot to be ready for the final hand off.
One problem we kept running into was getting the handoffs right — we kept bumping the camera in the wrong direction. So with a little bit of practice, we planned out where our hands would be and where the other cameraman would grab the gimbal.
When you’re running with the gimbal, know that even with the best stabilization technology you will still get some shake in your footage. To combat this, try running with a heel-to-toe motion that minimizes the movement in your arms and torso.
We went through about 10 or 12 takes to get this shot. After the fourth or fifth take, everyone started to find their groove. Always be patient — these types of shots are intricate and take a lot of energy to pull off. Even with this many takes, we still had a few bumps and mistakes that ended up in the final cut. So if you want your long take to be perfect, make sure that you have ample time to rehearse and execute the shot you envision.
Why Use This Shot?
So why use a long take? Well for one, they bring a dynamic feel to your video and immerse your viewer in a point of view that captures the action without letting go. Even with only minimal equipment, a long take can add a lot of production value. So plot out your own long take, grab a crew, and get rockin’.
And don’t forget your Roller Blades.
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