The greatest single-shot tracking scenes in film history

  • Children of Men

They say "when you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all."

The average cinemagoer won't notice that these famous movie scenes are one continuous take and don't feature any cuts at all.

But to the people behind them, they were a lot of preparation, hard work and repeated takes, but they are worth all the effort put in.

Goodfellas

The filmmakers couldn't get permission to go in the club's main entrance, forcing them to use the fire exit.

Scorsese decided to film the sequence in one unbroken shot in order to symbolize that Henry's entire life was ahead of him, commenting, "It's his seduction of Karen and it's also the lifestyle seducing him."

This sequence was shot seven times, including one where the onstage comedian Henny Youngman forgot his lines.

 

Children of Men

The video above isn't the favourite single-shot tracking sequences, check out this scene for what is regarded as the film's best.

Creating the many tracking shots was a challenging, time-consuming process that sparked concerns from the studio.

It took fourteen days to prepare for the single shot in which Clive Owen's character searches a building under attack, and five hours for every time they wanted to reshoot it.

According to Owen, "Right in the thick of it are me and the camera operator because we're doing this very complicated, very specific dance which, when we come to shoot, we have to make feel completely random."

 

Touch of Evil

The 1958 film directed by Orson Wells opens with a three-minute, twenty-second tracking shot which is widely regarded as one of cinema's greatest long takes.

The night-time filming of the sequence had many retakes, it took so long that the sequence used was the last chance that night; the first light of the breaking dawn is visible in the background.

 

The Shining

For the unsettling tracking sequence following Danny's Big Wheel around the hotel, they needed the lens just a few inches from the floor, and to travel rapidly just behind or ahead of the bike.

Steadicam operator Garrett Brown tried it on foot and “found that I was too winded after an entire three-minute take. Also, at those speeds I couldn’t get the lens much lower than about 18 inches from the floor.”

Instead, the Steadicam was mounted on a special wheelchair (invented by Kubrick and Ron Ford), providing a fluid, hypnotic style that Kubrick at first didn’t like, but grew to accept.

 

Oldboy

The violent South Korean movie's hallway fight scene lasts a (relatively short) 2 minutes and 34 seconds.

It took seventeen takes spread over three days to get this scene right and the only special effect is the knife stuck into our hero’s back, which was added as CGI in post-production.

 

Hard Boiled

Put in to break the monotony of filming, the hallway shot was set up in about a day and a half.

The crew had to all sit in one little room and watch the action via a series of monitors strategically placed along the hallway.

Steadicams had proven to be too heavy, so director John Woo had his cameramen use hand-held cameras.

Woo wanted to do the shot all in one take, but money was running low, so (even though the crew offered to work for free) he had to splice two shots together.

 

The Warrior King (aka Tom-Yum-Goong)

According to the director on the special edition DVD, the continuous fight scene took five full takes for a variety of reasons, including stunt objects not breaking and the stunt mat not being in place in time.

The five takes were filmed over a one-month period.

 

Gravity

Also from the mind of Alfonso Cuarón, who used tracking shots to get affect in Children of Men.

The opening scene, from the establishing view of Earth to Dr. Stone detaching from the structure, is a single, continuous shot lasting about 12 and a half minutes.

Sandra Bullock had to memorize long combinations of precise movements to hit her marks at different points in the shot.

She often had to coordinate her own moves with those of the wire rig attached to her and the camera.

 

Kill Bill Vol. 1

The scene inside the Japanese bar took 6 hours to rehearse, and was shot in 17 takes.

After that, Steadicam operator Larry McConkey was rumoured to have passed out in exhaustion.

 

The Secret in Their Eyes

The Argentinian film's continuous 5 minute shot was filmed in the stadium of football club Huracán, and took three months of pre-production, three days of shooting and nine months of post-production.

Two hundred extras took part in the shooting, and visual effects created a fully packed stadium with nearly fifty thousand fans.

 

Atonement

The shooting schedule dictated that the scene must be completed in two days, because the crew has limited time with the 1,000 extras.

However the location scouts report indicated the lighting quality at the beach was not good enough until the afternoon of the second day which director Joe Wright to change his shooting strategy into shooting with one camera.

The scene was rehearsed on the first day and on the morning of the second day and required five takes, with the third used in the film.

On shooting, Steadicam operator Peter Robertson shot the scene by riding on a small tracking vehicle, walking off to a bandstand after rounding a boat, moved to a ramp, stepped onto a rickshaw, finally dismounting and moving past the pier into a bar.

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Comments

What about Robert Altman's great opening shot in The Player?

La Casa Muda - The whole movie seems to be a single shot. Obviously they cut it at the dark scenes but its not visible.