How to Shoot the Perfect Long Take
Children of men has some of the best long shots in cinema, and we can learn a thing or two from its best.
Long takes are one of the ways great directors love to showcase their filmmaking skills. The whole point of the long take is to film an entire scene in one take, or at least to make it look like it was shot in one take. Long takes are used as a storytelling tool so that the audience can see the movie from a unique perspective. This means that the lens can choose how it tells a story from a specific character or a non-subjective point of view.
Though there are a lot of great long takes from movies like Touch of evil, old boy, and Goodfellas, no long take is better than the car scene Children of men. Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece has some long takes throughout the film, but the auto scene is a masterclass in understanding how to make a great movie while making sure it serves the story.
A question of the film breaks up the scene and examines how each beat of the long take works for the story in this video.
The opening strikes
The long shot is mastered by focusing the frame on the subject of the scene. In this case, the frame is focused on the five characters in the car. Each beat propels the story forward as the dynamics of the scene’s events unfold and the characters adapt and respond to their surroundings.
The opening bar of this long take focuses on Theo (Clive Owens) waking up in the car. The camera then returns to a wide angle focus on Theo and his former lover Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore) in the picture before revealing the other people in the car with them. This second beat is a form of disclosure for the audience to know where and who is involved in this scene. Through a bit of dialogue we discover the meaning of Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey).
The shot changes to a medium close-up of Julian and Theo looking at each other while they are playing a game that only they can play. They are the only two people in the frame, and their deliberate isolation from everyone else shows how their intimacy can hide the world around them. This last opening beat not only shows the relationship between our main character and Julian, but also creates empathy for Julian, as it expresses that she cannot do anything specific without Theo.
The playfulness of the opening strokes is quickly brought to rest as the camera rotates 180 degrees into the driver’s perspective. From his perspective, we see a car on fire come out of the forest and block the road in front of them. The camera then makes a slow 360-degree turn to capture all of the reactions as the driver tries to get them out of harm’s way. The frame on this beat is much tighter on the characters’ faces to capture their reaction to the threat right outside their windows.
While the camera and the car race backwards, the perspective changes to the perspective of an absent passenger. This is a clever way to allow the audience to get in the car with the other five characters and feel the tension and danger of the scene.
Unlike the opening scene where the camera was focused on the characters inside the car, the camera and audience are now captivated by the events outside the car. When the camera stops on a 360-degree turn, it shows the driver’s perspective to contrast the danger posed by the burning car in front of them and the burning car.
The camera then follows the attacking bikers from the perspective of the driver. When Julian is shot, the blood splatters onto the glass frame as if it were our own face. The camera then rotates quickly to capture the reactions of the characters in the back seat as they process what just happened. The camera then follows Theo on the next bar as he tries to save Julian and defend himself before turning to the cracking window to build tension and tension in the scene.
The frame of the cracking window is given about four seconds of focus to allow the audience to catch their breath before the horrors are revealed by Theo, clutching Julian’s bleeding wound as she slowly dies in his arms. Theo and Julian are captured in the same middle close-up as before, except that this time Julian is turned away from him and the dangers of the world seem to be getting closer.
The chase ends when the camera pans back to the driver, making the audience feel like the scene is over and Julian’s last breath will be off camera, but the camera goes back to the window position and positions the audience into that as ghost passengers Automobile. The camera rotates to look out the back window as cops pull up behind them and the character’s reactions to events unfold, with the exception of Julian, who was cut from the picture because she died.
Theo’s point of view
From Theo’s point of view, the long shot ends when the car comes to a stop for the police. The cops point their guns at the characters in the car, and the audience watches the interactions through a closed window as if we were in the back seat trying to go unnoticed. When Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor) shoots the cops, the camera moves with Theo as he leaves the car to face the situation.
No one is on the same side anymore and Theo stands across the street confronting Luke and his intentions to take over the mission. The camera stays where Theo would have wanted to if he hadn’t been forced back into the car, and we have to watch them drive into an unknown future.
This one is intense and efficiently shows a major turning point in the story in a way that a scene with cuts could not reach. What is the car scene? Children of men The work is the quick contrasting shots and the tight framing of the characters to create tension. No one is sure how anything in the movie will play out beyond this point, and the tension lingers for some time, just like with the characters. There is nothing to hide as the camera is set to capture every moment and we are forced to watch the horrors ahead of us.
If you have a long time go for it! Make sure the long take is for the story and not used to demonstrate your own filmmaking skills. Nothing is worse than a beautiful skill being used for an unnecessary reason. By using contrasting images for almost seconds in a row and highlighting a particular perspective throughout the shot, you can create a perfectly executed moment in your movie.
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