B1 Intermediate US 117 Folder Collection
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These are the 61 scene changes in the screenplay for the movie 1917.
Almost every single one is labeled “continuous”.
That's because this movie is two hours of what appears to be one long, uninterrupted shot.
One-shot films like this are a stunning accomplishment of coordination and timing.
And when done right, they make a movie feel like it's unfolding in real time.
But, of course, 1917 isn't really one shot.
The movie jumps between scenes shot all over the United Kingdom.
They're stitched together to look continuous.
A lot of that editing wizardry happens thanks to some extensive CGI.
But it also relies on some basic tricks that have been around for over 70 years.
And it all starts right here… with a suit jacket.
When critics reviewed Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 movie Rope, they described it as
a movie that “introduces a new method of film-making …
in which all cuts, dissolve, fade-outs, and other breaks in filming continuity have been eliminated.”
That shooting plan is clear from the very first page of the script: “The action of the story is continuous.”
That's because Rope is based on a play.
Having no visible edits would make the movie feel like it was playing out in real time, just like the play does.
But there was one problem.
The cameras at the time could only hold a thousand feet of 35mm film — or about 10 minutes of recording.
Which meant that the filmmakers couldn't just let the camera run.
They had to find a way to hide cuts when they changed film rolls.
This is what they came up with.
The camera dollies in on a dark surface — like this jacket, and one color obscures the entire frame.
Then the camera cuts, a new shot begins, and the camera dollies back out —
creating the illusion of continuity.
Rope contains 10 edits over the course of 80 minutes.
Those transitions alternate between hard cuts and hidden cuts with matching colors.
Transitions like this might look really obvious today.
But it's basically the same trick used here in Creed...
here in Birdman...
here in Children of Men...
and here in Snake Eyes.
But if a camera is moving sideways, that color block doesn't even have to take over the whole frame.
That is trick number two.
By putting together two similarly timed shots where an object passes in the foreground, editors can stitch two shots together.
Like in this long take from Children of Men—which is actually made of six different shots—where a dark car frame helps transition from one shot to another.
But if you speed up the camera movement a bit, and you get a different kind of hidden cut.
In a whip pan, the camera moves so fast that the image becomes blurry.
By cutting from one shot to another right as the movement is at its fastest point,
you can make two shots look like one.
That's how this scene from 1998's Snake Eyes moves from one shot —
to another — in what looks like a seamless take.
So what does it look like when you put all of these tricks together?
Well this shot from Spectre, the 2015 James Bond movie, starts out in a busy square in Mexico City…
… it uses CGI and motion blur to transition to a shot filmed in a hotel a few blocks away…
… then a color match from this black jacket to transition into a studio set near London…
… and a foreground object to take us back on-location in Mexico City.
But if the stunts get more complicated in a long take, you might have to do more than hide a cut.
You might have to hide an actor.
That's where the final trick comes in: the Texas Switch.
That's when a performer and their double subtly swap places, which allows them to do stunts without cutting.
It's how Captain America runs so fast…
and how Dorothy changes colors...
... all without the camera cutting.
Filming digitally and using CGI means that we actually can capture entire movies in
one true take, with none of these classic tricks.
And there have been some stunning examples of just that.
But the limitations of early film gave us the techniques to tell even more ambitious stories by hiding cuts.
And you can probably still see where they're hidden...
... if you know where to look.
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How to make a movie look like one long shot

117 Folder Collection
Makoto published on February 19, 2020
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