Editor's Note: Long Takes

11:38 AM

Have you ever seen a really long scene in a film and wondered- how long did it take for them to get that perfect? (Possible spoilers for Kingsman: The Secret Service, Birdman, and Goodfellas.)

By film editor, Ajay Ascano

Usually, these types of scenes can be minutes long and tend to keep the focus on the protagonist(s) for an extended period of time. These are called long takes. The tricks involved are pretty interesting, so let’s get into how long takes are shot and edited.


Goodfellas: The Copacabana

Featuring protagonists Henry Hill and Karen Friedman, played by Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco, respectively, this scene from Goodfellas is a great example of a non-edited long shot. The scene takes place as Henry takes Karen to a club- the long way. Through the kitchen, and into a quickly-assembled dining table, while speaking to everyone along the way.



According to the cinematographer for the film, Michael Ballhaus, the scene was filmed only 8 times before being perfected. So, in this scene, there are no tricks with editing used. However, the filming of the characters was done with a mobile cameraman, using a stabilizer. The only time their focus was diverted was when a waiter came into the frame to set up a table. 



Kingsman: The Church Brawl


This is an all-out brawl. Spoilers: everyone’s trying to murder each other in this scene, even an established hero in the film, Galahad. Within this scene, there are a lot of obvious ‘cuts.’ Cuts are when you splice together multiple takes to make the events seem like they are on the same timeline. In the attached video, there is a cut counter at the bottom. Observing the scene, what happens whenever there is a cut?



Well, there is usually an obstruction to the camera’s vision. Be it a body flying across the frame, or a visual blur from zooming or panning, once you see where a cut can be, you can never unsee them. This technique is also used in action scenes where the actor switches to a stunt double.


Birdman

Taking long takes to the next level, Birdman is a film that is styled as one whole long take. Every scene pokes back and forth between people during dialogue and traveling scenes follow the protagonist Riggan Thomson from a third person perspective. The camera isn’t fixed, however, so it gives the viewer a more personable or character-like view of the action- as if you are there watching these events unfold.



Since there is an attempt to make this film feel like it’s one giant take, while not occurring all in the same day, how do they make transitions seem feasible and realistic? Subtle environmental changes. There are no ‘jump cuts’ or quick changes in the environment, but slow panning accompanied by changes in the skylight or a contrast in brightness. All of these techniques allow fluid progression, whilst keeping the grand illusion of the long take.

So, what makes a good long take?

It depends on what you perceive as believable. If you can tell the camera obstructions split the takes, it doesn’t look as feasible. I think a good long take is built on perfecting the scene so that the realism is kept intact.


Thanks for reading, and

keep on watching!

Ajay Ascano

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