Monday, September 28, 2009

Just for Fun: One Long Tracking Shot

Some directors, and film enthusiasts, revel in long single-take tracking shots that are a miracle of choreography. Because nearly all visual storytelling relies on a series of short shots that are edited together to create scenes, the long single take is a rare occurance. First, audience eyeballs are conditioned to expect a variety of quick cuts and angles; second, the filmmaking process itself diminishes the possibility of an unflawed sequence of substantial duration.

Add to the mix the notion of a moving camera -- and subjects perfectly darting into and out of frame (and speaking) on cue -- and even with the advent of Steadicams, you end up with not so much a cinematic feat as an acrobatic triumph.

Still, drawn to the inevitable gidiness of being able to pull off such a stunt -- compounded by the audience's delight in experiencing it -- directors as revered as Orson Welles ("Touch of Evil"), Jean-Luc Godard ("Week End"), Martin Scorcese ("Goodfellas") and Robert Altman ("The Player") have successfully toyed with it. Paul Thomas Anderson has used long tracking shots in "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," and "There Will Be Blood."

More recently, we've seen it in Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" and Joe Wright's "Atonement," in which a WWII British soldier encounters Dunkirk beach in an astonishing 5 1/2-minute shot that involved 1,000 extras, plus horses, vehicles and ships -- and was shot in one day.

Sometimes it's used to build tension. Often it's intended to put us in the protagonist's shoes and fully immerse us in his experience, from his perspective. Occasionally it's used for comic effect. Nearly always it's a way of showing off -- look what I can do! -- which on the one hand can be intrinsically delightful, but can also backfire if it calls so much attention to itself that it detracts from the flow of the film, as it's often criticized for doing.

What you're about to see is an exercise that's just pure fun -- a music video pulled off recently by 172 communications students at the University of Quebec in Montreal, hip-hopping and bopping to the Black Eyed Peas' joyous "I Gotta Feeling." Up and down hallways, stairs, escalators -- the camera zigs and zags to the beat, with clusters of students sequentially "singing" and dancing up a storm, for four solid minutes without a single edit.

They slammed this together in a little over two hours, and it's understandably become a YouTube sensation. (Search "LipDub" on YouTube, and you'll find that this lip-syncing single-track exercise is a recurring student phenomenon, but this latest is the greatest.)

Here's CNN's enthused explanation of how it was all accomplished:

Long tracking shots are generally not a commonly used tool in a videojournalist's toolbox, and in fact it's important to think in terms of shooting and editing a series of shorter shots that can be constructed into sequences in scenes. But we call your attention to it here as a reminder that we all need to be familiar with, and openminded about using, whatever techniques are at our disposal, as inevitably there's a proper time and place for everything ... And sometimes you just gotta have fun!

To those U of Q students, we say "Thanks"... and "Mazel Tov!" ...

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