What is a long take?
A long take is a shot lasting significantly longer than you would typically see. Continuous take/shot and a “oner” are other frequently used names for a long take. In the early days of filmmaking, long takes were contingent on the amount of film in the camera. That was obviously before digital. The beloved director Alfred Hitchcock was one of the early examples to use this technique.
This technique captures a scene to appear to be one continuous take in the final cut. Accomplishing this particular take is not an easy task. It requires precise execution, a well-rehearsed cast, and a fair amount of equipment. Choreographing a oner is very difficult, and a massive amount of planning goes into it. The time and effort that goes into this can be destroyed by a single mistake, forcing a complete reset.
In comparison, a typical final cut is hardly ever longer than three seconds. Continuous takes can be up to several minutes. The magnitude of trying this can't be understated, every director that attempts this deserves praise!
There is a distinction between a "true long take" and a "fake long take." A true long take is one continuous take without any cuts, hidden or otherwise. A fake long take has embedded hidden cuts, made to look like one continuous take. A true long is very rare, but a fake long is something you see more often.
A unique example is a film called the Russian Ark. It's an entire film shot in a true continuous take, with no hidden cuts. This film is a product of "one-shot filmmaking," shot with a single camera for the whole film's duration. Timing, camera movement, and everything else involved working in harmony. It's truly a remarkable achievement. An example of a fake long take is this fight scene in Total Recall. You see the camera move behind the concrete post for a second, disguising the cut.
There are a few variations of a continuous take, like the tracking oner. A great example is the first scene in the James Bond film Spectre.
- The establishing oner
- The exposition oner
- The action oner
- The stationary oner
Why use it?
Well, it makes the viewer feel like they are in that moment with the character. It draws the audience into the situation and keeps them engaged. With the appearance of long continuous action, viewers can observe every move uninterrupted. Using this technique in general has a lot of hurdles. It is expensive as well as time-consuming. With that in mind, the final cut can look mesmerizing if done well. To explore further, see some examples.