Single Take / One Shot Films

Due to circumstances beyond my control, last weeks Podcast had to be cancelled. The Podcast was going to be on Sam Mendes Oscar winning 1917.

Like the debut podcast episode a feature was created based around the film. It’s been described as a war drama, it’s also considered as a ‘One-shot’ film.

What does that mean?

One Shot or Single take film is a method used by directors to make the viewer feel part of what’s going on on the screen. Shot with no cuts, time jumps as if everything is in real time. 1917 whose Cinematographer is none other than Roger Deakins (Blade Runner, Sicario, Fargo, No Country For Old Men, Shawshank Redemption) and you could say he nailed it.

Some critics have argued Sam Mendes film was ‘continuous’ , the technique however is not an easy feat to deliver and when you do it’s impressive, some are essentially long takes. To celebrate the home release of the film we’ve decided to look at some of the best one-shot/single take films…

Russian Ark(2002)


If there was ever going to be a an historical building with endless places to shoot, it’s St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace . Alexander Sokurov actually filmed “Russian Ark” in one 96 minute continuous take. 2000 actors three live orchestras  traversed the grand palace as he told the history of Russia, created in four attempts. However there was months of rehearsals.

Rope (1948)


Master Of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock filmed the psychological thriller  in 10 minute takes. Using some of the biggest cannisters and film stock possible , he used ‘invisible cuts’ by panning behind a piece of furniture. This was a very experimental film for Hitchcock, a benchmark film for one take films, it was only technological time constraints prevented him for delivering those techniques. The film starred James Stewart as one of two men who murdered someone leaving the body in a large wooden trunk, They hosted a dinner party with the trunk taking centre stage.

Victoria (2015)


If there’s one film that nails the one shot film perfectly is Sebastian Schipper’s film. It’s the driving force behimd the film narrative, running at 140 minutes long, Schipper adopted the Hitchcock method of 10 minute shots. With a limited budget (only for 3 attempts) it was one they had to master and they did next to been the longest one shot too. The titular character a Spanish woman (Laia Costa) living in Berlin on a night out she gets gets mixed up in a heist job and we follow them when things take a downward spiral. The adrenaline rush is so addictive.

Son Of Saul(2015)


László Nemes’ Holcuast drama is brutal, intense powerful film. The 107 minutes of the film we never leave our main character Saul Ausländer sight. We witness all the horrors, the abuse from his eyes , the desperation he endures to survive in the Nazi death camps.

Utøya: July 22 (2018)


If there one use of this one shot technique does well is in real life events. Like in Utoya you immersed in the film as if you were an eyewitness to the horrific true event. The story of a Norwegian terrorist attack by staging it in real time, Erik Poppe’s film uses amateur actors gives the film a real life documentary feel.

Birdman(2014)


Alejandro Iñárritu’s  Oscar winning film is the perfect example of using the technique perfectly in a fantasy focused film. The ambitious satire was seen as a film that help launch Michael Keaton back into the limelight. Playing an actor trying to escape his past surrounded with outside pressures. The film would win the director and DOP Emmanuel Lubezki Oscars. Watching our lives through a stedicam with no editing. Over a dozen takes, the Hitchcock method, and in Keaton’s face non-stop delivered that illusion they required.

Oldboy (2004)


Park Chan-Wook’s film rightly earned it’s status a cult film for many reasons. If there’s one scene that stands out is the brilliantly violent corridor scene. When ‘oldboy’ takes on everyone including a knife in his back. The choreography of the 3 minute scene is masterful, a scene that has inpsired the likes of Marvel’s Daredevil, The Raid but rarely does anyone get close to matching it. Not even Spike Lee’s mediocre remake can match a single second.

1917 (2019)

If your going to do something right, get the best cinematographer in the business to film it, Roger Deakins. In an interview Sam Mendes wanted “to tell this story in two hours of ‘real time.’ The film certainly felt you were against the clock as Lance Corporals William Schofield (George McKay) and Tom Blake (Dean Charles Chapman) attempt to to save 1,600 men walking into a trap during World War One. You feel the intensity, the anguish, the emotion, the pain and comradeship during war time. Great awareness from Mendes and Deakins and a fantastic film that never disrespects the men who fought in the war but a peek into lives of the soldiers.

Related: Film Review – 1917(2020)

This list is no way complete or in any particular order. Just fine examples of the one shot films. Other films we could have included were Macbeth (1982), Timecode (2000), Blind Spot (2018), La Casa Muda(2010) and Silent House (2012), the list goes on.

1917 is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Download.

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