Designing Impressive Long Takes and Oners

The mark of a good director and cinematographer duo is telling a story clearly through the images that appear on a screen. The great ones find a way to go above and beyond.

One particular shot that separates the women from the girls is the “oner” or “one shot” take. The camera follows the action for a long period of time. Often this can be on a Steadicam, but you might find a fantastic oner accomplished handheld, on a dolly, or on a camera crane. Usually these are dynamic moving shots that change framing and action before your eyes, whereas a normal setup would be to edit a series of shots together.

It’s harder to do things this way, and so the oner must be deliberate and planned to perfection. It’s something you might want to try in your next film.

The best way to design something complicated is to study those that came before you. Here I’ve given four examples of incredible oners that I admire and I know you will too.

The Haunting of Hill House Season 1 Episode 6 “Two Storms

A large chunk of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House Episode 6 is a 17 minute long oner that spans huge passes of time, flashbacks, special effects and more. It’s an incredibly complicated task that helped tell this unique story.

Part of what makes this scene so surreal is the fact that it doesn’t break away, doesn’t give a respite from following each character around during this pivotal storm. This genius choreography couldn’t have been pulled off without careful timing and a large well-rehearsed crew and cast.

You can watch the whole episode on Netflix, but you also can get the idea from this clip:

Also worthy of watching is this Making Of Featurette, which shows some of the ways this complicated long shot was choreographed:

Children of Men (2006)

The car scene. Not only is this a long take, it’s fraught with anxiety, showing different views out the windows of the car, placing the viewer in with the passengers of the vehicle. The drama unfolds in real-time, starting off with an innocuous car ride and conversation, escalating into a mad dash away from a hoard of crazy people attacking the car’s occupants.

The way they filmed this scene is actually pretty incredible and technical. At about 1 minute into this featurette, they discuss this particular scene. They used the Sparrowhead Doggie cam, a camera suspended inside the car on a track. The car was also specially designed for this scene. The driver is not actually driving it — there’s a man in front of the car low to the ground who is actually doing the driving. They don’t show it here, but they actually had seats that folded out of the way so the camera could get past the actors. 

Birdman

Now this one gets an honorable mention because the whole movie is structured like it takes place in one long take. There are a number of hidden cuts that make this possible, but there are certainly a number of true long takes. You experience in real time Riggan getting stuck outside the playhouse during the performance and having to navigate a busy Times Square in his tighty whities.

At about 45 seconds into this video, you see a grip positioning a silk in order to adjust the lighting on the actors faces on the fly. The whole movie had to be choreographed with the actors and crew in this way in order to avoid setting up classic lighting scenarios and keep things on the move.

Baby Driver (2017)

It’s Bank Robbery: The Musical but oh so much more. I recently re-watched this movie and I’m telling you — if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s no time like the present.

Baby Driver‘s premise is genius — Baby has tinnitus from a car accident, so he’s constantly playing music through his headphones to drown out the ringing in his ears. That sets the soundtrack to which all the action happens throughout the movie. The car chases, bank robbery, shootouts — everything has been meticulously choreographed and timed to fit the music of the scene.

Check out the “coffee run” scene from early in the movie to see the level of choreography that went into the scene. Not only do the Steadicam operator and Ansel Elgort walk perfectly timed, the action also lines up with key bits of set design — watch for the trumpet and certain bits of graffiti and poster designs that link up with lyrics in the music.

Look at the graffiti that says “Right” at 0:32 and 2:31 you’ll see they added in the lyrics “Shake, shake, shake” and several new lyrics on that wall during the shot. Excellent details.

Kidding Season 1 Episode 3 (2018)

Check out this incredible scene from the Showtime series Kidding.

This scene shows how the character Shaina is inspired by a show and how her life dramatically changes in a shifting scene that transcends time.

This is some incredible behind the scenes here because you can see just how the crew choreographed and shifted the scene from the drab, dreary beginning to a lavish apartment by the end of the scene. Watch and listen to the careful choreography dictated by either the 1st AD or coordinator.

6 Types of One-Take Shots

For some more examples, and descriptions of specific oners (the establishing long take, the exposition, the tracking long take, the fake long take) check out Aputure’s video with Ted Sim and cinematographer Emma Kragen.

 

The Dragon Prince: Beautiful story, Problematic Production

I’m always late to get into the newest Netflix trends. My latest acquisition, The Dragon Prince, I binged all three seasons over New Years. I loved the series, and I had to talk about it.

Got halfway through Ep 1 of Wakfu. Not the same. Nice try, Netflix.

The Dragon Prince is a beautiful and dark fantasy epic. Two human princes and a Moonshadow elf must bring the young dragon princeling to his mother in the land of Xadia in order to end the war between their peoples. They face all sorts of death-defying odds and fun magic adventures with a healthy dose of humor.

What’s great is it’s incredibly diverse cast. Women are portrayed alongside men in combat. General Amaya is mute, and communicates only with sign language. There’s several LGBT characters and it’s not made a big deal of. There’s also wonderful themes of finding yourself and helping others at any cost.

TDP reminds me of one of the best animation series I’ve ever watched — Avatar: The Last Airbender. In fact they share some crew, including a voice actor and the head writer on ATLA Aaron Ehasz, who is showrunner for The Dragon Prince.

Unfortunately, after I tweeted my love to the two people on Twitter who see my posts, I uncovered the controversy associated with the showrunner, and why there likely won’t be a Season 4. Several women accused Aaron Ehasz of misogynistic behavior.

After the trailer for Season 3 dropped in November 2019, several women started talking about their problems with the company.

Lulu Younes said she needed to leave the company for her own mental and emotional health:

Danika Harrod, the former Head of Community Development at Wonderstorm (TDP production company), also said her experience was “painful” and what she witnessed drove her to leave the company. “It was just so much shutting women down, not taking women seriously, not listening to women, firing a woman and then shit talking herHarrod stated on her Twitter account.

At least three women left the company. Soon to be followed by co-producer of TDP Giancarlo Volpe, though it isn’t clear if it’s in relation to the allegations. 

Then there’s this thread by Diandra @Work (@MesaanaSedai) who worked with Aaron — this time at Riot games. As an editor, she was in charge of making sure the narrative of what they were producing was consistent. Instead, according to her, Ehasz usurped her job and make it a team activity, all while treating her as a personal assistant.

Her experience is worth noting, as it corroborates the other women’s accounts.

ehasz response
The comments on Ehasz’s response were a mix split between indignation that he avoided the allegations to promote his own company, to people claiming they’d never believe the women. “If they have proof, awesome, but I’m not going to believe the rumor mill on social media,” one commenter stated. “Word of mouth is not proof, sorry. Camera footage from the offices is proof. Text messages or emails are proof.”

But that’s the thing about workplace sexism and gaslighting — it’s not something that’s often handily encapsulated in an email or text message. It’s an employer or employee acting in the way that these women described — not respecting them or their jobs and treating them a particular way because of their gender.

This inherent disbelief of women’s experiences is the very reason why they don’t come forward on these allegations in the first place. They’re afraid they won’t be able to work again. Television is a flighty career path — cross the wrong person and you find you never work again.

A company — and the product it creates whether it be a TV series or video game — benefits greatly when you bring a variety of voices to the table. That’s why seeing this kind of controversy associated with a piece of media I really enjoyed is so upsetting. It’s why seeing articles like this after the #MeToo movement is head-smacking-against-the-desk frustrating.

I may be slow on the uptake when it comes to watching the latest Netflix craze, but the powers that be are incredibly slow in treating their women employees as equals — and that needs to change.

The Dragon Prince is still a beautiful series, worthy of being made an example of for its incredible characters and deep world building, though the real stories behind the scene do negatively color my experience. Luckily the women who had to leave the company found good jobs, but the problem of gaslighting still persists. Let this be a two-fold lesson: How to write a good series …and how to treat your employees as people.

Sources:

 

Media Parodies Media: The Bojack Horseman Story

Bojack Horseman is a Netflix Original that premiered in 2014. It’s a dark humor animation with anthropomorphic animal people navigating the shallow world of Hollywood. Somehow, I didn’t get around to this show for four years. Then I binged four seasons in an embarrassingly short time.

I was surprised by how emotionally invested I became with Bojack‘s cast of characters. Real human drama and timeless themes exist within the animated packaging featuring a talking horse.

At first, Bojack Horseman is a very nihilistic look at a ex-sitcom star’s messed up life. Booze, drugs, one night stands, many questionable decisions… it’s a fun ride to watch Bojack spiral out of control. But from the beginning the writers subtly tug at your heartstrings by fleshing out his character as well as those of the ones around him.

Bojack acts out and gets himself into trouble because, plain and simple, he’s not happy. There are the glimpses into his truly awful childhood and parents who never really wanted him, all of which ended up with Bojack becoming a washed up ex-sitcom star.

Portrayal of Media and Hollywoo(-d)

What the show does especially well is parodying the media and entertainment industries. From “A Ryan Seacrest Type”– a vapid Hollywood reporter who comments on whatever inane news has surfaced, to media-fueled squabbles over apple muffins and the insane things stars do for attention.

Amid the laughs are some really poignant digs at Hollywood in general (re-named Hollywoo after Bojack stole the D in a booze-addled stupor).

In the episode where Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd come up with the Oscar nominees, reading the whiteboard behind them was insightful and relevant. Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite scandal was put in sharp relief as they had written down “black people” and then crossed it out.

If you notice, the board also includes only female names in “Best Director” — a stark contrast to the reality. In 2018, Greta Gerwig became only the fifth female director to even be nominated for the Best Director Oscar for Lady Bird. So far the only female director to win has been Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker.

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Bojack also parodies what happens to some child stars. With Sarah Lynn, you see the stark contrast between the innocent girl on the 90’s sitcom to the coked out mess she becomes later in life.

The Human Element

Part of the reason we care so much about these characters is because of their very real struggles:

Princess Carolyn — Cutthroat in the world of being an agent/manager, but almost always at the brink of failure. She also feels unfulfilled and wishes for a family, but is possibly past the point of no return.

Todd — discovering his sexuality. I think so far this is the only time I’ve seen a character in a show discover they are “Ace.”

Diane — Just…everything about Diane. Her issues with her family and her career struggles make her a relateable, anxiety-ridden character.

Season Five

Bojack Season 5 premiered recently. There were a couple of episodes that really stood out, like the one that centered around Diane’s exploration of her ancestral routes (for a Buzzfeed-like story she was writing) and an episode that centers around Bojack giving a speech at a funeral that doesn’t cut away and is simultaneously hilarious, dark and uncomfortable.

Season 5 wasn’t my favorite, but it still represents part of a quality piece of entertainment. If you haven’t tried this series yet, it’s about time.

The Women of Stranger Things

What makes a strong female character? The details matter, regardless of gender. Characters should be multifaceted. The problem is we often see the stereotypes, the lowest common denominator. Female characters are often the mother, girlfriend or love interest and not much else.

You can use the Bechtel-Wallace Test as a guide. With this test, you ask if a work of fiction presents two female characters who talk to each other about anything other than a man. The test is helpful in finding better represented female characters, but it is flawed and limiting.

A strong character not only reacts to what going on around her but is also proactive and a main character is instrumental in moving a plot forward.

Well written characters are fully realized humans, not just cookie cutter impressions.

Although Stranger Things focuses a lot on the four main preteen boys, there’s also a great number of fantastic female characters. Let’s look at what makes them so special.

eleven

Eleven: The Wild Card

The one we all secretly wish to be.

Eleven is our obvious hero type, but she also displays a sweet childlike innocence due to her lack of knowledge of the real world.

Eleven is strong  not just because of her powers, but her depth. Each episode reveals more about her.

She has a complicated parental relationship with Papa and Hopper. Her search for family brings her to the boys, Hopper, Mama and Roman’s gang.

She is also a little bit scary. Her power, and willingness to kill, make her a very potential bad guy if she had only stayed with the Hawkins Lab. Since she escaped, she has learned a great deal about the world and what to appreciate.

Joyce

Joyce: The Detective

Joyce is wonderful because we finally get a TV mom worth watching. Her detective skills in two seasons show she is willing and capable to do anything to save her son.

Although she skirts insanity, talking to Christmas lights and chopping into a wall like Jack from The Shining, Joyce is instrumental in saving Will.

Nancy.jpg

Nancy: The Warrior

She easily could have been the damsel in distress. Instead, we learn Nancy will do whatever it takes to get answers and justice for Barb. We also see Nancy as one of the only characters capable of taking up arms against the Demogorgons.

When Hopper asks one of the boys if he can handle a shotgun, Nancy confidently takes it from him instead. She may be freaked out by what has gone on in the town, but she’s not hiding from the fight.

mad max.jpg

Max: The New Girl/Zoomer

Season Two introduced Max as the new girl in town, there to rival the boys at the arcade and in their friendship.

She’s a bit of a cool girl stereotype, but she has her development. Her troubled household has caused her some bitterness. She has an inner battle to fight.

We didn’t get quite enough of Max’s character but there is a lot of potential for her in Season Three.

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Terry Ives

We only see Terry in a flashback and catatonic in the present day, she was a formidable force in her time. She shows a conviction in pursuing her child years after her abduction. There may be more that Terry could teach us.

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Roman: The Rebel

The introduction of Roman answers the question we had since the beginning: Are there others like Eleven?

She is the child who fully rebelled against Hawkins Lab. She is brutal in her retribution, but also has a soft spot for family matters, just like Eleven.

Although her moral compass could use a tuneup, Roman provides the emotional stimuli Eleven needs to beat an ultimate foe.

Takeaway

“What’s the trick to writing a great female character? Make her human.” — Nicole Holofcener, director and screenwriter of Lovely & Amazing and Friends with Money.

Just because you’re writing a female character doesn’t mean the character development stops at that extra X chromosome. Our entertainment is so much more engaging and meaningful when the characters are better written.

Sources

Bechdel Test

Writing Better Female Characters

35 Powerful Quotes by Women in Hollywood

Binge Culture and How it Changed TV

TV just isn’t the same as it used to be.

The days of only catching a new episode as it aired are mostly gone, replaced by technology like DVRs, networks uploading new episodes online and streaming services.

It was Netflix that really brought the idea of binge-culture to the forefront with its original programming, dropping entire seasons all at once instead of spacing episodes out. This has lead to original content that defies traditional television in ease of choice, structure and content while also changing the speed at which we watch a series.

house of cards

Original Content Becomes Popular

When Netflix made the switch from mail order to mostly streaming, things really changed. Entire seasons of shows were now available to watch. Better yet, anyone who wanted to try something new didn’t have to spend the money on a DVD boxset.

In 2013, Netflix started offering original content. That was the year that House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Hemlock Grove premiered.

After the blockbuster success of shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix poured more energy into original content. Although Netflix doesn’t release viewership numbers, it’s estimated that 6.5% of Netflix subscribers have seen at least one episode of House of Cards’ third season. That puts the viewership around 5 million.

OITNB

Structure

Besides the fact that Netflix found some great content to put out, we also see different stories and structure than normal traditional television.

Your typical 1 hour show is actually around 42 minutes without commercials. It has clear act breaks and wraps up a storyline within that 42 minutes. In anything other than comedies, you will typically find a season arc, with a big end goal in sight for the finale.

The content geared for internet viewership tells a different story.

Now you’ve got anywhere from 29 to 60 minute shows, no commercials and a season that is meant to be watched in a frenzied rush. Episodes of dramas are not stand-alone. The content is meant to be enjoyed in sequential order.

Although there are typically less episodes in a season, streamable content is able to serialize a larger story, while taking opportunities to take an occasional detour to add more to the mix. When not constrained to the typical TV formula, problems no longer have to be tidily wrapped up in each episode. The form of the show is now more fluid, open to interpretation and full of irresistible cliffhangers to keep you watching.

strangerthings.0

Culture

Beside the form of our television, we also see a major shift culturally.

Social media has made it nearly impossible to avoid spoilers of our favorite shows.  Statuses, memes, Tweets, internet comments…no where is safe from spoilers.

Even worse than that is the pressure you feel if you haven’t tapped into the latest Internet show. “What do you mean you haven’t seen Stranger Things!?” If you have Netflix, there’s no excuse. You need to be in on the craze.

Plus you have to binge these series because you know someone else will.

About 70% of Netflix users will binge watch at least one show a month.

Besides the original content, users tend to binge established older shows like Family Guy, The Office and Futurama… the ease of just hitting play and having the season play out is too good to resist.

The Takeaway

When millions of people are binging the same shows, analyzing them, recommending them — the networks pay attention. They will give you more of what you want.

I’ve just binged Stranger Things Season 2 in two days, and now I’m deep into the after show Beyond Stranger Things. Maybe I’ll have to tap into some more Netflix shows during a potential year of waiting for more. Netflix and its shareholders would certainly like that.

Netflix may have made us binger-watchers, but it’s our binging that determines what content is produced. The only question remaining: can traditional TV keep up?

Sources:

How Network TV Figured Out Binge-Watching

Here’s How “House of Cards” Viewership Stacks Up Against the Offline Competition (Maybe)

An Analysis of Netflix Power Binge Watchers