Wars and Windmills

04 December 2009

One Shot, One [s]Kill

Aside from campy sports films, Wes Anderson, and Bill Murray, the only thing that never fails to garner my praise in film is the extended single take. About three years ago Children of Men came out. Not many saw it, but aside from a stellar sound track this movie is home to not one, but double one -- or two -- of the greatest examples of the extended single take. Now I take a risk at posting these because in the States this film is rated the demonic rating, and this is the warning to all those wishing to avoid hell, don't watch. For the rest of my fellow justification experts, watch and be amazed.

This first scene has been both lauded for it's technical prowess, as well as criticized as being too showie-offie. Regardless of what your position is it is impossible to pretend that this scene isn't 100-percent kick-a$$. (again, not for the fair souled)

Apparently the interior of the car was modified so the actors could duck while a camera, mounted on rails on top of the car, swerved around their heads via remote control. There was a driver at the front ensured they didn’t hit any trees going forward, and there was also a driver pointing backwards for the reverse bits. Stellar.

As brilliant as that scene is, this next one made an indelible impression on me, and three years later I still can't shake it's impact. It is one of my favorite scenes in any movie...evaa.

The video's embedding has been disabled so check out the link here: Link

While this whole ten minute clip isn't one take, the majority of it is.

This scene took twelve days to prepare for and two days of shooting to get. The shot in the movie is the only complete take, and also the last chance they had to do the scene because the available light was fading and they were to lose the location the next day. In an audio interview with the director, he describes yelling “halt” when blood splatters on the lens, however, an explosion blew at the same time so no one heard him and he decided to let the filming carry on. Huzzah for small miracles.

Serious credit should also go to the actors. There is no way that everything that has been planned will occur exactly as hoped and the actor has to cope or it is a wasted take. The director, CuarĂ³n, had this to say on the subject:

“When you doing these long shots, I can choreograph to the inch every single moment. But once you rolling the camera, everything falls on the shoulder of your character. Because things are going to go wrong, and it’s how he reacts with things going wrong that create the moment of truthfulness.”

Good film making makes me happy.


  1. I thought this movie was pretty amazing as well. (I did see it filtered because of the demonic rating thing.) But I agree that those long shots are great. Also, this movie is far better than the book, which is just okay... and kind of boring.

  2. Glad you posted this, this is one of my favorite movies, and I haven't gotten around to geeking out about it/watching special features yet, very interesting stuff(one of the downsides of just downloading it and not getting the dvd). As a sidenote I think it's amazing that the Harry Potter franchise scored Alfonso Cuaron for one of their films, and a bummer that he or someone like him didn't do more.

  3. I had the treat of watching them film that second scene. If you look at 0.24 in, just above the curled barbed wire on top of the graffitied wall, you will see the hint of windows in red-brick window - I was watching out of one of those. For months, I watched and walked around the film crew create that amazing set, watched the mud being truckloaded in. The scene was created at a former boarding school turned film set where I worked in security/admin. Finally I was woken up one morning by tanks passing my window, and there they were, filming that scene. I can verify the two-day shoot. :)

    I too am a fan of the long take, and the two you note here in "Children of Men" are exemplary. They are even more impressive when you see what they did to achieve the effect, like the modified car. Amazing stuff.

  4. Buck,

    first thing: welcome.

    second thing: I am bleeding green with envy that you saw that scene be shot. Too cool.

    Thanks for posting.

  5. Anonymous6:19 PM

    Huge fan also of the single-shot-takes in Children of Men,

    What are others that are ground-breakingly awesome?