The “one-take” is a legendary film technique, consisting of a single, continuous shot, which can last anywhere from several seconds to several minutes. It has been harnessed by some of the greatest filmmakers and ad campaigns of all time, from Martin Scorsese to Old Spice.
On screen, the one-take may seem pretty straightforward, but behind the camera, it is one of the most sophisticated shots in filmmaking, hence its legendary status. When any of us watch a successful one-take, we intuit that something great has been achieved—but what makes a one-take so compelling?
First of all, one-takes often involve a great multitude of characters or props on screen, and they are usually moving interactively throughout the shot. The camera operator, too, needs a clear path to travel through the story space, and that path must be conducive to keeping the camera steady. Complex lighting rigs must be set up to highlight the right people, objects, and scenery in a beautiful, cinematic way—while they are in constant motion. Most importantly, a one-take must sequentially reveal new and compelling information about the story or its protagonist at each stage of the shot, in order to keep the viewer engaged.
A successful one-take, with a strong storyline and proper execution, has the potential to become a masterpiece.
Whether technically or theatrically, if any one of these elements goes awry—even for a moment, and even if the other 99.99% of variables go smoothly—the shot is doomed. But with high risk, comes high reward. A successful one-take, with a strong storyline and proper execution, has the potential to become a masterpiece.
The Well, a community builder in Detroit and long-time client of Flow Video, asked us to develop a bold and creative concept for its 2019 giving campaign. Our team dreamt of a one-take that would guide us through the gamut of The Well’s programming, while keeping the viewer engaged in cinematic style.
The result was the video above. We spent hours upon hours in pre-production, and arrived at the shoot at 9am—nine hours before our first take. Throughout the day, we choreographed the scene dozens of times with key actors, designed a complex lighting rig throughout the location, and tinkered with various camera movements and pacing. Finally, at 6pm, we began filming. It was anything but perfect.
During our first several takes, the timing was off—the actors, camera and music were out of sync—and we had to move around lights and physical markers again and again. We also had to coordinate a path for the actors in the “craft beer scene” to run down into the basement, outdoors, and around the back of the house in less than 30 seconds to appear in the “bonfire scene” toward the end of the video. The house was packed with cast and crew, and the stakes were high. Midway through the shoot, we took an invigorating pizza break before getting back into the one-take. Finally, at 9pm, 40 takes after we started rolling, the stars aligned. All of the moving parts clicked—the performances, the camera movements, the pacing—and we got the take we needed. As a result of our video – and an expertly-executed fundraising campaign – The Well raised over $111,000.