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How to make a movie look like one long shot

The trick to spotting cuts in a “one-take” film.

Christophe Haubursin is a senior producer for the Vox video team. Since joining the team in 2016, he has produced for Vox’s YouTube channel and Emmy-nominated shows Glad You Asked and Explained.

The best picture nominee 1917 tells a pretty simple story: two British soldiers cross the no man’s land of World War I to warn a battalion of an impending ambush. What really makes 1917 stand out is how director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins made the movie look like it was filmed in one continuous take.

A few movies have actually pulled off a true, feature-length one-take, from Victoria to Utøya: July 22 to Russian Ark. But like 2014’s Best Picture winner Birdman, 1917 uses clever visual tricks to stitch together multiple shots.

If you look closely, you can catch where some of those hidden cuts happen in 1917: when the frame goes dark, or objects pass by in the foreground, or the camera pans quickly. Those techniques are the same ones behind some of the most iconic long takes today, like the car ambush scene from Children of Men — which was actually six shots filmed in multiple locations over the course of a week.

In this video, we take a look at how those tricks have their roots in one movie: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.

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