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Watch the Amazing 6 Minute Single Take from HBO's 'True Detective' & Learn How They Pulled it Off

02.12.14 @ 10:48PM Tags : , , ,

6 Minute Take HBO's True Detective - No Film SchoolIf you aren’t watching one of the most talked about shows on cable, True Detective, directed entirely by Cary Fukunaga, don’t feel bad (or maybe you should?). Either way, the slow burning anthology series turned up the heat over the weekend with a masterful one take scene that will likely be one of the best you’ll see all year. We’ve got some more information about how it was actually created, but if you haven’t seen it, there is a video of the entire scene (beyond just the one take) below. The scene really doesn’t spoil that much, especially since it’s mostly out of context, but here is your warning either way.

For some background on the show, and to provide some context to the scene if you haven’t seen it, here’s a BTS for True Detective:

And here is the fantastic (very NSFW) one-take scene, which happens from 1:25 to 7:28 in the video below (the whole clip adds to the tension better than just showing the single take):

[Update]: Thanks to B Dizzle in the comments, here is more on how the scene was accomplished, which included shooting on ALEXA because of the length of the scene:

Stunts and actors rehearsed on a mock up of the 1st house for probably a week. The entire run through, we had two days: one to rehearse, one to shoot. It was very well coordinated so there wasn’t much room for improv as far as the course of the shot. I cant speak for actor nuances though. We shot the entire show on film: Millennium XLs, excluding this shot. We went with an Alexa just because the length of the scene was longer than a 400′ mag. We stripped the weight of the camera to a minimum so no cinetape or matte box. The focus puller did an incredible job. I believe it was a 28mm at a 2.8.

There are a couple of parts that feel like they could have been cuts, but apparently they were not. I would venture a guess that it’s just the stabilization used during a few of the frames to make the movements smoother. MTV spoke to Fukunaga about the scene, and what seems like the most impossible portion of the scene for just a steadicam operator involved a pretty smart solution:

Watching just the fences portion of the oner back, the camera floats over the high barrier in a movement that almost looks effortless. Getting the shot, however, was anything but. Because the location was an actual housing project, the “True Detective” crew wasn’t allowed to take down any portion of the fence, so they had to improvise. “At one point, we were going to build a ramp, and the operator was going to walk up it,” Fukunaga said. “But that wasn’t very safe.” The solution ended up involving placing the Steadicam operator on an elevated jib, or a weighted crane, which carried him over the fence and back down to earth.

Shooting on real locations is always tricky, so they actually had built a replica of the first house in order for the stunt team to practice. The entire shot lasts around 6 minutes, and while Fukunaga did build edit points into the scene if he needed them, the entire shot is one complete take, which they attempted 7 times. They only spent a day and a half getting everything in order, including shooting the scene.

With higher and higher quality small cameras, and stabilized gimbals like the MoVI (and many others), we’re going to see shots that are even crazier than this, which would be either more difficult, or impossible with a traditional steadicam.

Link: ‘True Detective’: How Did They Pull Off That Final Shot? — MTV

[via IndieWire]


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  • Acting was pure turd.

    Impressive camera work but I gave up a few minutes into it.

  • Some of the best content out there is now on TV. That was a visceral scene that was a kick from the more laid back nature of the previous episodes.

    • Yes! The shot definitely added to the tension of the scene. So good to see Woody and McConaughey together! I don’t normally watch TV but it’s pretty dang good lately :)

  • Brian Mandela on 02.13.14 @ 2:02AM

    This shot is awesome. Achieving such a long track is not a joke and that is why you deserve appreciation. It artistically adds tension to the scene and clear expounds on the realism of the action that is in a single shot. That puts it on a real radder by directly putting the audience in the scene to experience an ‘on set action’. The action, on my view is not controlled and that is exactly what to expect from such a scene. The setting too is fantastic and aesthetically compliments the whole scene validating the whole flow of action.

  • i literally just watched that episode last night, and was wondering how they pulled it off, you guys rock!

  • Will Gilbey on 02.13.14 @ 3:11AM

    Bu the show is fantastic. Too early to say it’s the best thing since The Wire? Great shot, great article. Thanks guys.

  • Decently shot but easily forgettable, I mean it’d be unfair to compare it to a Johnnie To or John Woo’s action sequence but even for Television standards we have seen better conceived single shots,I remember this episode from Indian Detective series C.I.D which was a 111 minutes long single shot filled with suspense, good acting, plot twists and a bomb blast. I mean that was something near to the word ‘epic’.
    Here’s the episode:

    • The overall quality of True Detective is far above what parts I’ve seen of this television episode …

      If you’re just watching this scene by itself and out of context, I can see why one would quickly jump to comparing other films and television shows who have done similar one take scenes, but it’s this entire episode where many of the plot lines gear right up to this huge climax at the end of this episode that has people talking.

    • I count two cuts in the first 2 minutes alone and the horribly shaky zooms really deter from it.

      Give me a legit example of a better single take from tv because the one you just linked is not only not one take but it’s also not that aesthetically pleasing.

      What’s impressive about the shot from True Detective isn’t the length, but how effortlessly all the parts are incorporated and how well choreographed it is.

      I know Scrubs, ER, and West Wing have had some incredible single take shots but none come to mind that counter the one in True Detective.

      • I don’t know why why NFS re-posted this article again on FB! What”s the big deal?
        Anyway @Oscar and @Kori
        Ofcourse you’ll see not two but several cuts in the beginning because have you been a little patient you would have realised that the One take shot starts 5 minutes later, and it continues for the 111 minutes.
        I haven’t seen a single episode of True Detective so I am actually seeing it as just a shot and I’m sure this shot had great relevance to the whole story line. But this article was about The Shot, the challenges True Detective team faced, the handwork they put in. and what they achieved.
        On these terms the CID’s work is way more superior, those people at a meager budget pulled off an interesting and well choreographed 111 minutes single shot filled with good suspense and drama, that also without the need of any other shot to make sense of it (the first 5 minutes were just typical CID team intro).
        I wish the producers would upload a better quality with subs someday, so that people could watch and understand the story and not just criticize it just because all they see is shaky zooms.

  • While technically impressive, this segment nearly killed the entire appeal of the series for me. What up to that point had been a genuinely intriguing, realistic and gritty crime drama somehow descended into a “the lead is suddenly superman” romp that felt straight out of a B-movie. It was borderline parody.

  • Last year in the Québec’s (french canadien) cop show named 19-2, they did a 14 minute shot showing a crazy killer in a school purchased by police. That was the most intense scene I’ve never experienced in a tv show. Wasn’t able to breath. If I find a link, I will post it. Otherwise it’s the first episode of the second season, disponible on iTunes. It’s a must watch for tv creator.

  • HK action sequences used to be hands down the best out there but Thailand and latterly Indonesia also producing absurdly detailed well-worked fight sequences in unbroken takes. With this many elements to manage it’s always going to be hard to maintain full believability but, for an episode of TV it’s mightily impressive. It’s also entirely appropriate for the scene. If we’re talking epic one shots then Russian Ark is the pinnacle but man I was crawling up the walls for a different shot size by the end of it.

    One shots are incredibly difficult to pull off and this one was pretty good. Cuaron is the benchmark and you’ve got shots like the beach scene in Atonement as well. Try choreographing anything longer than a couple of minutes and takes get very edgy very quickly.

  • Hey NFS. I worked on True Detective and was there for this incredible shot. If anyone has any technical questions about the shot, I can try to answer them for ya.

    • How long was the rehearsal period? Was there any improvisation compared to the planned storyboards, or camera diagrams? I assume the show is filmed on Alexa — was this a 28mm lens? How many days did this shot take to set up?

      • Stunts and actors rehearsed on a mock up of the 1st house for probably a week. The entire run through, we had two days: one to rehearse, one to shoot. It was very well coordinated so there wasn’t much room for improv as far as the course of the shot. I cant speak for actor nuances though. We shot the entire show on film: Millennium XLs, excluding this shot. We went with an Alexa just because the length of the scene was longer than a 400′ mag. We stripped the weight of the camera to a minimum so no cinetape or matte box. The focus puller did an incredible job. I believe it was a 28mm at a 2.8.

        • Amazing, thanks for the info

        • That’s bloody awesome! I didn’t know the entire show is shot on film, that’s fantastic! And, that was a night shot, so that must of been rough. The camera op and focus puller deserve manna from Heaven. Kudos to the entire crew! Stunning work.

        • From watching the shot, I guess it goes without saying, but the steadicam Op did an outstanding job also. He’s one of the best working today.

    • Who was the Steadicam operator for this shot?

  • Slippery_Jim on 02.13.14 @ 10:54AM

    Haven’t seen the episode yet but sounds like what they did in Boogie Nights.

  • VinceGortho on 02.13.14 @ 12:28PM

    The action was nothing too special in this. For me, what made it nice to look at was the lighting and the gritty set design.
    Very nice the information is available on how they did it.

    This one is my favorite singles take for the movie: Hard Boiled.

  • Loved it. The fighting was fake but I loved they did it all in one take except for the last shot when Matthew says “Go!”

  • They went OVER the fence?!? Amazing. I just… I just can’t…

    • It was a Titan crane (basically a crane on the back of a flat bed truck that can support an operator) with the extension and the 10 foot drop down. Plus the Steadicam Platform. The operator stepped on, went over, then stepped off while another person jumped on to support the balance.

  • Kenneth Merrill on 02.13.14 @ 8:35PM

    One of my favorite one shots. Goes to show that it’s not all about movement.

  • Its interesting that the ‘one shot’ aspect of this turns so many people on… why is that? Is it the choreography or the fact that it sort of uncommon or… I don’t really get it. Its fine, whatever but I don’t find it exciting… as posted above people have been doing it for years and though the TD is a bit of set piece I’ve seen some really nice single shots in film that have a series of story points in them that warrant a one shot feel – see opening shot of boogie nights etc…. Anyway, I’m not sure what the fuss is.

    • I think I can answer this. Film is often a very bitty, piecemeal process. One shots allow filmmakers to emulate theatre and other live performance like dance or music which creates this sense of a ‘live’ show. Because of that they’re really exciting to choreograph and create because they’re so risky and demand so much of you in terms of design and planning. Very often they just come out as wankoffs but even just a sixty second one shotter can be immensely satisfying because no matter how good an edit, it’s still a disruption. Dispensing with them creates a tension of continuity that can be incredibly effective.

      The fuss is the fact that they’re relatively rare and actually very difficult to pull off.

    • Because your brain has basically been “trained” to recognize cinema as a series of cut-together sequences. To see everything happen without that moment of pause/shift/cut is a bit jarring, and consequently it tickles the brain in a unique way.

  • This just reminded me of a one-shot short film I watched yesterday. It is in French, but it is still interesting to watch. The concept works perfectly in the frame of the “48 hours short filmmaking festival” it was conceived and done.

  • Loved the scene. Reminded me of the Children of men one take, especially with people running and shooting.

  • PABLO PICASSO on 02.15.14 @ 1:21PM


    • Gene (not the 3 other Gene's) on 02.16.14 @ 12:12AM

      I think all the violence in tv/movies makes a sad commentary on Americas tastes. Why are people entertained by violence, crime, murder, sadism, torture, horror? I’m beyond tired of the violence in American tv/movies myself. I saw The LEGO Movie today. Very good change of pace. I don’t care how silly that sounds. It is heartening that The LEGO Movie has already made twice its production budget in one week! Maybe other people are tired of violence too.

      • Gene (not the 3 other Gene's) on 02.17.14 @ 10:37AM

        The LEGO Movie has now earned 3 times its production budget in 10 days, i.e., $180 million.

  • Daniel Mimura on 02.15.14 @ 7:10PM

    The Hanna oner still takes the cake for me for action long takes. Compositionally it’s *way* more interesting. Not that this is “bad”, it’s quite a feat, but I just like my action camera work with a little more compositional or narrative intent behind it, not doc style, not just sort of catching up with all these things going on in the frame. Too many times it would just default to McConaughey’s face when they were in the house…not because he’s experiencing a change of emotion or reaction specifically to something, or to let us see what he’s thinking (and I suspect b/c it’s just so damned hard doing steadicam in tight spaces and physically having to move around things happening in the space and stunts…etc…) …and things weren’t hidden or revealed or framed in a way that made it compelling. It felt sort of like a technical exercise, I didn’t feel much from it. Certain parts that should’ve had more tension, like when he’s hiding behind the bushes…I thought he was gonna dash thru the bushes, but he was hiding behind them…and then, we see the the feet walk by in the little gap, but if this had telescoped it where we see the bad guys and see them coming forward, and seeing McC- see them coming, and realize he has to dash into the bushes to avoid them…and then he only has a second or two to reach cover…and then a beat where you wonder if they see him or not while he’s trying his best to hold his breath (even though he’s been running and fighting)…and then…see the feet walk by so you know he’s free…. That’s what I mean—it’s not staged in a way that really makes me feel much for it.

    …I am watching this out of context though, since I haven’t seen the show, so perhaps I’m judging too harshly about the emotional context, but still, even though I’m watching this in a way that I can’t follow any of the emotional thread of what has gone before this scene, there is still a lack of tension in a scene that is definitely meant to showcase it.

    • Daniel Mimura on 02.15.14 @ 7:32PM

      This is the Hanna shot. It has so much more compositional sense to it. We see him get off a bus…we see a bad guy following, but Bana doesn’t see him. Then then we see another. We then get a close up of Bana as he suspects he’s being followed (when he’s next to the gutter punks)…he looks back (and we get an angle looking back as well)…”no, no one’s following me, a guy’s looking at his watch…maybe he’s following, but I dunno. I’m gonna play it off for now.”

      and we get tension…a car horn…Bana is nervous and jumpy. He gets on the escalator…looks back…oh, it’s the guy who was reading his watch…he’s definitely following…but Bana feigns indifference…we see him unbutton his coat, ready for action.

      Then we get a 360º shot…what’s usually the most boring and stupid and pointless steadicam move ever—usually, they stand out b/c there is absolutely no point to it—we don’t usually see anything new and the camera is moving around for no reason…but no, here it’s different here…we get the lay of the land…he gets the lay of the land…there are a couple people, but it’s pretty open…wait, they’re closing, coming from every entrance…a stand off. Then the fight begins. Action scene.

      See how different that is? The True Detectives shot is more like the typical easy action formulaic style of shooting like rough-and-handheld doc style…it was just that, but all strung together without cuts and with steadicam with little thought to pace and rhythm.

  • Gene (not the 3 other Gene's) on 02.16.14 @ 12:29AM

    96 minute one shot movie, no cuts. Camera operator followed the lead actor with a steadicam.

    Russian Ark:

  • MIght have already been posted, but this is still one of my favorites. From Oldboy (I should probably watch the movie at some point…)

    Also, the scene in question from True Detective was pretty dang amazing. The acting was incredible, so I don’t understand the negative comments. The action was definitely believable. Anyway.

  • My next film will have a ONE FRAME shot. Hey, stop laughing. ; )

  • Mountain Ledoux on 02.20.14 @ 6:08PM

    I think that this show is great, but they sacrificed a lot to get this shot (a shot a lot of viewers didn’t even notice). The acting in this shot is often weak and the stunt fighting looks ridiculous, especially for a show that shows so much realness. I watched a “making of” about True Detective where the creator was practically patting himself on the back for shooting the show on film, and then they opt to go digital for their big one shot? Also, is it just me or does the part of the shot where the camera pans up to the helicopter and then back down to ground level seem like the perfect place to insert a cut? Either way, this IS the best show on television, I’m just not as blown away by this shot as many of you are.

  • This was an amazing take. Must have been great fun for Matthew to act that.

  • The Lego movie made money because it’s a kids flick, as with those kind of films, both parents and children end up paying for a ticket to watch the film. Plus, as most children films are on average 90 minutes in length, theater owners can screen the film one or even two more times then normal running time of 2 hour or more with most features.

  • Man, what is wrong with you people. You guys are so self absorbed. This was a great shot that is hard to physically do and it came out very well. I don’t give two shits about other scenes that were also shot this way or longer. Try staying focused for two seconds, we are talking about the article above. You bunch of ADD opinionated pricks. So MY question about the scene ABOVE is, you mentioned a MOVI, was that used for the shot? If all of you are so freaking talented and great at directing then why don’t you get back to working on your oscar speech.

  • Def. one of my favorite scenes and the reason I love this show lol.

  • Pulling off a 111 minute long single shot, keeping the suspense-drama alive at 1/10th of the budget of any American Cop show that also a decade back is not ‘Silly’ at all. You might not like bollywood, I share the similar feeling to an extent but that doesn’t mean you’ll blindly condemn even really good stuff from them.
    I enjoy watching True Detective alot and this single take really made sense with the storyline but as I said before I’ve seen much better single takes than this.