September 30, 2014

Explore the Cinematic Techniques Steven Spielberg Used in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'

Indiana Jones
Director Steven Soderbergh recently removed the color from Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark to explore the film's staging, and here to provide us with more educational treasures is editor Vashi from Vashi Visuals, who shared a number of his own videos that break down some of the techniques used by Spielberg.

In this video, Vashi explores how Spielberg uses only 12 shots to effectively and interestingly introduce the audience to the film's hero, Indiana Jones -- without the use of dialog. We've all heard the unofficial golden rule of filmmaking "Show, don't tell" -- try not to use dialog and exposition to tell your story if you can use cinematography and visuals -- or at least as much as you can (not hating on dialog here). That way, your audience is given the chance to partake in the thrilling experience of storytelling -- putting two and two together, solving the puzzle -- instead of just being given all of the answers.

Even though Spielberg isn't particularly known for his long takes, he certainly executes them as well as those who are. Long takes allow your viewer to marinate in the moment instead of being given new information every 4.6 seconds (average shot length), which can both inspire some powerful emotional reactions from your audience, and allow you, the filmmaker, to tell your story in new, interesting ways. Vashi says:

This long take in Raiders of the Lost Ark asks an important question. What drives Indiana Jones? Glory? Power? Integrity? Righteousness? Honor? What makes Indy who he is and is he really different from Belloq? This quiet dialog exchange carries as much power and revelation as the largest explosion.

One thing to keep in mind, though, if you're going to try to tackle a long take is that just because there are no edits cutting to new characters, places, or objects doesn't mean that those things aren't introduced to keep the scene interesting. Paying attention to framing, staging, and camera movement is of the utmost importance when trying to pull off a long take. Each time the camera moves or someone enters the frame is essentially the equivalent of a cut to a new shot, because it is a new shot -- kind of -- just choreographed and captured in real-time. Vashi shares this excellent floorplan animatic video that reveals each camera movement in the longest shot in Raiders, which really helps to understand this concept.

For more resources that really dig into Raiders of the Lost Ark, be sure to head on over to Vashi's blog post, in which he has shared a plethora of videos, interviews, PDFs, and more that break down this iconic adventure flick.     

Your Comment

11 Comments

Good flick, but if you really think about it, most of it was pointless. With or without Indy, the Nazis would've still gotten the Ark.

October 1, 2014 at 1:32AM

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Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
438

"They're digging in the wrong place!" - Sallah

October 1, 2014 at 2:02AM

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Vashi Nedomansky
Filmmaker
147

But they would've dug anywhere after that. Indy just made it faster for them to find it.

October 1, 2014 at 10:53AM

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Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
438

You might've missed the point of the film. You're talking about the film's plot and its "MacGuffin". The film is about Indy learning to believe in something. This long take being analyzed here shows us that, in the beginning, Indy is a non-believer. "I don't believe in magic. A lot of superstitious hocus pocus." But by the end of the film, when he's tied up and they're about to open the Ark he tells Marion to close her eyes because now he does believe in it. He's come to discover some sense of belief from the experience. That's what the film is about.

October 2, 2014 at 1:14PM

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Dale Goldberg
Director/Editor
279

I knew that already, but I', just saying that they should've handled the MacGuffin plot better. I'm not hating on the film but it's not perfect.

October 2, 2014 at 6:08PM

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Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
438

It's interesting analysis with the shots. Some times we "need" a lot of takes for the story and maybe we need less takes and better takes with the exactly information for the story.

October 1, 2014 at 2:48AM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
7177

This constant Spielberg worshipping is getting annoying. He made a lot of decent movies, right. But by no means were his films made like intricate master pieces where each and every single little thing was crafted with a loupe like these clips imply. He has a rather crude way of setting up his scenes and the long single scenes he does are often rather badly done and more for the effect than to further his story. Even though I don't like his newer movies anymore, David Fincher's older movies are so much more nitpickingly made.

October 1, 2014 at 3:07AM

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Did anyone else feel the first video confused "shots" with "cuts"? For instance: 1, 9, and 11 are continuations of the same "shot" across multiple cuts, as are 2 & 4.

The author subtitled the video "Cutting in the Camera," which is a technique this video doesn't show (Robert Rodriguez explains cutting in camera really well in "Ten Minute Film School", which you can find on youtube). What little explanation does exist is about the physical cuts with no reference to which shot each cut actually comes from.

(Also, a misprint in the title card at :13 indicates this could have been thought out a little more.)

October 1, 2014 at 11:50AM

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Jeff Payne
Writer/Director
161

I agree. What about the shots right before he starts counting? There were shots there of the map, the guide, etc.

Also, how does the author know there was not more coverage shot in the scene?

To me this is more of an editors experiment.

October 2, 2014 at 1:16AM

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Thomas Koch
Director/DoP
188

I have to kinda disagree with the whole "Even though Spielberg isn't particularly known for his long takes" comment. Tony Zhou did a wonderful video on the Spielberg one take. https://vimeo.com/94628727

October 2, 2014 at 11:01AM

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Jeff Stewart
Some guy who sorta likes movies and sometimes makes them.
100

I'm not sure I agree with the whole "editors know when not to cut" regarding these examples.

When we watch these films, Spielberg was under pressure to bring these films in under a small budget. Master Shots are the easiest, cheapest way to get your film in the can. When done correctly, the audience isn't even aware that it has happened.

October 9, 2014 at 5:55PM, Edited October 9, 5:55PM

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Clifford Duvernois
Director and Producer
77