Long Takes Are Awesome, But They Do Have Their Limitations

Long takes can be a thing of beauty, requiring masters in directing, cinematography, and editing to pull them off. But, even though the technique can be remarkable, they do have their limitations.

In this video by Jack Nugent of Now You See It, we get to explore the benefits and disadvantages of the long take, how they help and hinder the story they're being used to tell. Check out the video below:

One of the most famous and extreme modern uses of the long take appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's "single shot" film Rope, but even the Master of Suspense himself called his effort a stunt. This is because Hitchcock was a huge arbiter of the storytelling power of editing. Echoing the philosophy of the Soviet filmmakers who literally wrote the book on montage, Hitchcock understood how editing could be used to manipulate inspire an audience's response to what they were watching.

With long takes, editing isn't used as a storytelling device at all — not in an overt way, at least. We've seen, in films like The Revenant, BirdmanChildren of Men, and Gravity (funny how all of these films were shot by Chivo Lubezki), how long takes can be used to overwhelm audiences with the kinesis of visual stimuli or immerse them completely into the diegesis. And let's not forget that many of these long takes do have edits, whether they're hidden or worked into the choreography of the cinematography.

However, I think Nugent is right in his assertion that long takes produce an effect that is unique and altogether different from shorter takes that have plenty of editing. This is because editing has a cinematic language all its own. The message being conveyed on screen can be changed based on the pacing, length, rhythm, of a montage, as well as the relationships between two separate shots cut side by side. If you cut out (pun not entirely intended) editing from a sequence and opt for a long take, it probably shouldn't be a stylistic choice, but one that is inspired by the needs of the narrative. In the end, that's what Nugent was trying to communicate.     

Your Comment


I agree. Long takes have their place though. It all just depends on the story and how you're trying to tell it. Long takes should never be used as a spectacle or something "cool" as Hitchcock realized with "Rope". Yes it was a play being filmed and Birdman was basically the same concept but Innaritu and Chivo learned from the mistakes and used wide lenses and camera movement with the newest technology to achieve what Hitchcock couldn't back then.

March 29, 2016 at 11:48PM, Edited March 29, 11:50PM

Brad Watts
Filmmaker/Creative Director - Redd Pen Media

Just because i can not hold it back: "Victoria" 2h 40m
one take - not accepted by the academy because of too much english conversation. That is an impressive movie and an extraordinary one-take.

March 30, 2016 at 12:36AM

Lorenz Schuster

Yep! Agree 100%

March 30, 2016 at 12:55AM

Mark Novelli

All this talk about long takes now that chivo is doing them in American mainstream cinema and always in relation to Rope but so little conversation about the real masters of the long take- Modern European filmmakers 50's to date- Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Tarr, Goddard, Sokurov, Angelopolous, Greenaway etc already did the long take to death and made far greater use of it decades ago...

March 30, 2016 at 4:52AM, Edited March 30, 5:13AM


I really like that one long take in Children of Men (you know which one...) because it gives me, the viewer, a feeling of relentlessness—I desperately want the camera to cut because it would relieve the tension of the scene. And that's what the director wants in that scene. It works so well.

However, most of Chivo/Inarritu's long takes, while undeniably impressive, end up feeling like stunts. They call attention to themselves. Which is fun, sure—but I think it shows a lack of discipline.

This is where Spielberg's long takes impress me more. They stay subtle and powerful. Unless you're looking for it, you usually don't realize it's a single take, because he uses them to immerse you in a moment. He gives actors time to own a performance and bring a deeper level of humanity into a scene that would otherwise be cut short by an edit.

Spielberg has discipline. He uses the technique effectively to give life to a scene instead of distracting you with stunning cinematography and blocking.

March 30, 2016 at 8:27AM

David S.

Completely agree. Spielberg is the true master of these shots when he chooses to utilize them. My personal favorite is in Jurassic Park. No one realizes it, but the shot where they are talking about triceratops droppings is actually beautifully staged and one long take. You never even think about it when watching the film, it is used to tell the story.

As you said, I think Chivo's recent work is not aiding the storytelling, it's camera stuntwork that pulls me out of the film because I notice it constantly when watching.

April 1, 2016 at 7:29AM, Edited April 1, 7:29AM

Geoff C. Bassett

Alejandro González Iñárritu is one of my favorite directors. I love his style of cinematography.

March 30, 2016 at 4:32PM


I agree, I was really disappointed with Birdman when I first saw it. The novelty of the film being shot in one-take wore off in the first fifteen minutes for me. Having to follow a character from scene to scene rather than just cutting straight there became really monotonous for me, I can see why people would like it though; it's technically brilliant. Also, like the video touches on, editing is an important story telling tool and one-take shots can not take advantage of it.

April 3, 2016 at 4:08AM


I wholeheartedly agree. In my film classes, whenever a fellow student proposed the film be shot in "one long take" *exasperated sigh* I always ask the question "why?" It's always because it might've possible. I would never opt for a super long take if it's not necessary, so style shouldn't factor it. It's all about conveying certain moods for the audience.

July 2, 2017 at 9:11PM, Edited July 2, 9:10PM