Here's What the First 3 Minutes of 'Boogie Nights' Can Teach You About Shot Economy
One shot. Three minutes. So much information.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson didn't waste any time immersing his audience into the seedy universe of Boogie Nights, his 1997 drama about 1970s porn stars. Within the first three minutes of the film, we're introduced to the title, the major players, the environment, the time, important hierarchies, and even a little foreshadowing about the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist. Now that's called shot economy!
Darren Foley of Must See Films takes a closer look at the opening shot of Boogie Nights to discover why Anderson decided to capture it the way that he did, why it works, and how it's able to do so much with so little.
The opening shot from Boogie Nights has a lot of fantastic qualities, but one of the most interesting things about it is that it was shot in a single long take. Touch of Evil, Children of Men, I Am Cuba, Rope, Birdman—many films have used type of shot for many different reasons. But where other filmmakers may have used a long take to build tension (Touch of Evil) or put you inside the head of the protagonist (Birdman), Anderson uses it to, among other things, set the tone for the rest of the film, as well as establish character relationships and hierarchies that will prove to be important later on in the film.
But one of its main contributions is that it creates an immersive experience for the audience, like dropping a viewer right into the scene and allowing them to look around the space in real time. And this is incredibly crucial, because it's Boogie Nights and it's the late 70s and it's a party. You can't simply watch a party; you have to throw on your best platforms and boogie. In other words, if Boogie Nights is the party, and Anderson is the one throwing it, then the opening scene is that first drink P.T. hands you as you cautiously walk through the front door.
And as the movie rages on, the audience also feels that excitement. And as it reaches its legendary climax, the audience also feels that sweet release. And as the music stops and the lights turn on, the audience is there awkwardly trying to remember where they put their coat.
Here is the opening scene in case you want to study it a little closer.