The Art of the One-Shot

When I say the phrase, “one-shot” what comes to mind? Does it wander to action movies and shooting? Sports?
I’ve always said that when watching movies and TV I always try and look deeper into what is being presented onscreen; what is in the background, how did they get this particular shot, what could they have done differently, subtle nuances in the character’s actions. All of these not-so-prominent factors help build and support the overall story that is being told. It’s in these subtleties that I judge if a movie or show is successful or not because the larger picture might not be great, but the effort that a film or show puts into the little details can make up for that loss and still allow it to shine in some way.

What exactly am I talking about?

Take for example, Sin City,  I didn’t particularly love the movie. I understood its background; coming from a graphic novel split into two three book series for the screen and adapted for film with some of the shots being an exact recreation of the graphic novel portrayal. However, it was truly an achievement in CGI and green screen in my opinion. First, it was shot entirely on Robert Rodriguez’s sound studio, which doubles as his garage. He had Frank Miller, the author of the graphic novel, sitting off-camera writing in extra scenes and providing insight as they shot, Thirdly, the use of color (or lack thereof in most shots) was absolutely stunning and for as many problems as the movie had in my mind, these particular things helped save it for me. I appreciated the effort that it took to make this movie happen.

Enter the ONE-SHOT aka Long Take/Shot. There is no other feat in cinema or television that floors me more than the art of the one-shot. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, it is simply when a shot does not cut, but runs continuously until the scene is completely finished. To me, there is no greater thing you can achieve than to accomplish this successfully. As I’m writing this, several come to mind; Oldboy, The Protector, Atonement, Scrubs and the most recent being True Detective (ep. 4) and the opening shot of Gravity. To call this method an art form is not doing it complete justice. When watching anything on a screen, I purposefully look for things like this and when I see them, it sounds silly, it restores my faith in Hollywood to make quality TV and films. So here are some of my favorite one-shots (that I can remember) in no particular order.


Hatchet. Hair. And anger. What more could a person want? This was probably my first time ever noticing/appreciating the one-shot. It was truly a moment of beauty in Oldboy and one of two major moments in an excellent movie. Enjoy!

Atonement – 
This shot was one of two things I distinctly recall about this film. The other being its use of a typewriter’s sounds as part of the soundtrack (truly amazing!). This is still a touching scene and I couldn’t help but wonder how long it took the sound editor to match up the music with the men’s chorus singing the similar tune. 
The Protector –  
One thing is clear: Tony Jaa wants his elephant back and if you get in his way, he will make sure your elbow bends both ways! I’ve tried to recommend this movie to countless people and they have all come back to me saying they weren’t patient enough to make it to this scene. Let me tell you, THIS SCENE makes this movie. There are two other amazing fight scenes in The Protector, but they don’t even come close to this one. 

Children of Men
I put off seeing this movie for a really long time. I just didn’t care for a dystopian-future-babyless-sci-fi drama, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! This was a good film with many great parts, but I forced myself to watch this after the urging of one of my friend’s that knew I would appreciate it JUST for this scene and he was right. 
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the KING of the one-shot. Scoresese is now notorious for using this form of shooting to where you can almost point to a moment of use in every single one of his films. He should conduct a masterclass on how to pan, zoom and circulate in a room with only one take. This is just a small example of what he’s been able to do using the long take. 
True Detective (ep. 4) – 
I genuinely liked this show. Yes, it unfolded slowly and you had to blare your TV’s volume just to hear Matty Mac whisper-speak about the universe and human existence, but overall, it started to become a solid police drama. It wasn’t until this one-shot, that it truly was catapulted into one of the best shows on television. This scene came at the very end of episode four and served to catapult this series even further down the rabbit hole as it only got better from this point forward. I am still in awe of this scene and the fact that TV does not do a ton of one-shots for reasons unknown to me, however, True Detective pulls this off flawlessly. Behold. 

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