One of the most technically challenging techniques in the cinematic toolbox – one that has consistently proven irresistible to ambitious filmmakers – is the long take, an extended shot in which action takes place and the camera moves without cutting to another angle. While any long take is a challenge that requires planning and careful choreography, some filmmakers go above and beyond and attempt the nearly impossible: creating a full film in one shot. Some films, like Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2003), have managed with digital technology and meticulous planning to actually shoot an entire film in one take. However, there are more films, like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), that aim to achieve the aesthetic effect of a single take by masking the cuts between multiple shots.
While Hitchcock, using the cinematic technology of the late ‘40s, was forced to manage this by zooming in on solid surfaces that would mask his cuts, Birdman (2014) has broken cinematic ground by finding a digital solution to the problem. While the film appears to happen all in one take director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki actually shot the film in multiple takes, which they “stitched” together using digital technology. While employing this technique for the length of a full film is novel, Luzbeki used it previously in the long, seemingly single-take set pieces in Children of Men (2006). Though use of this technique remains rare, its development in Birdman has provided filmmakers everywhere with a graceful, simplified way to execute one of cinema’s most virtuosic flourishes.