In our second week of the Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse project, we felt that – after a two hour session of discussing and analysing clips the previous week – we all wanted to get our hands dirty! And so, full of new ideas and new perspective, everyone set out to try their hand at using long takes for the first time.
We wanted to keep the brief as free as possible, to let everyone respond to everything they had heard and seen, in any way they wanted. The only rule was that the films all had to consist of one single take – everything else was up for grabs!
Myself and Mr Cairns weren’t quite sure what to expect, so we were absolutely delighted when the results came in.
Two of the best films to come out of the session were the films made by Jasmine and Alicja; two very different films which both displayed a remarkable early understanding of the possibilities of the long take.
The film made by Jasmine’s group is naturalistic, but deceptively so, as it has powerful sense of poetics. I was very impressed in particular by the way that Jasmin and her group used space in the film, and the different emotional effects of different locations. The lift is simultaneously a lift, and a claustrophobic, bleak, ‘suspended’ space that expresses a powerful sense of emotion. This led to a great discussion in class about how space is both ‘literal’ and expressive in films; it both tells us a story we are to believe is happening to a real person, in a real place at a real time, AND at the same time has to compose itself poetically, in order to create expressive affect. Some of the thoughts from our discussion can be found here.
Our first few sessions revolved around long takes and how they are used to film particular things, such as an intense scene, to show the pain of a certain character. We were shown examples in which long takes did this, and discussed how difficult it must have been to film without getting anything wrong. We were then sent off in small groups to create our own individual long takes, with some sort of meaning behind them. My group decided on a simple take from a desk to a lift- no talking just action. The person was sitting at the desk obviously stressed due to their work, they then shoved the keyboard aside and went from the classroom to the lift. When they were inside the lift, they stopped halfway, suspended, and slowly sat down. I think this take was quite intimate as it showed you a personal moment you would not usually get to see unless of course you were the one experiencing it. We then showed this to the rest of the group and got back good and bad feedback from both Jamie and Mr Cairns, as well as comments from some of our peers. I found this part particularly useful as it helped us develop our skills further as well as feeling happy with what we achieved.
The film made by Alicja’s group was a totally different kettle of fish! Alicja likes making films in a playful, surrealist style and her first attempt at shooting a long take was no exception. We had talked a lot in our Introduction to the Long Take about the ideas of Andre Bazin, and the sense of ‘reality’ that a long take can create. So, with all that in mind, I was surprised and delighted to see Alicja take things in a completely different and entirely individual direction!
Interestingly, although there is a feeling of strangeness in Alicja’s film which undermines a clear sense of reality, the central presence of a clock in the frame means the very real course of time is foregrounded.
The surreal feeling in Alicja’s film is aided by her inspired choice of a high angle, which has the effect of isolating her character from the rest of the world – which we can hear (and which is referred to throughout the film) but cannot see.
In the last couple of weeks we have been learning about the ‘long take’, it’s qualities and how to use it. In order to develop our knowledge and capability of successfully creating and shooting a long-take film, every session we acquire a new skill whether it is to do with the world out of the shot, creative and effective framing or embedding drama and story in the shot.
Message from Martin Cairns
Finally, heres a word from Mr Martin Cairns, seasoned veteran of the Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse project, and leader of the pack at Broughton High School;
Bonjour and welcome to our blog.
My name is Martin Cairns and I am the teacher at Broughton High School in Edinburgh who is responsible for our Cinema Cent Ans de Jeunesse group. We have been working on this project since last October and have found the process both challenging and interesting. The focus last year being on camera placement made for some fantastic films although, in a sense, this was to be expected as the participants were forced, by this brief, to consider and vary how they constructed every shot. This year’s challenge, the long take, was at first glance a little scary. The requirement for choreography, dramatic justification and expert camera wrangling made this feel on the verges of impossible in a school setting with very limited technology. However, as we have proceeded through the initial activities, I’m pleased to report that we are making headway with this challenge. Our film maker Jamie Chambers, has made the process clear and interesting. His selection of exemplars has ably illustrated how highly dramatic effects can be achieved without a budget or with limited access to resources. Starting out with a discussion of Bazin and moving through slapstick classics from Buster Keaton all the way up to Terence Davies, Steve McQueen and Joss Whedon we have been on a whistlestop tour of cinema history which has been enlightening and rewarding. Each week we have been starting out with a viewing and discussion activity and then the students have gone out to reflect what we have discussed in a short single shot film of their own design. The results have been mixed of course but the students have created some fantastic examples of the variety of ways in which the long take can be used.
Last year I was very proud of what our students achieved and this year I hope that we can do even better. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my teaching career to take a group of students to Paris and see their work screened in all its glory on the big screen. To have their work so clearly appreciated by an international cinema audience and singled out for praise by Alan Bergala was an inspiring experience for our young film makers and one which they will never forget.
Au revoir pour maintenant