Today I’d like to riff off something I did with a series of post on the Buzzfeed article on the “129 most beautiful frames in the movies”. This time it’s a great Screen Crush article on The Long Take. I wondered what the scripts would look like for these famous long take action sequences. Academic circles teach younglings that as a screenwriter you want “white space” and never, ever go more than five lines of description before shifting into a new action block. So how’s that practically translate to some of the most classic sequences in the movies? Let’s check it out.
***The usual disclaimer. I’ll try to format properly but the script cut and pastes are anything but perfect so view accordingly. Content over format and we emerge victorious over the tech.***
- TOUCH OF EVIL
The opening of five-minute sequence of Touch Of Evil has attained legendary status. That’s not hyperbole, just fact. Hard to believes are many for this one. First that anyone would cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican police detective. Next that Wells was bought in at Heston’s bequest to salvage the script– which he did, in a week! It’s doubtful I have much to meaningfully add to the analysis of this classic that already exists on the internet. I did find a piece of the script. Run the sequence and follow along. Notice how much of the dialogue has been cut out.
REVERSE ANGLE – NEAR THE FLAMING WRECK OF THE CAR
The following sequence is photographed with a hand camera - the operator following Mike and Susan through the crowd on foot. Mike, followed by Susan, is running forward when an OLD MAN (a field-hand type) dashes by, going in the other direction. Mike stops him and there is a swift exchange in Spanish.
SUSAN Mike! - What's happened?
The old man dashes OFF SCENE. Mike continues hurrying toward the scene of the accident, Susan tagging along at his side.
MIKE It exploded - SUSAN (breathlessly, by now they are almost running) Just the car? - How could it do that?
MIKE I'd better find out, Susie. Don't you come any closer... it's bound to be messy... We'll have to postpone the soda, I'm afraid -
SUSAN (catching up with him) Why? - Can't I come and see, too? MIKE (turning back with a nervous laugh) Darling, don't be morbid. SUSAN (Flaring up a trifle) Well, what are you being, for golly's sake? Anyway, it happened over here on the American side - so - MIKE (his voice hardens) So it's none of my business? SUSAN (after a moment) That's sort of what I mean, I guess. MIKE (very serious) You're wrong, love. This could be very unpleasant for us...
SUSAN For us - ? MIKE I mean for Mexico. (Sighs) There's probably nothing I can do - SUSAN So - MIKE So I'll try not to be too long about it.
He kisses her in haste but very tenderly - then turns and breaks into a run. HAND CAMERA FOLLOWING HIM TO THE wrecked car. Policemen are holding off the gathering crowd.
Nobody is better as finding the emotion and essence of a complex scene in a SINGLE shot than Scorsese. You see it in Raging Bull with Jake LeMotta (Robert DeNiro) the moment before his championship fight. We go Steadicam from his dressing room, through a crowd of thousands, into the ring–single shot. Scorsese does it in Goodfellas too, in this tour-de-force Steadicam shot as we go from car, through the back of a chaotic restaurant, up front to a table in a packed club watching a comedian. It gives us a POV on a gangster rock star, and gets us into the mind of Karen. How does this guy live this like? It’s a glamorous life and we get how she could quickly fall for this guy who has the world at his feet. What’s the script for that sequence look like? Roll the YouTube video(with commentary) and follow along…
EXT. COPACABANA - NIGHT HENRY gives the keys and a rolled-up twenty-dollar bill to the DOORMAN at the building across the street and steers KAREN toward the Copa. KAREN What're you doing? What about the car? HENRY (while pushing her through the crowd waiting to get in) He watches it for me. It's better than waiting at a garage. HE SEE HENRY deftly steer KAREN away from the Copa's main entrance and down the basement steps. A HUGE BODYGUARD, eating a sandwich in the stairwell, gives HENRY a big "Hello." WE SEE HENRY walk right through the basement kitchen, which is filled with CHINESE and LATINO COOKS and DISHWASHERS who pay no attention. KAREN is being dragged along, open-mouthed, at the scene. HENRY starts up a stained kitchen staircase through a pair of swinging doors and suddenly KAREN sees she is inside the main room. The harried MAITRE D' (he is surrounded by CUSTOMERS clamoring for their tables) waves happily at HENRY and signals to a CAPTAIN. WE SEE a table held aloft by TWO WAITERS wedging their way toward the stage and plant the table smack in front of what had until that moment been a ringside table. As HENRY leads KAREN to their seat, she sees that he is nodding and shaking hands with MANY of the OTHER GUESTS. WE SEE HENRY quietly slip twenty-dollar-bills to the WAITERS. KAREN (sitting down) You gave them twenty dollars each? WE SEE the CAPTAIN approach with champagne. CAPTAIN This is from Mister Tony, over there. HENRY Where, over there? CAPTAIN Over there, over there. KAREN watches HENRY turn around and wave at a 280-POUND HOOD. KAREN What do you do? HENRY (toasting Karen and clinking glasses) I'm in construction. KAREN (taking his hands) They don't feel like you're in construction. HENRY turns to the stage where the lights begin to dim and BENNY YOUNGMAN walks out. HENRY I'm a union delegate.
Oscar-winner says it all. If you were like me you were blown away by how it was “stitched together”. Sure did looks seamless, didn’t it? But here goes Peditto on his “how the magician did it” kick. Trying to figure it out, examine it, maybe learn from it. As the Screen Crush article points out:
“Birdman, a movie comprised entirely of long takes strung together one after another to give the impression that the entire film was essentially one unbroken shot. Though director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki cheated every ten minutes or so to subtly stitch their shots together, they really did film Birdman as a series of lengthy conversations up, down, around, and through Broadway’s St. James Theatre. A little trickery here or there aside, it’s an impressive formal achievement.”