Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about how director Robert Zemeckis is the master of the moving master shot.
Let’s be honest, long takes get all the glory. And, to be fair, there is something delightfully audacious about a well-executed oner: the intense staging, the impossibly fluid camera, all the different moving parts. Continuous shots are difficult to pull off, which is, in part, why they drum up so much praise and hype. Heck, there are even full, feature-length films entirely structured around the spectacle of a single shot (or the appearance thereof): Rope (1948), Russian Ark (2002), Birdman (2014), and 1917 (2019), to name a few.
But did you know that continuous shots have a sneakier, more practical cousin? That’s right, it’s time to talk about the moving master shot. What is the moving master? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a master shot (a.k.a. a long shot that captures all or most of the action in a scene) that moves around a lot. The benefit of the moving master is that you are able to obtain a lot of coverage without a scene feeling too static. Effectively, by just moving the camera and the performers around, you can achieve a multitude of coverage with far fewer set-ups (a.k.a. the positioning of the camera and lights for a specific shot). As you can imagine, this saves a lot of time. And on a professional film set, saving time means saving money.
One of the masters of the moving master is Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis. The video essay below looks to Zemeckis’ filmography to demonstrate both the practical and storytelling benefits of using this technique.
Watch “Shooting Moving Masters Zemeckis Style“:
Who made this?
This video essay about Robert Zemeckis and the moving master shot is by writer, director, and video essayist David F. Sandberg (of Shazam! fame). His output includes no-budget horror films shot in his own house, starring his wife and frequent collaborator Lotta Losten. You can follow Sandberg on Vimeo and on Twitter. You can also subscribe to him on YouTube here.
More Videos Like This
- Back in April of last year, when all of this “global pandemic” business was new, Sandberg made a short horror film about the terror of being stuck in your house.
- And here’s another thoughtful breakdown from Sandberg on the most powerful special effect in cinema: a cut. Here’s his breakdown of how directors use editing to hide seams, imply impact, and other neat little tricks that our monkey brains don’t catch.
- Here’s director Gil Bettman via Indie Film Hustle with a quick lesson on how to shoot a moving master shot.
- Moving masters are great. But if you’re looking for a broader breakdown, you should check out StudioBinder’s massive round-up of camera movements.