Earlier this semester, many of us had the pleasure of experiencing the excellent cinematography of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode entitled "The Body." During the opening scene, Buffy comes home to find her lifeless mother sprawled on the couch and through a fifteen minute uninterrupted take, we witness every distraught feeling that Buffy does. Through a long-take we are engrossed into the scene and vicariously experience her emotions shifts from denial, to disgust, to panic, and to breakdown. By using a single moving camera, the long take allows viewers to feel like they are present in the scene and witnessing the action through their own eyes. This creates a powerful effect that can enhance emotionally rich and exciting scenes, where constant switching of view-points (of cameras) is unnecessary and even a hindrance to the experience.
This technique was successfully employed in the 2005 martial arts film The Protector, staring Muai Thai boxer Tony Jaa, and directed by Prachya Pinkaew. The following is a four minute long scene shot with a single camera with zero editing. Get ready; it will blow your mind:
Notice the similarities this scene has with professional wrestling. The absence of editing requires every fight to be performed flawlessly to suspend the audience's disbelief. The actors must be highly trained and ready to fulfill their choreographed job while selling their injuries to the audience. They are ready to be thrown into walls and off thirty foot ledges to engage and capture the audience's attention and appreciation. Botched long takes are physically, emotionally, and financially taxing as in pro wrestling. Should Tony Jaa botch a throw or kick he could seriously injure an actor. For instance, the moment he throws one henchman off the third story ledge is reminiscent of when the Undertaker threw Mankind off of the top of the cage during the 1998 Hell in a Cell match. When Mankind hit the floor, some viewers including the Undertaker thought he was dead. Now imagine that happening to the guy who was tossed off the ledge. When deciding whether or not to shoot a long take, Pinkaew had to consider the costs of repairing the set's many damaged railings, windows, and ceramic sinks. A botched long take does not have the luxury of editing to minimize costs of repairs and retakes.
Ultimately there is a huge risk looking an action scene looking fake, as in professional wrestling, when using a long take. Nevertheless the power to amaze the audience has influenced celebrated directors like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese to embrace the long take in their own action movies.