Watch: The Amazing Full 6-Minute Tracking Shot From 'True Detective'

Television
by Kevin Jagernauth
February 11, 2014 11:20 AM
30 Comments
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Firstly, if you're not watching HBO's "True Detective," you're doing it wrong. One of the best things going on TV right now—if not the best, period—the drama series has proven to be fantastically written and richly entertaining, with a murder mystery woven across a couple of decades, in a case that continues to haunt the detectives played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. But this past weekend's episode "Who Goes There" (full recap here) kicked things up a notch. *SPOILERS AHEAD*

You likely heard everyone talking about it already, and no doubt, the episode's climactic, six-minute single take shot of the raid on a stash house is a phenomenal feat of filmmaking. Showy? Sure, but it was also a brilliant tool in terms of storytelling. The narrative in the show jumps back and forth through time, with cops Martin and Rust telling their tale in the present, that we see in flashback. And so, the decision to immerse the viewer in that moment, with the cops going "off book" and breaking every rule along the way, brings an immediacy to one of the most defining and dangerous moments in their investigation (so far).

But it was also a highly complex shot, with the action following McConaughey's Rust through two homes, and through the streets of the ghetto, all as action takes place all around him, in the foreground and background, as the detective tries to find safety and bring his contact with him, after a robbery gone wrong. And to hear director Cary Joji Fukunaga describe it, the shot was pure choreography on a grand scale.

"We had ADs [assistant directors] all over the neighborhood because we had to release extras, crowd running background, police cars, stunt drivers. There were actual gun shots and stones being thrown through windows. There were a lot of things to put together," he told MTV. "Even the action, the stunt sequences were complicated. We're working on a television schedule. It isn't like a film where you can spend a lot of time working the stunts out with the actors. We only had a day and a half to get Matthew and everyone else on the same page."

The crew ran through the sequence a full seven times, and once it was in the can, Fukunaga completed a few different versions of the scene, with edit points in case he wanted to cut away to something else. But wisely, he kept the entire shot intact, but only because it worked so well. "The best ones, you don't even realize that they're oners," Fukunaga explained. "They're the most first-person experience you can get in a film."

And I have to admit, the first time I saw the sequence I didn't even realize it was a single take until it was over. And it was only a second viewing where I appreciated the tremendous technical accomplishment of the shot. So, why don't you give it another whirl too? Watch the entire six-minute single take below.

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30 Comments

  • Sonn P. Scherbatsky | February 28, 2014 12:47 PMReply

    True Detective SECOND SEASON, first details

    http://thecircular.org/true-detective-first-details-of-second-season/

  • Terry Thomas / Atlanta | February 16, 2014 10:30 PMReply

    Yes, there were several noticeable cuts. Probably more that were less so.

    As for the over-the-fence footage it reminds me of the test footage done when the Canon 1DC came out: one cinematographer simply handed the camera off to another one. If that is not how it was done, another possibility would be for the cinematographer to be wearing a harness with a steel loop. Then as he approached the fence an AC hooked a cable to the loop then a crane lifted the cinematographer up and over the fence whereupon a second AC unsnapped the hook.

    Kudos to the whole production crew.

  • Devin | February 14, 2014 10:52 PMReply

    I think there's a cut around 2:58 when it pans up to the helicopter and the night sky and pans down and they are in different location.

  • john martineau | February 13, 2014 8:14 PMReply

    This is a series of shots blended together .. it is an old Hitchcock trick you use walls to cut and large objects .. rapid movement and flashes. If you look at the opening scene of Snake Eyes you will think this is one take also but it is not. It is a series of shots cut were large objects such as wall pillars the backs of peoples heads. I know this because I am a cinematographer and I know the man who shot it. The most noticeable edit in this is near the end when they go toward the fence it goes from handheld to a crane shot back to handheld. its an art and not easy to do but this is not one take. Most scenes that you believe are one take are not. If you look for the edits you can see them. We do this all day everyday.

  • Wanker | February 17, 2014 2:17 AM

    Its not one take Tomasvou. There are at least 4 noticeable edits. Again i refer you to Snake Eyes shot by Larry McConkey. Done exactly the same way ... you can watch it here. ww.steadishots.org/shots_detail.cfm?shotID=6

  • TomasVou | February 14, 2014 1:21 AM

    Hands up if you're a wanker. John Martineau.

  • adrian | February 12, 2014 8:37 PMReply

    too self conscious and too soon in the series. Would have liked to have known more about the characters to get really into it.

  • Bill Murray | February 13, 2014 11:31 AM

    We don't believe you, you need more people.

  • A.L. | February 12, 2014 5:49 PMReply

    I'm not sure it IS a single take -- there appear to be match-dissolves in several places, and the one at 4:51 when the camera tracks alongside a dark wall (and everything is SO dark that it hides most trickery) seems particularly blatant.

    In any case, where are Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh?

  • NM | February 14, 2014 12:38 AM

    I read that they made sure to have a couple of places where they could edit together takes of the scene if they didn't manage to do it in one take. I'm guessing that the wall at 4:51 and the clothes line earlier on were two of those places. However, the director (I think it was him) stated that the scene that was actually used for the episode was all done in one take, and they didn't have to take advantage of any of the places that could have been used for splicing multiple takes together.

  • Dave | February 12, 2014 5:35 PMReply

    Madmen....seriously? It's about business executives....you must be boring. You must like watching 2 broke girls too....

    It's sad what's on tv nowadays.

  • nathaniel222 | February 12, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    That was Perfect

  • Sean | February 12, 2014 2:18 PMReply

    All these comments about the show is kind of embarrassing. It's a good show but not as good as everyone is saying. Personally, Mad Men is a million times more thrilling and satisfying than this show. Hell, I'd even go with something like Hannibal, even though it's one season old.

  • cromwell | February 12, 2014 2:35 PM

    You are a fool to even mention that glorified soap in the same sentence with this masterpiece,in terms of complexity, realism, texture , development, this blows out the water anything on tv at the moment. You know nothing, so shut up and stop advertising your ignorance.

  • Frank | February 12, 2014 11:26 AMReply

    Neither tv shows 24, Homeland or any other show can compare to True Detectives...this is probably close to reality and realism of an actual sect of detectives that have indeed "gone off the books," whether in decades ago police regimes or currently (which is much harder with today's technology such as video surveillance, etc). I can attest to this and to see what's going on is very creepy, becasue as a law man you know it's wrong and you can get caught any minute.

    Unlike Homeland, which was a good show up until the last season, became so fake. It was a shame because it had a good plot, but unfortunatley the writers let this get away with twists that I don't believe worked, causing the show to lose steam. Killing off Brody pretty much ended the intrigue. You can try to continue the show like a Law and Order type premise with different scenarios around national security, but having an unstable government employee that continues to get fired and work isn't believable. You're better off creating a new show leading up to 9/11 and fictionalizing the failures of national security with captivating characters.

    Going back on topic, it's refreshing to see two of today's best actors together on (Matt & Woody) on True Detective and Kudos to the directors and staff because I don't think anything like this could happen again (Matt losing weight) and Woody's unstableness portraying the actual haunts that plauge modern day law enforcement officers (divorce, drug use, family issues). We all have skeletons in our closets...

  • TheoC | February 12, 2014 8:20 AMReply

    Glass, I agree with your statement, and perhaps i was being hyperbolic, but I honestly think this TV show is something special, it's just that good. This isn't homeland or 24 it's not a twitter show it's smart TV, it's Red Riding meets Zodiac, it's like a novel on TV, and to me personally I think it's brilliant. I agree with your hype issues but watch the show, see does it live up to it for YOU, for me it's killing it.

  • Steven | February 12, 2014 7:39 AMReply

    Great flamin show, best thing since House of Cards and Sapranos!

  • Theoc | February 11, 2014 6:55 PMReply

    Flip, this is by far the best thing on TV and possibly the best thing on TV ever. Am i overselling it?? I love this show. I'd argue Rust Cohle is the most complex ambiguous character ever committed to a TV screen or any screen i love this show.

  • Glass | February 11, 2014 8:30 PM

    It's comments like this that make me think this phase of TV drama obsession is a total fad. People oversell this shit so much and what the shows truly are can't back it up. It's all hype.

  • Mel | February 11, 2014 5:00 PMReply

    It's worth noting the cinematographer on the series, as he is just as instrumental as Fukunaga in the show's look and it's Adam Arkapaw, doing brilliant work in both film and television, especially after last year's Top of the Lake.

  • Nik G. | February 12, 2014 1:06 AM

    He's not getting mentioned enough. Brilliant work, and he's got a bright future ahead of him.

  • Jbryce | February 11, 2014 4:48 PMReply

    not as impressive as the full take scene in Hard Boiled

  • Chaws | February 11, 2014 3:56 PMReply

    As I was watching this episode, halfway through this shot, I found myself wondering "has this all been one shot?" As soon as it ended, I rewound it, re-watched it and was in awe of it trying to figure out where they put in a trick edit, or how they did that shot over the fence. It's truly a feat. I've watched it several times now and it only gets more impressive each time I watch it. True Detective is gonna be a force to be reckoned with come next awards season. Can't wait to see the back half.

  • Big | February 12, 2014 4:01 AM

    2 cuts: 1) The helicopter Pan 2) The clothesline

  • Nik G. | February 12, 2014 1:07 AM

    I'll watch it a few more times, but, I heard that there's two sneaky cuts in that shot. Someone working on the show said it in a forum, but it could all be BS of course. The pan up to the helicopter could contain an edit.

  • DG | February 11, 2014 2:33 PMReply

    This type of cinematography is on par with Alfonso Cuaron and Tarkovsky. Best I've ever seen on a series.

  • buddy | February 11, 2014 3:47 PM

    On par with Cuaron? Considering that he fudged all the long takes in Children of Men, I'd say the True Detective work kicks his ass.

  • fs | February 11, 2014 12:07 PMReply

    This might be spliced som places. Still impressive though

  • jk | February 11, 2014 12:49 PM

    It isn't. They left some edit points if they needed to use two different scenes, but they didn't have to edit it.

  • fs | February 11, 2014 12:07 PMReply

    This might be spliced som places. Still impressive though

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