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Atonement: that marathon shot on the beach.


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#1 Lukas Franz

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 11:45 AM

So guys, let's start this new topic! Chris?
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#2 Bryan Fowler

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 12:04 PM

So guys, let's start this new topic! Chris?

Yes, Agreed.

I think Chris would be a great topic starter. Maybe set the feel of the room a bit?
Then we can chime in from there?

Chris, any thoughts?
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#3 chris fawcett

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 01:36 PM

I'm honoured, thanks.

And thanks to Tim Tyler again for this great resource, and to our moderators Eric, Alec, and Erwin. I hope this new forum gives you no irksome work deleting offensive posts etc, but instead brings the community together in peace and understanding?just kidding. Let's kick off with something controversial.

Atonement: that marathon shot on the beach. Was it worth making it one continuous shot? Does the length of the shot add a tension that might not have been achievable with an edited sequence? Does it show off the set better than a series of shots might have? Does it help the story?

I post the shot here temporarily for those of you that haven't had a chance to see the film. You'll need Quicktime 7

Fellow operators, I look forward your comments.

Chris
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#4 Bryan Fowler

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 05:40 PM

I'll give a go...

I haven't seen the full film, so I'm at a bit of a disadvantage, but I can go with what I felt while watching the shot.

Does the length of the shot add a tension that might not have been achievable with an edited sequence?

The length seemed fine, until the main character left the shot towards the middle. At that point I expected a lock off (on the singers), and then a cut. So I guess there was a bit of tension there in the middle.

But, I think multiple cuts would have chopped up the rhythm. I liked being with them the whole time in the camp, instead of jumping ahead, watching them pass, then jumping ahead. (If you were cutting through the camp walk)


Does it show off the set better than a series of shots might have?


It seems like it did a good job of slowly letting us in on what what happening on the beach. At first we see there are lots of people, then showing what was actually happening with the mini scenes as we walked was nice.

Having several separate setups to tell those mini-stories, (horses, men singing, fighting) I think would have been a little contrived, without more problems with involving the characters.

I liked seeing almost all of the camp in little bits, then everything at the end... kinda reminding, and emphasizing what we just came through.

Does it help the story?


I felt like I was missing something with the main 3 men. Their trek through the camp seemed unmotivated. Maybe I felt like they were searching for something, but their movement (after the "general" left them) seemed slightly unmotivated.

I did like the man stopping to watch the horses, then appearing again later.

Granted, if I had seen the full feature things might feel different.

Overall, only a couple times did I "feel" a cut coming, and then it passed quickly. The composition, starts, slowdowns... all seemed to contribute.


I can hear it now, "roll sound, camera, mark it, action..... ..... .....and cut, change the mag" =)

Bryan
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#5 Lars Erik

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 07:08 PM

I saw this movie a few weeks back. And I was quite disappointed by it. The Steadicam shot (which had become famous before even hitting the cinema here), was also a little bit of a let down. Maybe because I'd heard so much about it. When I saw it tonight, I was a bit more positive. But I think it still could have been a better shot.

To me the director is trying to tell the madness of war by this shot. This I pressume because of the boat on the beach, the soldier on top of the sails screaming I'm coming home, shooting of the horses and the big paris wheel in the background. And this is were the shot really contributes. This is slowly revealed to us by the tracking shot of the main actors.

The problem for me is whenever the main actors leaves the frame. We kind of lose a bit focus on what is driving the camera forwards. Why is the camera moving now? What characters are we following now? I understand that they want to show us whats happening. But to me, it's such a big change in the viewing that it actually in some sense cuts the navel cord to the audience. My wife also reacted to this. And the shot sometimes feels like it's a bit long.

I would have liked to see more of a point of view at some stage. This could be why I think the shot is too long. A POV could have intensified the scene more and brought us closer to the worn out soldiers faces on that beach and the mad state they're in. Maybe they tried to use POV by letting the actors leave the frame. But it doesn't work. By the boat the main actor James McAvoy stops for a second. The camera could have pulled up to a close up to his eyes, turned around and had then become his point of view. Only to turn back again to a tracking shot after the singing men.

But hey, it's a good shot. And I pity the operator walking on that sand. Must have been tough!

LE
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#6 RonBaldwin

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 07:57 PM

I agree with what most have said already -- it would have been nice to break it up into 2 or 3 pieces with some cut-aways/pov's in there. It's an amazingly difficult shot to coordinate (not to mention muscle through) with huge production value, but to me it seemed a bit on the gratuitous side. I wonder if other coverage was shot to cover their butts but in post it was decided to run it as one? It's so hard to hold the audiences attention (not saying this one didn't) for several minutes while being transparent (I felt Children of Men did a wonderful job at this). The poor op was getting beat up as is apparent towards the end.

That being said, a great job by the operator. Who did it? It's quite a shot -- I am in no shape to do anything like that...it takes all I've got just to jog downhill to the corner liquer store and buy more beer.

Ron B
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#7 Brian Freesh

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Posted 26 February 2008 - 02:28 AM

The shot is by Peter Robertson.

I saw the whole movie, but this scene doesn't play well in it, so I don't know how important it is to see the movie to get the motivation of the shot. The movie was pretty underwhelming over all and just disappointing. And I saw it before I heard all the hype. This scene had to really involve the viewer in the hopelessness of the situation. It did this for me very well. Some disagree:

"New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, however, said the "Atonement" shot's only impression is: " 'Wow, that's quite a tracking shot,' when it should be 'My God, what a horrible experience that must have been.' "

Maybe because I was so ready for some real storytelling I was able to immerse myself into the scene as opposed to the shot. But I think it's the unassuming subtlety of the camera that kept me from being distracted by the amazing technical achievement I was witnessing.

So yeah, I think the shot worked well, and gave a sense of connection to everything that was going on that you don't get from cutting. When you travel through a scene like that and cut all the time, those snippets seem to disappear when you move on. They stay in the past. But with a shot like this those pieces stay in the present. Using steadi instead of handheld lent a sense of surrealism to the shot that gave me more of a sense of what I suspect it must be like to witness something like that for real. As did the moments of letting the characters exit and reenter frame. I felt like I was being given the opportunity to experience it myself, as opposed to simply witnessing others experience it. The surreal aspect is what motivated the character's movement through the scene. The shear unbelievability would be enough to push me around the area for a while, but maybe that's just me.

I was fully engaged in the scene, and it worked well for me. The end of the shot was weak however, kinda anticlimactic. After an awe like that it just kind of ends. Then again, maybe that was the point.

For a quick aside to the technical: The operator was on an electric vehicle (golf cart perhaps) from the beginning until just before the hill, so little to no walking in the sand.
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#8 chris fawcett

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Posted 26 February 2008 - 09:31 AM

All great comments.

I really like the way you sum this up, Ron. You articulate perfectly how I feel about the shot. I don't feel it would have suffered from a cut or two, especially towards the end where we follow the soldier's butt up the stairs to, as Brian says, the anticlimactic end.

To add to Brian's quote from A. O. Scott, here's one from Variety deputy editor Anne Thompson:

"This shot has its admirers and detractors. It's a stunning shot, but does it take the viewer out of the movie, or serve a dramatic purpose? ... I for one get a kick out of bravura shots like this, whether it's Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, Robert Altman, Orson Welles, Antonioni or Alfonso Cuaron."

This seems to me an important point. We, as operators, can admire the genius that goes into making a long shot; but if we are making shots that our fellow professionals can get a kick out of, we must be sure that the viewing public is, at the very least, not going to find them distracting.

There's little doubt that classic shots like the openings of Touch of Evil and The Player are appreciated by everyone, and it's probably uncontroversial to say that the whirligig shenanigans of Frankenstein, and the helium-balloon Steadicam shot opening Sudden Death (not, of course, a Jerry Holway shot) are not.

Atonement interests me precisely because some of us will admire it and some of us won't. It's a ballsy shot for sure, but as Ron asks, is it gratuitous?

The more I hear of everyone's take on this, the closer I come to an understanding of how I feel about it myself.

Chris Fawcett
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#9 JobScholtze

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Posted 26 February 2008 - 02:47 PM

To me this was a bit like the russian ark. Slow, and after a little while a bit boring.
Not to criticise anyone, but i think i few cuts would help to get a bit more tension in the whole scene. Perhaps some craneshots coming for a close up to a hughe total overall scenery to impress me more about the whole beach.

Shots like Casino, or that other movie snake Eyes, impress me a whole lot more. Not only becose its mainly one shot, but also becose there is so much happening in those shots. And brilliant operated. ( No offence, but this particulair shot on the beach could use some work imo )
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#10 chris fawcett

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Posted 27 February 2008 - 05:17 AM

I agree wholeheartedly with you, Job, and especially in that no offense is meant to the operator.

Chris
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#11 Dan Coplan

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Posted 27 February 2008 - 01:55 PM

Oh my. My back hurts just watching that shot. I, too, haven't seen the film so hard to put it into context, but I didn't have the same problems with the shot as some of the rest of you. To me it felt like a discovery both for the soldiers and myself, almost as if I was walking with them, so it didn't bother me when they went off in separate directions and came back into frame. At first I thought it was a bit of a long walk on the beach but that's what they were experiencing. Not everything has to be trimmed for maximum eye candy.

The only thing I really would have liked is for the lead actor at the end to stand at the railing and look out over what "we all" had just walked through - to sit for a moment and take it all in - a nice OTS or an OTS that pushes into a POV. The track past the soldiers' backs was distracting.

Dan
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#12 Brian Freesh

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 06:55 AM

Shots like Casino, or that other movie snake Eyes, impress me a whole lot more. Not only becose its mainly one shot, but also becose there is so much happening in those shots. And brilliant operated. ( No offence, but this particulair shot on the beach could use some work imo )


That's just it though, on a technical level strictly regarding the operating, those might impress me more as well. Can't say that I agree that there isn't much happening in this shot though. 1000 extras, yikes! I don't want the camera operating to be any more pronounced or to 'impress' me in this shot. Aesthetically I think the understated camera works great for the scene, though to reiterate I do not think the scene fits in the film. I agree with Dan about feeling like I'm walking with the actors. That's exactly what a shot like this needs to be IMO.

And ugh, Russian Ark. I was bored within 30 seconds, because there nothing was going on for a long while, and then only in pieces. This shot engaged me from the start with many different sights and emotions.

And we all seem to be on the same page with the less than incredible ending. But again, I can totally rationalize it as kinda the point the director was going for. But then I get into artistic BS that I'd be hard pressed to believe even if it's my idea. And frankly, even if that BS is true, if it doesn't come across, then something has failed.

Brian |-)~
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#13 Lawrence Karman

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Posted 28 February 2008 - 01:36 PM

That being said, a great job by the operator. Who did it? It's quite a shot -- I am in no shape to do anything like that...it takes all I've got just to jog downhill to the corner liquer store and buy more beer.

Ron B


You've never jogged to the liquor store in your life, downhill or not!

That aside I was pretty impressed with this shot. It takes place in the history at Dunkirk where the Germans had driven the British, French, Belge and Dutch troops to the sea. They were forced to evacuate over 300,000 troops to England and abandon tons of war equipment, setting the war effort back. This is why you see horses being shot and trucks being disabled in the shot. A flotilla of war ships and private British vessels crossed the channel to help ferry troops and I believe this was a great source of pride for the England, that so many came together in a time of need. I saw the shot a few weeks ago and had access to the script. I looked it up to see if it was just the fabled 1/8 of a page line that takes days to shoot (Atlanta burns from Gone With the Wind or Arabs take the town from Lawrence of Arabia) or if it was something more. Much of what was shown was actually scripted over a couple of pages. I imagine in figuring out how to shoot this info there came a choice of shooting a bunch of vignettes or tying it all together in one shot. Film making can get a little tedious at times and perhaps it was just more fun and interesting for the director and DP to do it all in one shot. And I agree with Dan that shots don't need to be all about eye candy and can sometimes lumber on slowly giving one a "feeling". Could there have been different choices during the shot I couldn't say, I wasn't there. Would love to hear from the operator or DP.
I think someone commented they would have liked to have seen a wide crane shot of this scene. Wasn't there a wide shot at the end over the shoulders of the soldiers by the railing?
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#14 chris fawcett

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 08:17 AM

Friends,

We accord moving shots a respect that we would never give a static shot. No editor would hesitate to cut away from an over-the-shoulder tripod lock-off. How well-deserved is that respect? It's unquestionable that there is a majesty to the continuity of "moving the frame through space" (if I may quote GB), but it has limits. Several of us, including myself, find the Russian Ark concept to have delivered flawed results. I too start itching for an edit after a few minutes. It's like reading the soliloquy at the end of Ulysses, 2,500 words of prose with only 2 punctuation marks, and ending with:

"...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. "

It's heady stuff, and it it gets the blood up, but it's hard work to read: only a genius like Joyce can get away with it.

If we look at masterful shots, such as Larry McConkey delivers in Carlito's Way, we see that the editor has cut them up. Here is one example. I imagine that neither the "Amazing Steadicam 3 minute shot...no cuts, who did this?" nor the Atonement shot would suffer because of an edit.

Chris
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#15 JamieSilverstein

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 11:22 AM

I hate to be on the wrong side of an argument but this isn't the first time......... Ahem...... like the shot, I like the storytelling, and I think that it isn't detracting from the narrative.
All of you are right when you compare it to Carlito and Good Fellas and Bonfire and The Player. It's not that kind of shot, the intention is different, the mood is different, and the desired effect is different.
I appreciate it because it gives the viewer the sense of the moments that are happening all around. The viewer sees not only the emotions of the main characters, the viewer gets to see and feel the environment, in an uncompromised way. I felt very involved in the actions around me and I felt the ebbs and flow of all of it.
So if I were to evaluate the shot from a Steadicam perspective, yeah, its not like those afore mentioned shots, its different and still, FOR ME, effective in portraying the saddness and panic and frustration in a real time way. With a very nice operating feel.
Just my point of view.
Jamie
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