The importance of planning: Filming in one take, and a look to the master Tarkovsky

by Joanne Borek, founder of Exposure LLC, a digital marketing and visual branding agency. Joanne studied professional photographic illustration in her undergrad, and modern film and media arts for her graduate degree. 

I’m not one to run out and see the top nominated films before the Academy Awards show. My taste is far different than Hollywood mainstream. Though with the Oscars approaching this weekend, I thought I’d write a bit on Birdman. This was the 5th movie I’ve seen by Alejandro G Iñárritu, easily one of my favorite directors. I loved it. Not everyone will agree with me. 

He asks a lot of the moviegoer with Birdman, having us follow the actors through what looks like an oversized maze, with the feeling that all of the action is happening in one take. That style can turn claustrophobic, but he lives up to the title often in the action. Early on, he has us flying over backstage rails like a bird who flew down a chimney, while later on he frees us to fly in the sky. It looks damn seamless. During the movie, I had to stop myself several times from the obsessive thoughts in my head: “Where are the cuts? Where are the cuts??! Oh there’s one!”  Technique aside, I loved the movie for its story relevance, metaphor, and perfect cast choice. 

Back to my favorite aspect of the movie, here’s a look at how Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki achieved the look: 

I can’t mention one take mastery without thinking of Russian Ark, and more importantly, the master, Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky shoots MINUTES of film without a cut. Film–not digital–and therefor not cheap. I wrote a previous blog post about "The Sacrifice" during my MFA film studies.

Under Tarkovsky's direction, acting must be perfect.
Lighting has to follow–a lot of natural light–time of day is limited.
Actors must walk in and out of frame with precision. Some actors will appear with their back to the camera, actively commanding the conversation. It's almost straining to watch. See the early indoor scene in "The Sacrifice for that example.

There's an in-depth video on his technique, with interviews:

This is where I should inject my thoughts (or force the metaphor) on my professional work as a planner, and the importance of planning experiences and opportunities to move our customers, (the “actors”) into the proper lines of the consumer buying process. But like actors on a set, all is never a perfect scenario with planning. That makes me state the unpopular phrase “a plan is a guess.” And a good marking team has to plan, and react, to the real-lief people around them. A consumer buying a chocolate bar is different from buying a Picasso, or a pair of shoes, or a vacation, or a car.

So in our expertise of digital marketing and planning, we, too can use the phrase “Action!” as a metaphor. As Richard Rumelt writes in Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, “A strategy that fails to define a variety of plausible and feasible immediate actions is missing a critical component.”

Back to the beauty of film, here are the master planner’s words on his art:

"Cinema is the only art that operates with the concept of time.
Not because if its developing in time, because so does music - and theatre and ballet and other art forms.
I mean time in the literal sense.
After all, what is a take?
From when we say: “action!”
To when we end by saying “cut”, what is happening?
It is the fixing of reality, the fixing of time.
The conservation of time - for us to keep forever.
No other art can fix time except cinema.
So film is a mosaic of time." –Tarvoksky

 Final thought – Yes, Iñárritu has my vote for Best Director.