Screenshot: Nathan Shapiro

Long takes in films can be a great tool for filmmakers to engage their audiences, or it can simply be a way for hotshot auteurs to show off their ingenuity and grit. In the wrong hands, it’s a showy move that never does much beyond displaying the technical cleverness of an artist. But in the right hands, as showcased in this video essay by Nathan Shapiro (and edited by Ben Hamlen), it’s a way of establishing mood, imparting information, and immersing audiences in a situation and emotion from which they struggle to break free.

Alfonso Cuaron: The Art of Letting it Play from Nathan Shapiro on Vimeo.

In this video, Shapiro examines the way Alfonso Cuarón uses long takes in three of his films: Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, and Children Of Men (he mentions Gravity toward the end). In each film, Cuarón elected to use long takes for different purposes, but always with the audience in mind. By selecting just these three films (and one example from each), Shapiro is highlights Cuarón’s ability to focus attention and emotions, imparting information that is picked up subconsciously by viewers, all while carefully engaging the audience in a way that maintains concentration. Done right, and in these three instances, it’s hard to argue that they aren’t, it’s a masterful stroke of filmmaking that marries the technical aspect of filmmaking with its narrative to create something from which people cannot look away.