An example from  How to Shoot Video that Doesn’t Suck (p. 106)

I tell people to shoot short shots because (a) our brains process information so fast that long shots are likely to be boring and (b) most new videographers don’t know how to do it.

Then I get email that refers to “the rule of shooting short shots.” So let’s be real clear: This is creativity, baby.  There ain’t no rules. But you do need to learn how to shoot short shots.  Instead of focusing on “rules” that there are penalties for breaking, think in terms of skills that there are benefits to learning.

The more skills you have, the more tools you have to get the job done.  When you learn to drive, you drill the basics.  Five car lengths distance between cars on the freeway.  Hands at ten and two. Signal 200 yards before the turn.  Fill the tank before you return Dad’s car. But when we’re on our own in real life, we don’t slavishly follow what we learned.   We relax into a driving style that gets the job done for us, while hopefully not forgetting those lifesaving tidbits.  Like the gas thing.

Same with shooting video. Practice the short shots.  Drill them.  Understand them.  Then go out and do what you want. No rules.

When you’re a grand master you can really screw with the form– and make it work.  Director Robert Altman started his career toeing the line in early TV, then went his own way.  In the book, I talk about his 8 minute opening shot from his 1992 classic The Player– Warner Brothers took it off YouTube since originally posted it, but you can see a piece and some other good long takes in this doc piece from Cinefix:

Hey!  Are you following me on Twitter?  I’m thinking perhaps you should.  @SteveStockman

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  • Jon Hidden-Coley says:

    Although not a movie, this episode of a BBC drama was shot in one take and is approximately 50 minutes long! A very impressive feat of planning and choreography. The complete one shot starts at about 3.30. You can watch it here. http://dai.ly/x5vbt1c

  • Archie says:

    That was only 8 minutes? My god, it seemed so much longer …

  • Billy says:

    So it looks like this opening shot was shot mostly on a jib/crane? Does this opening shot effectively break the short shots rule because the camera is panning giving us more info and the action moves right along?

    I think if the camera was stagnant and the motion was similar coming in and out of frame that we would get bored quickly. Instead, we get the lay of the land with the studio and figure out that the premise of the movie is about movie execs.

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