How to Motivate Camera Movement like Alfonso Cuaron — The “Car Chase” Long Take in Children of Men

In today’s deep dive, we’re going to take a close
look at a well-known scene from Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian
thriller “Children of Men.” “- Back up. Back up now! – Jesus!” The entire sequence
appears to be one shot, and in fact, most of it is. This shot which runs four
minutes and seven seconds is one of the
longest in the film and it’s utterly breathtaking. We’re going to discuss
it from three angles. Strategic. Why did they do it? Technical. How did they do it? And Tactical. A focus on some of the creative
choices within the shot. “Hands on the steering wheel!
Calm down. Tell me what happened!” Before we get started,
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“Children of Men.” “Children of Men” is set
in a horrible future. It may be a sci-fi film but it’s supposed to feel
unsettlingly close to our reality. “Children of Men” is shot in a
very gritty true-to-life way. It almost has the feel
of a war documentary with eye-level handheld shots. Cuarón is creating a world that is visceral and real. It’s in that context
that we get our shot. “- Where are we? – Canterbury. We’re close.” The camera is placed at
the center of the car. We’re in the middle
of the action. And it’s about to
get very intense. “Go,go.” But let’s pause here for a moment
to talk about the technical. How did they do it? They started with an Arri 235. They mounted it on a two-axis
remote-operated head, called The Sparrow. They put the Sparrow on a
series of powerslide tracks. They put all of that in
a rig on top of a fiat with a place in front where
a stunt driver could sit. With this configuration, Cuarón and Lubezki
wants us to feel that this is immediate and real. So they make sure
that camera movement is motivated throughout
the entire scene. “God save us, save us.” So, let’s look at the Tactical. How did they do it? In this scene,
almost every camera move is a pan. Pan left or pan right. The pans follow an
object in frame. These are called motivated pans. Miriam points and we turn to
see what she’s pointing at. “- We`re gonna make it.
Come on. We`re gonna make it. – No, I`m not gonna make it.
I`m not gonna make it!” The thing that motivates a
camera move can enter frame, too. Here the driver
leans into frame. He gives the camera
what to latch on to. Now the attackers
motivate the camera move. Until Miriam enters frame and becomes the center
of our attention. The camera doesn’t leave
one motivating element. Now the motorcycle becomes the
camera`s motivating element. Then watch this. “- Christ, Jesus! – He`s got a gun!
– Cover Kee! – Get down!” The gunshot provides us with a strong
movement from right to left to frame, ending with Julian’s
head jerking back. That’s when Kee on the
left lunges towards Julian. That lunge to the right of frame sends a spinning right again. The motorcycle becomes the
cameras motivator once more. It leads us to something new
for the camera to follow. The crack in the windshield. That motivates a pan to
the right to the driver, but it’s never out of frame. This allows the crack to
draw our attention back in time for the
window to shatter. “- Shit! Julian. – What`s happening? Are they coming back?
– I don`t know. Just go faster!” Finally, tracking back
to a wide shot of the car gives us a chance to
reorient ourselves after a frantic few minutes. But we don’t get
much of a breather. We push back into focus
on the arriving cops, which become our camera`s
movement motivators. Notice Miriam’s ID card, it`s placement in the center
frame is not accidental. As soon as she
pulls her hand back, we have enough motivation for the
final pan right of the sequence. And here we get our first
and only invisible cut, masked as a wipe. As the camera follows
Theo out of the car. “- Why did you do that? – Get in the fucking car!” – Get back it now. Quickly.
We gotta get of the road. Get in!” Whoo. That’s a whole lot to
pack into a 04:07 scene. But it’s a great lesson in
motivated camera movement. By motivating every camera move, Cuarón and Lebensky managed
to keep the camera invisible to the audience. If you’re using the sequence as motivation for your own
camera movement challenge, make sure you use StudioBinder when you’re ready to turn
your vision into a shot list. StudioBinder is a great
production management tool, also. It’s great for scheduling scenes,
breakdowns, calendars, call sheets and a lot of really important
pre-production stuff that brings a project together. If you haven’t had
a chance to yet, don’t forget to like it and
subscribe to our channel. We’ve got a lot more great stuff
coming and I’d hate for you to miss it. Until next time. Break a lens. [Music]

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