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13 Incredible Unbroken Takes in Movies

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Long shots are harder to film than short cuts, but the end results can be spectacular (or unnoticable, depending on the filmmaker). Here are 13 memorable long and unbroken single takes.

1. Goodfellas (3:04)

This long steadicam shot through the back door and kitchen of the Copacabana in Goodfellas isn't just a cool-looking scene—it amounts to one of the film's most powerful metaphors. Clocking in at just over three minutes long, we watch the benefits of organized crime through the eyes of Karen, an outsider and girlfriend of Henry Hill. The mob lifestyle literally opens doors, and as Karen becomes increasingly impressed with Henry’s power and social stature, so does the viewer.

The shot took seven takes to complete, and Scorsese feared it would bore the audience.

2. Russian Ark (96 minutes)

One of the most ambitious projects ever made, Russian Ark is a 96-minute film that is made with one single shot—no cuts or edits. The film is set in 19th century Russia and takes place in 33 rooms in the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg with a cast of more than 2000 actors. It took director Alexander Sokurov only three attempts to complete Russian Ark in a single take.

3. Boogie Nights (2:54)

Paul Thomas Anderson is a modern master of filmmaking, and his sophomore effort Boogie Nights features one of the best opening shots of the '90s. Smashing in with infectious disco music and a marquee of the film’s title, the sequence introduces Boogie Nights’ core cast in one three-minute shot.

4. Atonement (5:08)

Cin - Atonement from Matthew Parillo on Vimeo.

Joe Wright's Atonement features stunning photography, and this is most evident in an amazing single shot that lasts for more than five minutes. The scene is featured towards the latter half of the film when Robbie Turner, played by James McAvoy, finds himself on a French beach at the end of the Battle of Dunkirk.

Because of financial limitations, Wright and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, were forced to come up with a creative solution when the production budget wouldn’t allow for the scene to feature thousands of extras playing British soldiers. Instead, they conceived a steadicam shot that would capture the horrors of war and a soldier’s panic in a sea of well-choreographed chaos.

5. Panic Room (2:28)

Though director David Fincher started using the virtual camera on 1999's FIght Club, his 2002 thriller Panic Room solidified his love for the filmmaking technique. Although the almost two-and-a-half minute unbroken shot that flies through banisters, a keyhole, and a coffee mug handle may seem like the director is showing off what he can do with his new toy, Fincher actually uses the camera to fully establish the New York townhouse’s geography and where everyone is inside before the home invasion.

6. I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba) (1:29 and 2:34)

In 1964, director Mikhail Kalatozov made I Am Cuba (Soy Cuba). It brims with style and two of the most elaborate and awe-inspiring single shots in cinematic history. Kalatozov’s camera weaves seamlessly through the streets of Havana during a funeral procession. The first shot begins at street level, while the second gives a bird’s eye view of the streets and people below.

7. The Protector (Tom-Yum-Goong) (3:47)

Thai martial arts film The Protector (Tom-Yum-Goong) brought action star Tony Jaa to the American mainstream. When the film opened in the United States in 2005, it was the first Thai film to ever break into the top 5 at the box office during its opening weekend. With dynamic and elaborate action and stunt choreography, you can easily see why The Protector was so popular. One of the most notable action sequences involves a long, unbroken shot that took one month to develop and stage, and five takes to get right. The end result is a breathtaking piece of action filmmaking.

8. Touch of Evil (3:31)

The gripping opening scene from Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil is one of the director's most intricate and complicated shots. It begins with a time bomb placed inside of a car trunk and lasts for three and a half minutes as the car drives through a busy border city, its occupants unaware of the disaster about to occur.

9. Rope (10:06)

Alfred Hitchcock wanted Rope to play out in real time much like the stage play that it was based on. To pull off this impressive feat, Hitchcock had to shoot Rope in a series of long and extended takes and cut it in such a way that it would appear seamless. The film consists of ten segments, with the longest take clocking in at a little over 10 minutes.

10. Hard Boiled (2:49)

Hong Kong action film Hard Boiled was John Woo’s calling card for American studios to take note of his work. Although the film was made in 1992, Hard Boiled still showcases some of the best action sequences in modern cinema history—notably, this unbroken and uninterrupted shoot-out that lasts for almost three straight minutes.

During Inspector Tequila and Tony’s raid in a hospital, the pair takes a break to re-load in an elevator, while inside John Woo’s production team frantically re-dressed the demolished corridors to make it look like a different floor before the action starts up again.

11. Paths of Glory (1:39)

Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory shows off the director’s use of beautiful black and white photography while capturing the horrors of war. Although some of the movie takes place in trenches during WWI, Kubrick manages to make the small space feel dynamic and engaging with a series of long tracking shots.

12. The Player (8:08)

Opening scene from The Player (1992) from Single Shot Film Festival on Vimeo.

Director Robert Altman’s comeback film The Player features an 8-minute unbroken take showcasing the film’s post-modern tone. In the opening scene, Altman’s actors ad-lib a majority of their dialogue, including references to Touch of Evil’s unbroken tracking shot, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, and the fictional sequel to The Graduate.

13. Children of Men (3:57)

This film about a dystopian future features a number of long and unbroken scenes, but the most memorable is the car attack sequence. It runs about four minutes long and features playful and flirty banter between Theo and Julian, played by Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, which quickly turns into mayhem and panic when an armed gang attacks the car from all directions. Cuarón’s production built a special rig around the car so a camera could swivel and capture the action from every angle. The end result is one of the more thrilling and intense moments in the film. You can watch it here.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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