Of all the various shots in filmmaking, a tracking shot by far is the most adventurous and most difficult to shoot (personal opinion). A tracking shot is essentially an uninterrupted single fluid take. What this means is the camera moves with the subjects without a “cut” for a significant amount of time. A tracking shot needs precision of all the subjects and the props to work in utmost harmony. It lends a visual fluidity. Even without any firsthand knowledge of making films, watch these shots and then put yourself in the director’s and the cameraman’s shoes. There is a lot of choreography involved in these shots. Here are a few examples of some great tracking shots:
Touch of Evil
Director: Orson Welles
The now famous opening sequence which was almost deleted from the movie. BRILLIANT!
Director: Martin Scorsese
This is probably the most famous tracking shots of all times – its like a ballet. There is clear purpose for the use of the tracking shot here. The Ray Liotta character is taking his girlfriend to the exclusive Copa Cabana and wants to display his clout and power in a very unabashed manner. Lorraine Bracco who plays his girlfriend along with the audience gets to see the inner workings of the Copa Cabana, the kitchen, the butlers. The subjects are walking through the entire length of the shot, while the camera moves behind them through the narrow kitchen aisles and hallways. Every little detail adds to the overall experience.
Children of Men
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
This movie is so under-rated, it’s criminal. There are some amazing tracking shots in this movie. Here is a good explanation of what goes in shooting a tracking shot.
Now watch the output of the efforts. Of all the shots listed here, this one is my personal favorite. The shot lasts for 3 minutes and 57 seconds before the cut. Has no equals. Salud – Alfonso Cuaron.
Director: Joe Wright
I believe this one shot might just get this movie the “Best Picture” academy award. I personally felt that this shot did not carry the narration of the story anywhere, it seemed as a deliberate shot just for the heck of it. Nevertheless, the shot as a stand-alone is extremely well choreographed. Take a look.
In today’s films, you will not see a lot of tracking shots anymore. Its all about quick jump cuts. Next time you find yourself flowing with a shot, you will realize you are watching a tracking shot. If you know of any other good ones, drop me a line.