In the past few years, filmmakers have experimented heavily with longer takes, and that doesn't mean 45 seconds or even a few minutes. Alfonso Cuarón's space epic Gravity opened with a 17-minute shot, and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman used clever transitions to make it look like one long take. Rarely is a film ever actually shot in one continuous take, though, considering the number of things that can disrupt a take and make you reshoot just a short scene, let alone an entire feature.
The latest to join the short list of movies that have successfully completed the endeavor is Victoria, a single, 134-minute take that follows a young Spanish woman's wild night out in Berlin, which starts out dark and apparently veers directly into dangerous when she links up with four German dudes that want her to help them stage a heist.
According to an interview with Vice, director Sebastian Schipper left a lot of room for improvisation. "There was never a full script," he said. "There was no dialogue at all; we improvised the dialogue. We did rehearse and work on it a lot, but the rules as to how to shoot the scenes and the characters were established beforehand."
Even with the room to fill the story guidelines as naturally as possible, though, there was still the risk that someone would completely botch something, pushing the next try to another date, as the whole film takes place over one night. "If someone messed up we couldn't shoot it again right then because it would be daylight," he said. "We were shooting into the magic hour [sunrise]. After the third take — the last one — we wouldn't have had any more money. It was a super small project."
No pressure, obviously. But Schipper said the team embraced the risks and didn't strive to make perfection. "It's almost like a relationship: if you want everything to always be great, you're eventually gonna kill that relationship," he mused.
If anything, Victoria is an experiment in mimicking real life as closely as possible, where anything could happen, and it's in fact the unplanned moments that can be the most interesting.
"But you've got to let things happen," he said. "Just like a vacation. You realize that was really a great moment, when things didn't work out, when your ego or your plan was broken and you could really experience something. That was sort of the plan with this project."