In this followup to our last conversation with the team behind Plus One, we get an in-depth account of the logistical planning and choreography that goes into the oner—a technically challenging but stylistically exciting bit of blocking and camera work. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to shoot a scene in one take, read on.
This advice and behind-the-scenes commentary comes from producers Ross Putman and Jeremy Reitz, production designer Francesca (Frankie) Palombo, and Andrew Rhymer, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Jeff Chan.
Lunacy Productions: One of the first scenes in Plus One is a memorable oner following our protagonists as they move through a bustling wedding reception. You’ve also made a couple of great shorts that are all done in one take. Tell us a little bit about how you added that tool to your toolkit.
Andrew: Pregame and Post-Party are two short films I made with Jeff, and they were both one-shot projects. They did okay on Vimeo, but our reasons for doing them were purely pragmatic.
We were shooting a commercial, and our crew was working until late Friday night and then had a 7:00 AM call time on Monday. We didn’t have time to do thirty setups. We could try to do a short film after we wrapped the commercial, but only if we shot it as a oner. But in order to shoot a oner, you need an AC, a DP, a production designer, and we need someone to light it.
The style stuck, and became part of the fabric of the movie and us as directors going forward.
LP: What was your process for setting up those long one-takes?
Andrew: Whenever we wanted to do something that was a longer setup, we would do a lot of rehearsals. There are just so many moving pieces. We would move around the shooting schedule for the day, so that it would be very rehearsal-heavy up front. The last two to two-and-a-half hours of the day were going to be the time when we needed to get everything on camera. But a lot of it was setting up and logistical coordination.
It’s a ton of rehearsal and coordination and everyone has a specific role. For instance, we have one scene in which our characters come out of an elevator. We had a PA holding the other elevator because if that door opened it would have ruined the shot. Oners come down to a lot of cable wrangling, and huge amount of choreography from the crew. We rigged a sound kit in the elevator, and as soon as the doors opened, we had the boom op ready to go and follow them.
LP: When did you start prepping this set for the wedding reception shot?
Frankie: We prepped all of this run and gun. Wednesday we shot the eighth wedding, and then we shot the fifth wedding, and then we shot the first wedding. We started with the smallest wedding. We loaded that in, then moved right onto the next one. While that one was being shot, we had everyone else prepping for the oner.
Ross: Going back to the choreography of the scene itself, you think a hundred people is a lot and it is. Sometimes Guy Godfree, our DP, would stop and say “There’s no one in the shot.” Then we’d turn to our background choreographer Michael, and he’d responds, “Well I’ve already sent people over there. That would be weird to see them here.” We ended up dressing our crafty person and our art coordinator in old 70’s clothes, and used them to fill up dead space.
LP: There’s actually music playing during all these takes. So does that mean this entire scene is looped?
Jeremy: We picked the music tracks beforehand and even set the timing, because we needed the band to be able to pretend to play. It helped with the dancing as well. On set, we had a very soft jam box playing the actual music, and then we just layered the same music on top of that later. That is why we were able to use the majority of the dialogue.
It’s also important to have the right crew or sometimes, the right person, just for the day. Our boom operator did a great job dancing around the camera, and we hired the best focus puller we knew and had him day play for us. Having him probably saved us ten aborted takes, if not more. Measuring wasn’t an option, and he’s someone who really had the experience to pull that off only using his eyesight.
Ross: It’s really incredible. The fact that there are no major buzzes at all. Far less complicated shots get ruined by focus buzzes.
LP: So no focus buzzes, but what else might ruin a take?
Andrew: Some of that was fine tuning performances. For Alice, we filmed a few different levels of drunkenness. But when she’s more drunk, she’s crossing the frame a little bit slower. Then all of a sudden the extras aren’t quite where they need to be. It’s not that we’re making catastrophic mistakes, but that one adjustment leads to many others, and you can’t always prepare for those before you start shooting.
We’ve also had a fair amount of extras looking straight down the lens, as well as a couple of false starts. Nothing unusual for 19 takes.
Ross: If you notice in the behind-the-scenes footage, there’s a guy wearing all black who’s with the DP. That’s our key grip, Kasra, and his job was literally to just follow the DP around and make sure he didn’t bump anything by pushing people out of the way.
The DP is both the guy operating the camera and the cinematographer. All he should have to think about is getting the shot and following the actors. That’s why we have the key grip, whose full-time job on this movie is to make sure our DP doesn’t go off a cliff.
Andrew: Pacing is also important. If you simply have the camera following somebody like a missile, it gets uninteresting very quickly. The actor should be motivating the camera, not the other way around. If an actor hears something off-screen and they turn towards it, that’s what should send the camera over there to look.
LP: Speaking of take 17, 18, 19, whatever take you end up using, was fatigue ever an issue? How did you keep actor morale up? I know one of the huge challenges of film acting is just the nature of repetitive performance.
Andrew: We met a lot of the actors we worked with when they were in theater school, and the oner style is very much like a play. So helping them connect with that concept made them very excited. They were tired, for sure, because it was midnight and they had been rehearsing for two and a half days, but they were excited.
Ross: Last day of the week.
Andrew: Last day of the week, and what a long week. But compared to Friday shoots or late night shoot on a regular day, I think the adrenaline and the excitement of knowing it was like a play, or a sporting event, gave everyone the energy to power through.