Touch of Evil. Goodfellas. Children of Men. Gravity. A great movie can become a masterpiece with the addition of a stunning, how-did-they-do-that long take. The latest to attempt the feat is Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night, which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. In the middle of the period sci-fi film, there is four-minute, 15-second shot that is not just stunning, it’s completely unfathomable. There’s no way the shot can actually be real. But it is. Kind of.
In the film, a phone operator named Fay (Sierra McCormick) tells a radio DJ named Everett (Jake Horowitz) that she’s going to send him a mysterious signal that can be heard all over their quiet, 1950s New Mexico town. Everett tells Fay he’s going to put it on the radio and not to call him for several minutes. And that’s where the magic begins.
“The [most fun] thing in a movie is to wait out something you want to know,” Patterson told io9 last September. “And so, for me, it was ‘How can we make this a fun five-minute wait?’”
The answer was the long shot with the camera flying all around town, into buildings, down streets, up and out of windows. Everywhere. “We just thought, let’s orient people,” Patterson continued. “Let’s say that she’s here, a whole basketball game is over here, he’s over here. Let’s have some fun with it. And let’s play the music up and let’s make it look cool and beautiful and have a fun ride and maybe tell you that this is what the rest of the movie is going to feel like.”
But how did he do it? How much of that was actually real?
“It’s a mixture of go-karts and camera gimbals and stitching,” Patterson said, reluctant to reveal that there were, in fact, some digital effects to seamlessly blend together everything captured in-camera.
“Everything is actually shot,” he continued. “But we didn’t use a drone. We used camera gimbals to offset the motion. And then we ran [the camera] down the road going 45 miles an hour on go-karts and then they would hand it off and we’d let it go on and on and on. And so it is not 100 percent practical, but shooting is practical [and] the geography is carefully created for this movie.”
This means if you were to go to the film’s locations, Whitney and Hillsboro, Texas, you couldn’t perfectly recreate the shot because not everything is where it looks like. But it works for the movie.
In addition, Patterson threw appropriate kudos to the VFX team Oner VFX, out of Buenos Aires, for its work making the entire shot seem like it was real, as well as his director of photography, M.I. Littin-Menz. “The DP, obviously, lit it,” Patterson said, “And that’s a lot of space to light at night and never see a light.”
Except for those ones in the sky.
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