We often focus on the art of editing, but what about the art of not editing? What we mean here, is the very tricky art of directing and shooting a scene in a single take. And in this case, we’re taking a look at some of our favorite single take music videos.
Not only does single take shooting take a tremendous amount of creativity, but it also takes a load of technical skill (and quite a bit of luck). Often, when watching a long, single take shot, you don’t even notice it at first, but when you catch on, it becomes something almost magical to watch.
What’s interesting about music videos is that the take has to be upwards of three to five minutes, while being choreographed with music to be effective. Let’s take a look at ten music videos that pull off the feat with style and a little bit of magic.
Music Videos Done in a Single Take
1. Lucas – Lucas with the Lid Off
This video for “Lucas With The Lid Off” is a fun adventure on an elaborate set that doesn’t bother trying to hide its technique. Looking closely as the camera moves around the scene, you can see the additional cameras, lights, and the various levels of the set.
That doesn’t stop it from being really cool. And it was still a lot to coordinate with Lucas moving from set to set just in time for each moment in the video.
2. Feist – 1, 2, 3, 4
The video for “1, 2, 3, 4” by Feist is a lot more simple in terms of the set than the Lucas video, but it still required quite a coordinated effort. Since the whole video is a choreographed dance piece with upwards of 30 dancers, the director had a lot to handle.
The camera moves here are subtle and almost unnoticed, but they are perfectly aligned to get the most out of each move, especially the last camera move that perfectly lines up Feist center frame, hiding the group of dancers behind her.
3. Cibo Matto – Sugar Water
For visionary directors like Michel Gondry, shooting one single take video isn’t pushing far enough. So he opted to shoot two at the same time and play them side by side.
But even that wasn’t pushing far enough. You’ll notice that while one video is playing forward, the other is playing backward and both are telling an interesting story that perfectly meets in the middle.
We won’t tell you what happens after that, just watch and enjoy.
4. Interpol – No I in Threesome
It might be fair to say that Interpol and their video director used some smoke and mirrors for their “No I In Threesome” music video. Well, at least they used mirrors. That much is clear.
But how they pulled off the trick of making it appear that they’re moving through the mirrors into each scene, that’s a bit of a mystery.
Either way, it’s a lovely video that is seamless and a bit haunting with its smooth moves throughout.
5. Gary Jules – Mad World
In this video for “Mad World” by Gary Jules, Michel Gondry is at is again. However, this time he’s opted for a more subtle technique.
This time the camera hangs out looking down from the top of a school building where children form pictures that the viewer can decipher, while Jules stands on top of the building singing.
The camera uses a few slow arc movements to go between the school kids and Jules, showing bits of the surrounding area in between. It’s a slice of serenity in a “mad mad world”.
6. OK GO – The Writing’s On The Wall
OK GO is notorious for amazing music videos that are all done in one take. They seem to try and one-up themselves with every new video.
In “The Writing’s On The Wall” they build an elaborate set where the camera lands in just the right place to line up various geometric shapes and patterns throughout.
In a similar fashion to the Lucas video, you get glimpses of the entire set as you move through it, and sometimes the camera moves are a bit shaky, but none of that seems to matter to the more than 19 million people that have watched this masterful piece of set design and choreography.
7. Bat For Lashes – What’s A Girl To Do
The “What’s A Girl To Do” video by Bat For Lashes is a little bit like the Feist video on bikes. Of course, there is an additional layer of complexity to “wheel-based” choreography.
Notice the clever tricks employed by the director with background elements to help hide some of the dirty work.
Regardless, the video is both creepy and beautiful as the various animal faced stuntmen do tricks in unison and disappear and reappear from behind the singer.
8. Weezer – Undone, The Sweater Song
Another master of music video direction is Spike Jonze, and he’s behind this Weezer classic.
At first glance, this just feels like a fluid camera weaving its way around as the band plays it’s early hit live. But as it goes on, you’ll notice that the band seems to be moving in slow motion while keeping up with the music.
This is because Jonze had the band play the sound at a faster tempo, then the footage was slowed down to match the original. The result was a slightly drunken looking single take classic.
9. Sia – Chandelier (One Take Version)
Sia has had a long-time collaboration with the young and very talented dancer Maddie Ziegler. The official video for Chandelier has been viewed over a billion times. Yup, a billion.
But this one take version is more about Maddie’s performance than the director’s or even Sia’s. Here Maddie performs an intricate contemporary dance routine throughout a house without missing a beat while a single camera follows her around.
Whether or not you are a fan of dance, it’s hard not to appreciate this performance.
10. OK GO – Upside Down & Inside Out
OK GO deserves a second mention since they are the true masters of the single take video.
For “Upside Down & Inside Out” they decided that it wasn’t easy enough to shoot a single take video when they had things like gravity to rely on. So they flew up in a zero-gravity plane and shot a video while floating.
The limited-time of weightlessness meant they had to nail it quickly. I suspect they flew up and down several times to get it right, but when they did, they really did.
Let’s end by giving a huge round of applause to the pre-production teams on these shoots. Without them, none of these single take music videos could’ve been pulled off!