Weekend (2011) – Directing a Long Take

Directed by Andrew Haigh. Shot by Ula Pontikos. Starring Tom Cullen as Russell and Chris New as Glen.

After a one-night-stand-turned-emotionally-involved-weekend together, Russell and Glen finally have to say goodbye. In a story beat more characteristic (at least on paper) of a rom-com than a grounded indie drama like the rest of this film, Russell gets a ride to the train station to say goodbye to Glen one more time. What follows, though, is a rom-com-esque beat done in a grounded and indie way, providing an emotionally powerful moment of growth for both characters. The meat of this scene plays out in one long take, a zoom shot about 3 minutes in length, which you can find at the below link starting at 37:54 –

Andrew Haigh directed the shit out of this long take, and I wanted to break down why. Story-wise in this shot, Glen and Russell both address vulnerabilities. Glen admits that he doesn’t know what he’s doing in life and allows himself to be reassured by Russell. Russell has struggled with expressing romantic feelings in public or talking to friends/trusted ones about his sexuality. In this scene he initiates a public kiss with Glen, marking a step forward towards living as his true self (and one’s true self vs. the act one puts on in front of others is the theme of Glen’s art project earlier in the film!).

This is really Russell’s shot, since we are framed to see his face and we linger with him after Glen leaves.

Starting frame:

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 6.37.09 PM

Ending frame:

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 7.28.37 PM

Here are the main directorial choices Haigh makes that I think make this an emotionally resonant scene:

  • The  immediacy of a long take helps show Russell’s emotional growth in real time.
  • Sound design – when the shot begins, we can’t hear what Russell is saying, but as the train passes and we continue to zoom in, we start to hear the conversation. This parallels Russell collecting his thoughts and taking the conversation to a focused place.
  • We watch the action through a fence – the voyeurism conveyed in that choice mirrors Russell’s self-consciousness about being watched in public kissing another man.
  • Zoom – starting wide and ending tight allows the camera to grow more subjective and intimate as Russell starts to forget about the environment around him. It mirrors Russell’s mental state. It also mirrors Russell’s self-awareness, in conjunction with the fence foreground element discussed above.
  • After Russell and Glen kiss, Russell looks around off camera at some hecklers/catcallers, and Glen reins his attention back to their conversation. It’s jarring to see Russell looking away from Glen, and this directionality is heightened by how tight in on them we are. I love that Haigh inserts an off-screen cat call right after they kiss, forcing Russell to face his insecurities and fears in a heightened way.
  • The shot continues after Glen leaves frame. Russell is shown alone, the world around him fully blurred out, and he cries. We get to see Glen and Russell’s full final interaction and Russell’s private solitary cry all in one continuous take.

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