If you watch TV (True Detective anyone?) you know that there's nothing cooler than a scene filmed in a single shot. But single-shot techniques weren't always the vogue in film — back in the '90s, they were an integral part of MTV music video culture. And they're having a major resurgence.
That's because they're the rare videos that capture both the aesthetic vision and vitality of live musical performance. And most importantly, they show how much a music video can do to drive a song's message to the heart.
Here are some one-shot music videos that shatter the boundaries of music videos:
OK Go has a history of making intricate one-shot videos, like the famous "Here It Goes Again," in which the band members dance on treadmills. This video took two months to shoot and 65 takes in order to get the 20 optical illusions featured in the video just right. It works on a thematic level too — it's about two people who don't see eye to eye admitting their relationship is ending.
This music video for Feist's hit, directed by Patrick Daughters, was named one of the top 50 music videos of the 2000s by Pitchfork. "1234" is special because of its simplicity — colorfully dressed people dancing joyfully. The single shot and goofy dancing make this connect with all the spontaneity of a party among friends.
Weezer's first music video was directed by Spike Jonze and took 20 takes to nail down. Though at first glance it may seem like a fairly standard video, if you watch closely you'll notice that everything except Weezer is in slow motion. That's because they played the song faster than usual and slowed it down afterward to create the effect.
Taylor Swift's music video is an elaborate journey through her relationship and subsequent breakup, with five outfit and many set changes that are, arguably, more impressive than anything else in the film. The video, shot using a Sony F65 Cinealta camera, perfectly captures the over-the-top drama and sassiness of the song.
Metronomy's "Love Letters" seems as if it could be a simple arts and crafts project. The band plays in a hand-painted set shaped like a box. But what makes it unique is that when the camera turns 360 degrees around the box, every one of its six sides becomes a new set. The band winds up looking like it's playing in everything from a car to a lovesick person's computer screen.
Cibo Matto's 1997 hit was one of the first one-shots to take advantage of reversal as well. Played chronologically, the video is a simple tracking take of the singer getting ready for the day. In reverse, though, it's a brilliant defamiliarization of an otherwise normal event.
Laswell took the next step in the "reverse technique" in 2010 with his "Take Everything" video, which is a reversed shot of a house party. What really gives this video its extra novelty, though, is the fact that Laswell sang the song backward while filming so it would appear normal when everything else was played in reverse.
"Happiness" follows a central character who bounces tirelessly throughout the entire video. It is not only fun and impressive (maybe for the bouncer's stamina alone), but also for the singer's amazingly rapid character changes.
"Mad World" features Gary Jules as he looks off a balcony at children beneath him. That's it. Every time the camera pans down at the children, they arrange themselves into shapes and moving pictures — a hauntingly beautiful set of images for an elegiac song.
Directed by Tim Nackashi, Death Cab For Cutie's "You Are A Tourist" is not only one-shot, but it was filmed and streamed live. The entire production runs smoothly — it's like watching Death Cab For Cutie play in a kaleidoscope. Even the flashing lights match the rhythm of the video. At the end, you can even see everyone breaking character and congratulating each other, which truly brings home the fun and difficulty of the feat that just unfolded in front of the viewer's eyes.
It's one thing to orchestrate a one-shot video with trained dancers and actors. It's another thing entirely to do so with children. This video looks like it was ripped out of a storybook and seamlessly follows a story of young love and adventure.