Take Two: A Q&A with Sam Neave
14.10.2011 - Some of
cinema's greatest directors have used the long take not only to
flaunt their technical virtuosity, but also to cut closest to the
heart of a particular scene, allowing all the emotion to unfold
without the interruption of edits.
Think of Welles's 3.5-minute time bomb sequence in Touch of
Evil. The claustrophobia of Hitchcock's seamless
Rope. Scorsese's dazzling shortcut into the Copacabana in
GoodFellas. Robert Altman's incredible eight-minute walk
across a Hollywood backlot in The Player. Alfonso Cuarón's
death-defying escape from an apocalyptic battlefield in
Children of Men.
Director Sam Neave humbly seizes the long-take mantle with Almost in Love, a naturalistic character piece that
tracks a love triangle amid a group of thirtysomething New Yorkers
across two parties, one at dusk and the other at dawn, set 18
months apart. The kicker? The entire film is composed of two
uninterrupted, 40-minute takes, allowing us to absorb all of the
characters' comedy and drama in real time.
For Neave, who ironically enough has won awards for his work as an
editor, the exercise is much more than cinematic peacocking. He
creates a raw theatricality that ups the ante for a generation of
digital-age indie filmmakers who want to cut out all the
moviemaking tricks and strike at the unembellished heart of their
Almost in Love makes its world premiere in the
New Horizons Competition at ADFF with Neave in attendance.
Before heading to Abu Dhabi the writer/director took the time to
answer some of our questions.
Which came first, your characters, or the idea of
shooting a film in two takes?
Since the essential story and its characters are loosely based
on events in my own life from many, many years ago, I suppose I'd
have to say that came first. I had no intention of turning them
into a movie until I came up with the two-take idea. That came to
me while I was watching a long take from another movie I'd shot: a
five- or six-minute take shot at dawn. I thought it might be
interesting to expand this to a really major light shift, from
darkness to dawn or sunset to night. That was always as much a part
of the film as the two-shot element.
My initial idea for the second half was something completely
different, but one of the few benefits of shooting a film in two
halves like this is that you can pause in between (in our case for
several months) and really try to figure out what the second half
wants to be.
Some of the greatest filmmakers in history have awed us
with their use of long takes. Were you thinking of that
Although I have been blown away by many of these filmmakers and
their ability to choreograph scenes, I have to say I wasn't really
taking too much of that into account. I think in terms of technique
Altman would be the obvious reference point because his style was a
bit more messy than others, and also because he uses the audio to
pull you around the room. I wanted the audience to feel as if they
were an extra guest sitting at these parties, observing the various
people around the room and picking up snippets of their
I think of a film like Russian Ark by Sokurov, which is
absolutely breathtaking in terms of the sheer scale and the
incredible orchestration of huge numbers of impeccably costumed
performers, but at the same time it's not intimate at all. The
dialogue is all post-dubbed; the interactions are mostly static and
pretty perfunctory. This is not a bad thing - it's all part
of the style of the film, the grandness of it.
In our movie, the two shots provide the framework for the
action. They force a real-time element and create a visual
crescendo with the fading or rising light. But as with all
structures, hopefully that skeleton fades into the background and
you forget about the whole two-take thing because you've actually
become involved in the story. As I've said before, if the thing is
not engaging no one is going to care how many shots you use.
How many times did you shoot each scene?
The first one we shot four times, and the second half five. We
could have shot them many more if time and money had allowed. Each
time the last take was the one we used.
A lot of young filmmakers are sacrificing traditional
production values to gain authenticity. Your film has the best of
both worlds, combining hyper-naturalism with a serious attention to
sound, lighting and composition. How much did you "direct" this
film, and how much of it happened spontaneously?
Some years ago I made a film called Cry Funny Happy
 at the very beginning of the DIY digital filmmaking
movement. We made the movie for less than $5,000 and were all just
so excited to be able to do that. It was pretty astonishing and
incredibly liberating. And I think in the years to come we've seen
a lot of young filmmakers have that same revelation. ("Oh! It's
actually possible to make a movie now...").
The one thing that frustrates me as an audience member is the
occasional lack of ambition that seems to go hand in hand with this
type of filmmaking. I wanted to see if I could maintain the
naturalism or the intimacy that this style affords with a more
demanding or rigorous formal construction. The film was completely
choreographed in terms of actors' blocking and camera movements.
And I wrote a complete script for the film - although much of
what ended up in the film is not what I wrote.
Your film is set on a rooftop overlooking Manhattan,
then on a Long Island beachfront. What kind of reaction do you
anticipate from an audience in Abu Dhabi?
I honestly have no idea how the film will play. I am very eager
to see if it translates at all. I would be very curious to see how
it plays with a younger audience out here. Hopefully we'll have a
chance to find out....
Almost in Love makes its world premiere at ADFF on
Saturday, October 15 at 9:30pm at Marina Mall's VOX Cinemas. An
encore screening happens Monday, October 17 at 4:15pm at VOX.
Director Sam Neave and producer DL Glickman will attend both
screenings to answer audience questions.