Single-shot films (or at least cleverly simulated single-takes) have become increasingly trendy the last couple of years. While the technique has been long appreciated by cineaste audiences, I credit the enormous attention garnered by Cary Fukunaga for his True Detective one-shot in episode 4 for adding rocket fuel to the concept. Naturally the technique is perfect for short films, where it is feasible to make an entire film a “oner”, and some top-notch talents have taken on the challenge. From Paul Trillo’s continuous drone-shot film At The End of the Cul-de-sac, to Jim Cummings practically making it a personal trademark with Thunder Road, and the resulting “Minutes Collection” for FullScreen, the fruit of these experiments have been frequently spectacular.
Throw Dutch filmmaker Sil van der Woerd onto your short list of references now. Growth, his most recent short film, has appeared on Vimeo, and it’s a fascinating approach to the concept. Rather than attempting to execute a complicated single-take in real-time, Woerd employs fancy camera rig technology to subsequently stitch together disparate shots into a seamless whole. In this way he is able to tell a time-compressed story collapsing 18-years into one continuous move.
Set within a single home, Growth tells the up-and-down fortunes of a family over the course of those 18 years. Casting 4 different actors for each of the children, we see a family come together and be pulled apart by their anger and by time. Not only do the children change, but the home, the weather, and the seasons all progress, via cleverly hidden scene changes as the camera gently rotates and swoops.
Half the fun is for a filmmaker audience to try and deconstruct what’s going on with the technical craft, but for the impatient among us, Woerd has provided an excellent behind the scenes video documenting his methods. Key among these is the use of a programmable camera rig that is able to reliably duplicate sophisticated camera movements, enabling consistency when it came time to assemble in post, and by modeling the home in 3D, allowing the team to extensively plan their shots, and export virtual camera data to the rig.
Sil van der Woerd has a familiarity with this kind of computer-assisted filmmaking—while not a huge name in the commercial and music video world, he has a few pieces on his resume I remember well, notably the sci-fi tone poem Requiem 2019. He also showed off his ability to capture emotional subject matter with flair in his celebrated music video Noisia – Mantra, which depicted African refugees to Europe, and received international acclaim.
The deft touch he displays to the technical challenge of Growth is not quite matched by his handling of the plot. These time-compressed shorts are tricky, and he lacks the fallback of narration which helps a film like Backstory, of which this film superficially reminds me of. While the scenes are finely picked out and representative of the changing chronology, there are emotional leaps within the piece that I had difficulty tracking, and the overall arc of the young son’s journey is still a bit obscure to me.
Despite these rather serious quibbles, the craft of the film is overwhelming, not only on a technical level, but the achievements of the art team deserve commendation. It’s an immensely satisfying watch for all the filmmakers out there, and the BTS is a mandatory followup viewing, but I’m hoping that even general audiences find plenty to enjoy!