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Camera Obscura: Jamie Whitby on Love at First Invisible Cut

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Agile Film's Jamie delves into his love of making films without any visible cuts

Camera Obscura: Jamie Whitby on Love at First Invisible Cut

An escapist at heart, Jamie Whitby mobilises unusual camera and editing techniques to summon surreal, heightened worlds. His highly-conceptual approach has yielded collaborations with brands and artists including Yamaha, Muji, and Glass Animals, as well as multiple Vimeo Staff Picks and UK music video award nominations. Outside of commercials he is currently in development on a six-part TV series - a psychedelic thriller based on on the novel Glow by British author Ned Beauman.

LBB> What is your niche craft obsession?

Jamie> Making films without any visible cuts. 

LBB> Where / when / how did you first come across this thing?

Jamie> By accident. I made a music video for an artist called Yellow Days, and the idea involved a single descent down through the earth, revealing all of these subterranean rooms one-by-one. To achieve the effect we passed the camera over the same set again and again, re-dressing each time, and then had to work out how to stitch it all back together in post. 

We ended up shooting that using a motion control rig, which is basically a big robot arm that repeats exactly the same movement each time with inch-perfect precision, and makes it much easier to hide your cuts. I remember finding it hilarious that the solution we found for something incredible simple - moving a camera vertically at a set speed - ended up being so ludicrously over-engineered. 

LBB> Was it an obsession straight away or something that has evolved over the years?

Jamie> It was love at first invisible cut. Before I became a director I was an editor, so I think on a subconscious level it had something to do with shaking up a process that felt overly familiar. Most of all I love the technical challenge, I find it very motivating. 

The obsession has ebbed and flowed. Sometimes it’s all I want to do and sometimes I crave a good old-fashioned edit. Since then I’ve made SEVEN films which operate around hidden cuts, along with many others that don’t. I was also a consultant on Punchdrunk’s 12-hour, single-take live film that completed their HBO series The Third Day.  

LBB> How widespread do you think this obsession is with your peers?

Jamie> I mean this isn’t exactly new, there are some classic one-take music videos out there that certainly inspired me - Michel Gondry’s work immediately springs to mind. But it does seem to have become increasingly widespread, especially with the release of films like Birdman and 1917. And the current trend for transitions in commercial filmmaking plays off that I think. 

A mystical part of me wonders if its increasing ubiquity is also to do with the recent rise of psychedelics: a cultural reflection of the experience of hallucination, which typically transitions seamlessly between all these disparate scenes. 

LBB> What are the most interesting debates or conversations you are having around this obsession?

Jamie> I’ve been having a lot of interesting conversations around what is actually possible when it comes to stitching shots together. At the start I was very much beholden to motion control. Since then I’ve had amazing chats about oners with a DoP called Thomas English, who used to be a steadicam op, and as I’ve grown in confidence I’ve realised that if you’re careful it’s surprisingly easy to do even without an expensive robotic grip solution. 

Really though I think the more interesting conversation is around how necessary it is. It’s impressive from a craft perspective, sure, but by committing to the illusion of a single take you’re making a deliberate decision to limit yourself in the cut. If it’s not adding anything to your story your film can end up feeling very hollow.

LBB> Can you share any examples of work where that obsession really came to the fore and elevated the final production? Can you tell us about it and share links if possible?

Jamie> Last year I made a video for Sad Night Dynamite where it really felt like everything I’d learnt over the years came together. It’s a first-person perspective of a hallucinogenic dream, where the protagonist keeps trying to leave his hotel room but always ends up back where he started.

I’m particularly pleased with it because it’s a mixture of illusions. An unusual set build combined with an elaborate false mirror setup, and seven or eight hidden cuts. And the lack of cuts ends up elevating it because we’re seeing things through the protagonist’s eyes, live in the moment. 

This was also the first time I committed to stitching shots together without the crutch of foreground wipes or dips to darkness. And I was amazed and relieved by what we were able to achieve with a very simple gimbal system and a copy of After Effects. 

Sad Night Dynamite - Psychedelic Views 

Sad Night Dynamite - Pyschedelic Views hidden cuts montage

Then there was my video for Glass Animals, which combined everything I’d learnt up to that point with a thermal imaging camera to produce some pretty unique visuals. 

Glass Animals - Your Love music video

LBB> For anyone just getting into your field, what advice would you share to help them get their head around this particular thing?

Jamie> Choreographers are your guardian angel. When it comes to stitching shots together a lot of the challenge is about nailing timings and having your camera operator hit the same mark at the same speed each time. And having someone on set with this as their sole focus gives you space as a director to sort out the rest of the day’s problems. 

I’d also really recommend creating a pre-viz before the shoot. Depending on budget I sometimes do these myself in a piece of free 3D software called Blender. Having a highly-visual reference is so useful in helping your heads of department to understand the various challenges and timings. Successfully creating the illusion of a single-take is really about the work you do in planning, and this helps enormously with that. 

Sad Night Dynamite - Psychedelic views pre-viz

Easy Life - Skeletons pre-viz

This one is pretty technical but if you’re not using motion control, consider shooting at 50fps with a 180 degree shutter. You can still frame-chop to deliver a 25fps film, but it gives you the latitude to speed ramp in post and smooth out any discrepancies in tracking speed between two different takes. 

Finally, don’t be afraid of it as a technique. I am constantly surprised by what can be achieved with a bit of speed ramping and shot re-sizing in post. I’ve seen a lot of films, mine included, that hide their cuts in darkness or extremely fast whip pans, which always seems like a bit of a cop-out. You can do so much more if you’re confident about it and use your imagination. 

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Agile Films, Tue, 17 May 2022 13:55:57 GMT