Features and Columns · Movies

What Robert Zemeckis Can Teach Us About the Moving Master Shot

Want to get a lot of coverage with fewer set-ups? Consider opting for a moving master.
Death Becomes Her Moving Master Shot
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on April 26th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay about how director Robert Zemeckis is the master of the moving master shot.

Let’s be honest, long takes get all the glory. And, to be fair, there is something delightfully audacious about a well-executed oner: the intense staging, the impossibly fluid camera, all the different moving parts. Continuous shots are difficult to pull off, which is, in part, why they drum up so much praise and hype. Heck, there are even full, feature-length films entirely structured around the spectacle of a single shot (or the appearance thereof): Rope (1948), Russian Ark (2002), Birdman (2014), and 1917 (2019), to name a few.

But did you know that continuous shots have a sneakier, more practical cousin? That’s right, it’s time to talk about the moving master shot. What is the moving master? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a master shot (a.k.a. a long shot that captures all or most of the action in a scene) that moves around a lot. The benefit of the moving master is that you are able to obtain a lot of coverage without a scene feeling too static. Effectively, by just moving the camera and the performers around, you can achieve a multitude of coverage with far fewer set-ups (a.k.a. the positioning of the camera and lights for a specific shot). As you can imagine, this saves a lot of time. And on a professional film set, saving time means saving money.

One of the masters of the moving master is Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis. The video essay below looks to Zemeckis’ filmography to demonstrate both the practical and storytelling benefits of using this technique.

Watch “Shooting Moving Masters Zemeckis Style“:

Who made this?

This video essay about Robert Zemeckis and the moving master shot is by writer, director, and video essayist David F. Sandberg (of Shazam! fame). His output includes no-budget horror films shot in his own house, starring his wife and frequent collaborator Lotta Losten. You can follow Sandberg on Vimeo and on Twitter. You can also subscribe to him on YouTube here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).