There's no doubt "True Detective" director Cary Fukunaga's unbroken, continuous shot (also called a oner) is an epic, cinematic achievement for a television show. Tracking shots have their roots in film, from Hitchcock's "Rope" to the 96-minute one-take film "Russian Ark" to the famous Copacabana shot in "Goodfellas."
But commendable tracking shots have also been done on TV, and long before "True Detective." To bring some much-needed recognition to the amazing camerawork done on the small screen, here are some of the most impressive tracking shots and long takes in TV history, and the "True Detective" shot in case you missed it.
"True Detective" - "Who Goes There" Fukunaga has also used oners in his feature films "Sin Nombre" and "Jane Eyre." The crew shot this six-minute take seven times and left room for editing if needed, but the final scene is a true oner with no cuts.
"The West Wing" - "Five Votes Down" Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing" was known for its walk-and-talk sequences, in which a camera follows the actors as they walk through hallways having conversations. The fourth episode of the first season, "Five Votes Down," opens with the series' longest walk-and-talk. You can almost spot the cameraman and the crew's reflections at one point, too.
"Battlestar Galactica" - Miniseries Part 1 The 2003 "Battlestar Galactica" miniseries opens with an epic oner that meets and follows several crew members as they walk along the upper levels of the ship. You must admit, it's a pretty awesome way to introduce the characters.
"The X-Files" - "Triangle" The "Triangle" episode of "The X-Files" is famous for its directing style, which was inspired by Hitchcock's "Rope." The 44-minute episode consists of four 11-minute tracking shots that appear to have no cuts. However, since the cameras could only hold four minutes of film, secret editing tricks were used to make the shots appear continuous. Regardless, it's an incredible spectacle to see. Below is part of the first of the four shots.
"Breaking Bad" - "Crawl Space" The final scene of "Crawl Space" is one of the most haunting and unforgettable in "Breaking Bad" history, partly due to Walt's maniacal laugh, and partly due to the camera not cutting away from him. In the final 35 seconds, the camera is raised up and away from Walt, forcing the audience to not look away. The most amazing part? The grips built the camera mount and the lifting contraption themselves.
"Doctor Who" - "The Trial of a Time Lord" The first episode of the original "Doctor Who" series "The Trial of a Time Lord" opens with a tracking shot that uses special effects and a model space ship. In the 35-second shot, the camera swoops around the Time Lords' space station and follows the Doctor's TARDIS as it's pulled out of space. Shot in 1986, this sequence cost £8,000, which was the most expensive special effects sequence from the entire original series.
"Band of Brothers" - "Why We Fight" The penultimate episode to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' World War II miniseries opens with a moving two-minute long take. The shot opens on a close-up of a violin and pulls back to reveal a full string quartet playing in the midst of a destroyed German town.