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British Kinematography (1951) - Modern Trends in Art Direction




M. J. Morahan

Read to a joint meeting of the British Kinematograph Society and the Association of Cinematograph & Allied Technicians on January 17, 1951

The "Ten-Minute Take" Technique

Another manifestation of the dramatic approach was Alfred Hitchcock's so-called "ten-minute-take." My brother, Tom Morahan, was Production Designer on the film "Under Capricorn." First he was handed a treatment and had a general discussion with the director; he then laid out a plan visualizing the action dramatically, sketching it out in preliminary thumb-nail sketches, and larger sketches for general character and main set-ups. Constant reference was made to the camera angles, with scale cut-outs of the available crane and dolly; at the same time he had to consider the mechanical difficulties—how walls and stairs, etc., could "float'" during a take so that the camera could traverse the whole house in one take, both upstairs and downstairs.

As the stage space was cramped, this was a particularly difficult problem, as not only had the exterior of the house to be included, but the garden and a suggestion of landscape as well. All had to be floatable and had to be on a perfect surface to take the crane and dolly without tracks.

Over and above the difficulty of obtaining a continuous plan of good set-ups, he had also to think of tempo. Theoretically, there was to be no cutting, therefore, he had to aid the director by making each part of the set exactly the right size, besides being photographically correct, so that the characters would take the right number of paces from point to point according to the speed with which they would move in their various moods. After he had achieved his composite design the director studied the designs and made his famous little thumbnail sketches. It may be a compliment to the clarity of the writing of the treatment, or to the designer's power to get inside the scenes dramatically, that very little alteration was needed.