“The Place Beyond the Pines,” a new film starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes, is much bigger than most movies in theaters today. When we say “bigger,” we mean the film has three distinct acts, spanning fifteen years.
Director Derek Cianfrance wanted an opening shot that reflected the film’s size, so he and his director of photography, Sean Bobbitt, conceived a five-and-a-half-minute take that followed the stunt cyclist played by Gosling through a busy fairground and ended with him inside a globe of death with two other motorcyclists. You can get a taste for this opening shot in one of MTV News’ several exclusive photos.
Setting up the shot wasn’t easy, as Cianfrance recalled to MTV News. “We were shooting in an active fair. We had to put our circus tent and the trailer exactly five minutes and 30 seconds in walking distance away from each other,” he said. “That was the time we had slotted for our title sequence. We timed everything out, and we did this take.”
But as anyone familiar with the hysteria that Gosling can generate by walking through a crowd, one does not simply have one of Hollywood’s biggest stars waltz through an active fairground, and the “Place Beyond the Pines” crew had to prepare for that. “It was kind of a nightmare,” Cianfrance said. “We had a number of our ADs out on the set that day, and they’re all wearing these big Dr. Seuss hats. They were crucial in pulling people’s attention away from Ryan. That was a big challenge with a shot like that. Once someone looks at the camera, it ruins the shot.”
Getting Gosling through the fairground was just step one, however. For Cianfrance’s shot to work, the character would have to ride a motocross bike into the globe of death and perform the stunt. “There are 22 guys in America who can do that, that can drive their motorcycles in a steel cage like that. Ryan Gosling isn’t one of the 22,” Cianfrance said. Obviously, for the shot to remain a single take, there would have to be some camera trickery.
What results is a seamless transition from Gosling on top of the bike to a very qualified stunt driver. You might be able to see where the switch happens, but only if you’re looking for the misdirection. “There is no cut in the sequence,” Cianfrance explained. “There’s this thing called a ’Texas Switch’ that happens, but I can’t tell you how it happens or where it happens in the movie because that would be a magician giving away his secrets.”