Steven Spielberg is no stranger to the one shot or lengthy take – from the swooping overhead peek into apartments in Minority Report, to the drinking competition in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, to Helen Hirsch’s monologue in Schindler’s List, ambitious long shots are scattered throughout his filmography.
With his upcoming adaptation of West Side Story, he came up against one of his most challenging one shots yet when reimagining one of the most iconic scenes from the original 1961 film: the school dance. The aim was to capture the Sharks entering the gym in an extended, elaborate, single-take shot, but it took a lot of coordination to move the camera (and himself) around in the way Spielberg envisioned. The fact that it was a musical sequence made things even trickier. “The camera was on a Spidercam rig,” Spielberg tells Empire. “The oner was very hard to achieve because everything is timed to the beat. You can’t be a note off in either direction.”
That scene wasn’t just nerve-racking for Spielberg; it was leading lady and newcomer Rachel Zegler’s first sequence working with the directing legend. “That was my first day shooting; it was terrifying,” recalls Zegler. “Steven wanted it to feel like it could actually happen while still keeping that dreamy aspect. It turns into a little bit of a mating dance. It’s a really sweet moment under the smelly bleachers at a gym.”
Read Empire’s full West Side Story feature – speaking to Spielberg and his team about key scenes from the film, and how they’re bringing a fresh edge to this classic musical – in the new The Book Of Boba Fett issue. Find it on newsstands from Thursday 25 November, or pre-order it online here. West Side Story is in cinemas from 10 December.