The power of one: why one-shot filming is a potent storytelling technique

Filmmaker Danny Feng talks about shooting with the Canon EOS C70 using the one-shot filming technique to create the feeling of being immersed in live music.
Two musicians stand on a rooftop, one holding a guitar and the other playing a keyboard, backlit by the sun setting in the background.

Filmmaker and creative producer Danny Feng used the one-shot filming technique to create an immersive live music experience in Camel Power Club's music video. © Danny Feng / Feng Production

One-shot filming is capturing an entire scene from start to finish, in a single uninterrupted shot – no cuts, no edits.

"Some people think it's a little bit gimmicky and, of course, there's a time and a place for it, but I love the tension it creates," says Berlin-based filmmaker and creative director Danny Feng, founder of Feng Production. "I love shooting things in one take: music videos and documentary scenes." Instead of aiming for perfection, Danny's use of this technique for these kinds of video embraces human errors and creates charm, realism and a sense of "being there".

Danny is a former sound engineer, and his first experiments with the technique were inspired by live acoustic sessions. Here, he tells us when he uses the one-shot filming technique, why he chose it for his Camel Power Club music video, Ventura (Live in Brussels), and the kit he favours when filming in one shot. Plus, Danny shares his top tips for one-shot filming.

A close-up of a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens on a Canon EOS C70.

Danny paired the Canon EOS C70 with the RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens to shoot Camel Power Club's music video: "I would rather suffer and try to get a steady shot by myself than have a gimbal," he says, so he relies on the "impressive" electronic image stabilisation of the EOS C70 working in tandem with the optical IS in the lens.

Filmmaker Danny Feng holds a Canon EOS C70 with RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens, and looks down at its vari-angle display.

"Human error is going to happen," Danny says of one-shot filming, but he emphasises that you need to embrace these errors, as it's what creates the film's character. © Danny Feng / Feng Production

What is one-shot filming?

One-shot filming refers to an entire scene or sequence filmed in one continuous take on a single camera. Some famous examples of one-shot filming in movies include the opening scene of Touch of Evil (1958), directed by Orson Welles, and the Copacabana sequence in Goodfellas (1990), directed by Martin Scorsese.

"No cuts, no filters, no post-production, we just put it how it is and then we publish it," says Danny. "I think that's awesome because in that context it really brings in that relatability: it's raw, it's real."

When to use one-shot filming

One-shot filming sounds like hard work, so why do it? "There's an aspect of challenge, for sure," says Danny, "especially when you have to light a scene or have time markers for where you have to be at certain times. I think those are extremely difficult to execute on a one-take basis."

In cinema, however, you might see the one-shot filming technique used to create tension at dramatic moments, or tell-all realism as you follow protagonists through scenes. In music, it transports the audience into the room as if it's a live performance. Live music is where Danny thinks one-shot filming works best, and where he regularly employs it.

"I think it's always better to just show everything, and be done in one take," he continues. "It really shows that the musicians are not covering anything up. This is literally how they perform live. It gives the audience the feeling that they are there with the artist. If there's a mistake, then it'll live in the piece."

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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A close-up of a Canon EOS C70 camera.

"I've used everything from a small mirrorless to Canon EOS C500 cinema cameras [now succeeded by the EOS C500 Mark II]," says Danny, "and the EOS C70 feels like a really nice in-between: small and familiar like a Canon mirrorless camera, but with all of the cinema features."

 A close-up of a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

Danny will always choose a zoom lens for one-shot filming, as it gives him fast flexibility. For Camel Power Club's music video, he chose the RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM.

What kit works best for one-shot filming?

"I love tech and I'm always looking out for the latest thing, but when I'm shooting, I don't want to think about equipment," Danny says. "That's why I appreciate the EOS C70 – it's easy to set up in under five minutes, and then I'm just there actually trying to capture whatever it is that I'm trying to capture."

Weight is also an important factor to consider – but light weight isn't necessarily better. "I've found that generally a heavier camera means you reduce vibrations reaching the sensor," Danny says. "I try to get cameras as heavy as possible if there isn't internal image stabilisation, but the EOS C70 is nice because it's so compact – not too heavy, not too light – and it has impressive electronic image stabilisation."

Most of the time, he shoots handheld, using "nothing fancy" in his setup, and records in 4K for maximum versatility in the edit. "Now that you can film without time limitations, and the codecs are quite efficient as well, you can film 4K on a 128-gigabyte card, which is a lot of content."

Danny also values the long battery life of his Canon cine camera. "It lasts for so long – it's incredible, and it makes so much sense for these one-shot productions, where you can't afford to worry about stuff like that."

For the Camel Power Club music video, Danny paired the EOS C70 with the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens. "It's light, and very practical to be able to go from tight to wide and pick appropriately for the scene," he says.

It's also the quality of the output and dynamic range that Danny's looking for when he chooses his kit, with valuable flexibility coming from the ability to push and pull in post without the introduction of noise or banding.

A close-up of a Canon EOS C70 with a bespectacled figure standing behind it.

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Danny Feng's top tips for one-shot filming

The most important advice Danny offers for creating a one-shot film is to embrace the imperfections, because they are what creates character. It's how you handle the mistakes in the moment that matters. "That's a part of live performance – you are going to have mistakes and it's part of the charm. If you have a moment that's a little bit out of focus, it's okay, just pull focus very slowly."

What else has Danny learned since he filmed his first one-shot?

1. Don't do too many takes

"The first three are the most crucial takes," says Danny. "With music, it's usually where the artists perform their best. The magic goes down exponentially as you do more takes. Even if the movement – or the camera movement – is not exactly how I want it, I would much rather pick a take that's from one to three, because the performance is better."

2. Know the key moments

Danny doesn't storyboard, but when it's a music video he listens to the track in preparation for the shoot. "If I know the track beforehand, then I know when the musician is singing or not, so I can plan ahead and, for example, just two lines before they stop singing, I start moving away to focus on the guitarist."

3. Manually set white balance

"The biggest mistake I made in my first attempt was having the white balance set on auto. The problem with that is that every time you're moving, it keeps shifting in colour. When I was trying to edit the video, it was purple, and then green, and then really warm. It's always good to set the value and keep it like that."

4. Use in-camera stabilisation

"The thing that I struggled with the most was understanding how I could do this as a one-man band, and get it as steady as possible," says Danny. "A camera with in-built image stabilisation does a lot of the heavy lifting for you." The EOS C70's advanced 5-axis Electronic Stabilisation provides optimum performance when paired with the optical IS in stabilised lenses to smooth out many of the bumps and shakes of filming handheld.

5. Use manual focus

"I try not to use autofocus because I want to be in control," Danny says. If you're focusing on one person and then transitioning to another, you could run into the issue of autofocus trying to hunt – focus and unfocus – without a clear focal point during the transition. "It can take away from the viewing experience, so I either manually focus by myself or I have a first AC who helps me focus."

6. Extend and smooth your movements

"Ninja walking is important – when you're moving really slowly – to avoid all the bounces and vibrations," says Danny. "If you introduce a movement with your arms first, and slowly ease yourself into that movement with your body, then the shot is much smoother."

7. Get creative with keeping visual interest

"I always play with foreground objects such as glass or leaves," Danny explains. "Make an image 'dirty' – maybe there's lens flare, maybe there's something blocking the shot. There are times where we would set up lights purposely where the lens can catch a little bit of flare. These little things can add a lot of character and interest."

Despite the technical challenges one-shot filming presents, it's a technique that, in the right situation and with the right kit, can express emotions that make it indispensable for storytellers. "I think the immersive experience is what I love about it," says Danny, "and that's what I try to communicate in the pieces that I shoot with it."

Emma-Lily Pendleton

Danny Feng's kitbag

The key kit pros use to make their videos

 A close-up of a Canon EOS C70 camera with RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens.


Canon EOS C70

Designed for shooters who need a lightweight and compact camera, the EOS C70 is the perfect partner for one-shot filming. "The EOS C70 is nice because it's so compact – not too heavy, not too light," Danny says, "and it has impressive electronic image stabilisation."


Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

A 24-70mm zoom built to exceed expectations. Superb optical engineering, a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture, a Nano USM motor for silent focusing and 5-stop image stabilisation helps you stay creative in all conditions. "I use this lens a lot – it's light, it's fast and the zoom gives great flexibility for one-shot filming," says Danny.


Canon BP-A30 Battery Pack

The BP-A30 Battery Pack is provided with the EOS C70. Danny took a spare, just in case, "but I didn't even use the second one – the battery life is incredible."

Soft-soled shoes

“Wear very comfortable shoes with spongy soles when you're one-shot filming,” Danny advises. "So when you're walking, it's like you are walking on clouds. If you're wearing really hard and rigid shoes, that also can contribute to camera vibrations."

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