If you’re one of those people who don’t believe the editor holds just as much power over a film as the director, then you really need to watch more Paul Thomas Anderson movies, especially “There Will Be Blood.” The latest video essay from Nerdwriter1 takes a fascinating look at Anderson’s 2007 masterpiece by studying what you learn about the movie just by counting all of the shots.
There are a total of 678 shots in “There Will Be Blood,” which runs 158 minutes. This means that Anderson and editor Dylan Tichenor’s average shot length is approximately 13.3 seconds, well over the 3-4 second average among Hollywood movies today. Utilizing longer shots in no way makes a film better or worse, but Anderson uses it to his advantage. He not only uses longer shots, but he uses fewer cuts so that the value and impact of each one increases.
This decision is part of the reason Anderson favors collapsing multiple shots into one. If you watch one of the many long takes in “There Will Be Blood,” you’ll the notice the camera moving into multiple fixed positions so that one take contains two to three different shots within its runtime. When Anderson and Tichenor do end up cutting, the moment suddenly has more power. As Nerdwriter1 perfectly summarizes, “The value of a cut increases as the number of cuts decrease.”
Every cut in “There Will Be Blood” ends up serving a greater dramatic purpose because there’s less of them. Notice how a shot moving in towards a sunlit Daniel Plainview cuts to a shot moving away from Eli Sunday pacing in the shadows, or how Anderson refuses to cut back to an establishing shot during a conversation, keeping the camera fixed on a close-up during moments of silence. Decisions like these ratchet up tension or help detail character relationships in a way the script never could.
Nerdwriter1 goes as far as to break down the average shot length in each section: Shots run an average of 14 seconds in the first hour, 13.3 seconds in the second hour, and 12.5 seconds in the final half hour. You’d hardly notice the steady progression of quicker shot lengths if you weren’t counting them, but it’s a purposeful choice that makes you feel the movie’s dramatic increase as Plainview’s digs himself a bigger hole.
The video essay, embedded below, only runs seven minutes and is definitely worth your time. Anderson and Day-Lewis will be back in theaters this Christmas with their London-set fashion drama.