At the center of Extraction, the new Chris Hemsworth drama from director Sam Hargrave, is a dizzying 12-minute “oner” — a shot with no apparent edits — in which Hemsworth, as a desperate mercenary, leads a young child through a city of 17 million people while battling armored gunmen, bounding across rooftops, knife-fighting in the street, and, for the most part, evading speeding cars.
We’ll say it again: It all looks like one continuous shot. So how did the camera stay with the actors as they battled through the carnage?
It helps when the director is also a stuntman.
Hargrave strapped himself to a car, among other feats, to capture up-close sequences he considered too dangerous for his camera crew. He added that he and stunt coordinator Daniel Stevens tried to “fit in every stunt possible,” Hargrave told us.
“I think we got we got pretty much everything except being underwater and maybe lighting somebody on fire,” Hargrave says on the latest MovieMaker Interviews podcast. “But everything else — cars, heights, wires, fights. Guns. We pretty much got it all in there,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is attempt something like this and have people pat you on the back and go, ‘Nice work. He tried.'”
Did they succeed? Watch Extraction for yourself, and you’ll quickly see why it’s on track to become Netflix’s most-watched original film ever.
Now here’s how they did it.
‘We’re Promising This Extraction, Right?’
Hargrave was a martial artist in his youth, then took up stunts and moved from North Carolina to Hollywood. Among his stunt gigs was doubling for Chris Evans as Captain America. Joe and Anthony Russo were impressed by his work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and enlisted him to design scenes for later Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbusters, including Avengers: Endgame.
They soon offered him the chance to direct Extraction.
Extraction features another MCU alum, Hemsworth, as a mercenary who is mourning his son and has to rescue a drug kingpin’s child from a rival drug kingpin. His mission takes him to Dhaka, Bangladesh (the film shot in Ahmedabad, India), where he liberates the boy, only to run into trouble on the road.
“We’re promising this extraction, right? By the title and the premise of the movie. So what if for kind of the sequence, this escape, we do it and bring the audience along with us in real time?” said Hargrave. “So that by the end, you don’t really realize as you’re watching maybe what’s going on, but by the end, you’re like, ‘Oh my God, like, I’ve held my breath for 12 minutes.'”
Joe Russo’s script described the action in excellent detail, Hargrave said. So he broke the sequence down into beats.
“So I laid those out, and then you start to write a beat sheet that you print out and share with everybody just so everyone knows, and then I would go with locations department and production designers and find these locations,” Hargrave said. “And just once you get there you’re like, ‘Oh, this is perfect,’ or, you know, just keep looking. But once you found it, then I would go in with the stunt team. And we would take the action that they’d been designing off site and the stunt rehearsal space, and now apply it to the real world.”
The real world meant complications, but also opportunities.
“So maybe what was working nicely in the big open stunt gym would have to be modified slightly, now that we’re on a staircase or, you know, we’re 30 feet up, and there’s a balcony,” he continued. “We would expand and it started to become something real and it would take shape and then we’d rehearse it and actually shot the sequence before we shot the sequence.”
“I took my little Sony A7 camera out there, and the visual effects [team] was there and editing and we’d think about these sequences, and I’d shoot them and then we’d stop, we’d kind of piece them together… and just make sure that we were ready and we knew all beats.”
‘Chris Hemsworth Sucking Wind’
They also found places they could make edits without anyone noticing, following the tradition of movies like Rope and 1917 that appear to be single continuous shots, but aren’t.
“We start this fight in one space, and then we go through another door and we end up in another beautiful space. But that second space is, 10 blocks away. So how do you how do we get there? What camera tricks do we use?”
They used the initial footage to set their plan, then took the entire crew through the whole sequence — “so that everyone had just no questions about what we’re all trying to do and how we’re going to do it. And it went extremely smoothly on the 10 days when we shot.”
He tried to draw on the energy of the crowded city.