ONE TAKE Is A Love Letter To The Agony And Ecstasy Of Growing Up5 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
One Take is a Not Safe For TV (NSFTV) mini web series consisting of nine episodes, each done in a single take. It chronicles the coming-of-age story of three Singaporean youths, James, Claire, and Alicia. over a period of ten years.
Director: Benedict Yeo, Tan Hui Er
Cast: Salif Hardie, Tan Hui Er, Ong Yi Xuan
Runtime: 9 episodes x 5-10 minutes
“I downloaded this song yesterday, I think you’d like it.” In One Take’s first episode, 18-year-old Claire hands over the left earbud of her iPod to her close friend, James, in a quiet room away from the buzz of the party. Some vaguely familiar melancholic indie acoustic song plays while they sit in silence. Its lyrics (…lost in the night, let our feelings show) are slowly crooned as Claire reveals she’s leaving Singapore for Berklee, and that she—gasps—has feelings for James.
Out of pure curiosity, I looked up the name of the song-—turns out it’s some stock music from an album aptly titled Dream Folk 2. That’s beside my point, but despite its generic origins, I was struck by the sense of familiarity that radiated from that tune, and that Arctic Monkeys shirt James wore, and also that vaguely familiar pop punk song that blasted at the party. The feelings and memories they evoke are fundamentally something we all, in some unmistakable way shape or form, have distinctly experienced before.
That scene is from 2009—One Take from then on follows the lives of these Singaporean youths, Claire, James, and Alicia, over the course of the next decade. With each episode shot entirely in one take, as the name suggests, we get to witness the unraveling of three intertwined coming-of-age stories told through vivid snapshots of their various turning points.
I would be remiss to not praise NSFTV’s ingenious use of their shot-in-one-take premise, what I would imagine to be nothing short of challenging. What could’ve easily been an intriguing but lacklustre gimmick, they instead turn it on its head to branch out into a genuinely innovative and compelling storytelling vehicle, something we haven’t quite seen in Singapore yet.
Narratives unfold through the back-and-forth of multiple points of view, from our characters, to onlookers, to CCTV cameras, to even a 360 perspective. It’s this sensory and visually engaging experience that fully allows the viewer to jump from fly on the wall to first-person, confronting the full unbridled spectrum of the soaring highs and devastating lows that come with the pains of growing up. Easter eggs are nestled within teasers and backgrounds, and the various stages of the characters’ youth and portraits of transitions are captured through their clothes, music, and attitudes to a terrifyingly relatable degree.
One Take moves with exhilarating assurance through every aspect of adolescence, hitting both the transformative and more understated cadences of transitioning into stinging adulthood. Its familiar stories of growing up and growing apart feel new and fresh with its lean narrative—overarching issues like teen pregnancy and abuse aren’t shoehorned into the show; instead these ideas are presented organically as part of their typical trials and tribulations. We get thrown into these lives as they are experiencing their days of youth, which sometimes lead somewhere, and sometimes just doesn’t lead anywhere.
The characters, like all of us, fall prey to the marching of time. They grow up, grow apart, and leave plenty of loose threads along the way.
Most attempts to portray the psyche of the new generation often are met with broad strokes of shoddy or disingenuous writing from Gen X. They just don’t quite get it. With One Take, the series notably feels like an actual show created by young Singaporean for young Singaporeans. And that’s genuinely so fucking exciting.
Beyond all the technicalities, the show’s straightforward portrayal of youth is so refreshing and distinctly local. It’s really in One Take’s autobiographical hues that a first-hand familiarity is brought to the portrait of growing up with a natural air free of pretension.
The simple premise and unique narrative device elevates this story to uncharted territory—especially in Singapore. More importantly, it’s indicative of a step towards an exciting and contemporary direction for local content. One Take stands as a time capsule to the emotions and memories of growing up, like a love letter to dizzying adolescence. We all know a Claire. We all know a James. We all know an Alicia.
In its last episode, Claire and James meet again, this time ten years later. As the shot lingers on James, Loved You So by LEW, a Singaporean singer-songwriter plays. Like the music from Dream Folk 2, I don’t recognise the song, but its lyrics are bittersweet and that same sense of familiarity resurfaces.