Hence there was but a single shooting day with four hours of existing light. Thousands of people in front of and behind the camera simply had to work together perfectly. The Hermitage was closed and restored to its original condition allowing cinematographer Tilman Buttner to travel through the Museum through an equivalent of 33 studios, each of which had to be lit in one go to allow for 360-degree camera movements. All of this was accomplished within a vulnerable environment that holds some of the greatest art treasures of all time, from Da Vinci to Rembrandt. After months of rehearsals, 867 actors, hundreds of extras, three live orchestras and 22 assistant directors had to know their precise positions and lines.
A movie filmed in one 90-minute take.
While this wasn't the first film planned as a “real time” film (Hitchcock did one, but if you watch the film, you'll notice that about every 10 to 12 minutes the camera will track to a wierd location (like the back of someone's black coat) and then continue on—it was during these “tracking shots” that the action was stopped, camera reloaded, then filming resumed so that, if need be, any ten minute segment of that film could conceivably be reshot without destroying the “continuity” as it were) it's the first to be shot continuously in real time; no film reloading here.
Continuous tracking shots are hard to do. Robert Altman's The Player has as its opening shot the longest (at the time) and most technically complicated tracking shot in a film pushing the limits of a single film canister (and if you look closely at the shot, you'll see Robert Altman himself, pitching a sequel to The Graduate). Russian Ark, however, is orders of magnitude beyond that.
Eight hundred and sixty-seven actors!
My mind is boggling at the thought.