Between his eye for ornate detail, his unconventional and well-earned scares, and his penchant for character-driven storytelling, Mike Flanagan is easily one of the most important horror directors working today. So when he takes the time to detail his process, horror fans and aspiring auteurs better take notice! Lucky for us, he spent some time on Twitter this morning breaking down the incredible extended shots in Episode Six of The Haunting of Hill House!
There are tons of reasons to be impressed by The Haunting of Hill House, but one episode in particular takes place in a funeral parlor with very few cuts for an hour-long program. The circling camera is bound to evoke a feeling of dread and claustrophobia in even the most hardened viewer as the events and circumstances of the characters spiral out of control; and Flanagan’s knack for supernatural surprises means it’s never safe to rest one’s eyes until the credits roll. According to this morning’s revelations, the daunting extended scenes were a part of Flanagan’s initial pitch for the series. He then walks readers through the ins and outs of production, including a series of time codes within the episode for each of the five shots.
The following is Flanagan’s first tweet on Episode Six, and a transcript of the remainder of his notes:
I've gotten a lot of questions about ep 106 of @haunting . Netflix released an awesome little BTS video, but for those that want more information, here's a little thread: Episode 6 was part of the very first pitch for the show, promising an episode that would look like one shot.
— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
“Most of the camera choreography was actually included in the script itself, which meant that the draft for ep 6 was a really tough read with “camera pivots left/tracks right down left aisle, keeping Steven in MS profile” breaking up the dialog.
The sets for both Hill House and Shirley’s Funeral Home were designed with episode 6 in mind. They were built on adjacent stages, and had to accommodate a hallway that would physically connect them so that Hugh could walk directly from the funeral home to Hill House in shot 1.
The sets needed to include hiding places for crew & equipment, specific lighting rigs, and even a handmade elevator that would lower into place from the ceiling to bring a cameraman to the first floor for shot 4. We began doing weekly walk-throughs of the ep 6 immediately in prep
We initially intended to shoot it last, to give us as much time as possible. Budget issues resulted in the studio moving the episode up to the beginning of our third production block, and rapidly accelerating our prep time.
Production was shut down, rehearsals for ep 6 began March 6th, 2018. We rehearsed daily with our second team stand-ins, who performed the entire episode as actors as we learned the camera, lighting, and acting choreography. They were HEROES and made the whole thing possible.
The episode was comprised of 5 long takes. 3 took place in the funeral home, 2 in Hill House. We would rehearse one segment while another was prepped/programmed for lighting, and then switch. Sets were still being painted and constructed to accommodate the ep.
Massive rain FX were put in both stages, and specialty lights were brought in to create the lightning. The water would sometimes flood the sets, and the studio initially didn’t want to pay for the extra “lightning” lights and proposed cutting the storms from the episode entirely.
The actors arrived on March 26 to begin rehearsals. On their first day, we sat them down and showed them the entire episode, shot on a DSLR, with second team performing. They could see each shot executed successfully, and see the goal they were trying to achieve.
Rehearsals began in earnest. The actors would be on one stage, practicing the scene and the performance, while our camera operators worked on the other stage with second team to continue refining camera blocking and lighting cues.
There were hundreds of individual lighting cues, not only for effect but also for beauty lightning. If a cue was a late, an actor wouldn’t be lit properly. If an actor missed their mark, or if a cue was early or late, it meant actors went dark, or you’d see a camera shadow.
We finally began shooting on April 6, 2018. We shot in episode order, so the first shot was 14 pages in Shirley’s funeral home. We did tech rehearsals in the morning, and finally just started shooting, in case we got lucky. We only had to get it right once.
This first segment involved hiding the younger actors playing the Crain children around the corner in the viewing room, so they could run in and replace their adult counterparts during a 360-degree move around Tim Hutton. The adults sprinted back into place a moment later.
We also had to swap a dummy of Victoria Pedretti from the casket, and help young Violet McGraw climb inside and be still. We did this change while the siblings talked about Hugh flying in coach on the airplane.
At the end of the shot, we follow Tim through a hallway that leads directly through the doors of our other stage, onto the Hill House set. The shot ended a moment after the chandelier fell in the background. Length: 14:19
We began shooting the second shot the following day, which was seven pages long and took place in Hill House. Our initial worry about putting this much pressure on the youngest of the actors proved to be a non-issue, as they were knew their lines cold (and even the adults’ lines)
Lots of ALMOST complete takes on this segment, but the technical issues of this segment were pretty daunting, particularly timing our Bent Neck Lady with the lightning and making Nell disappear. We finally got a complete take late in the afternoon. Length: 7:25
The third segment was the most brutal. 18 pages, shot in the funeral home, and requiring thunderous emotion from the cast. They started seated, which meant we had to keep the camera on a peewee dolly to handle the height differences. We pushed a dolly through this entire shot.
It was a BEAST. We could never make it to the end. And the dolly was slowly getting harder to push, because (we found out later) the wheels weren’t meant for carpet, and carpet fibers were getting inside through all of our rehearsals, putting enormous strain on the transmission.
We went to lunch without getting a take, and the grips told me that the dolly had a big issue. The transmission chain was strained and close to breaking from the rigors of rehearsal. They figure we MIGHT have one more take before it could break. There wasn’t a replacement dolly.
We didn’t tell the cast, I didn’t want it to get in their heads. We came back from lunch, I said “I’ve got a good feeling about this one” and we held our breath. Believe it or not we got it. We got the take. They took the dolly, turned the wheel and the chain broke. Length: 17:19
The next day we did segment 4, which was our most difficult from a technical point of view. Lots of swaps, windows breaking, the elevator gag, etc. We ran this all day, the pressure was on Carla and Henry. Time and again we’d make it all the way to the elevator and mess up.
The smashing windows in this segment are a digital creation, but we had to “teleport” Carla around the set. This was done using a photo double for some moments, and having Carla run through secret crew access portals in others.
We got the shot late afternoon after dozens of aborted attempts. Length: 6:13. The next day, we did the (relatively easy by comparison) 5th segment, which timed in at 5:31. Production was murder and almost killed us all, but it was the easiest edit of my life. Took 10 seconds.
So the ep is 53:38. About 51:00 is comprised of 5 shots.
Shot 1: 14:19
Shot 2: 7:25
Shot 3: 17:19
Shot 4: 6:13
Shot 5: 5:31
It was the hardest thing most of us have ever done, and the result of the combined efforts of hundreds of people. Mad respect for the cast & crew.
But thankfully the studio supported the storm elements as we rehearsed, and we were able to keep them.
What a treat it is to have such a comprehensive retelling of the hard work which led to this cinematic achievement! When I first watched the episode, I couldn’t help but think that the lighting must have been a real pain in the neck, and Flanagan pretty much confirms just how precise it had to be in order for the episode to work.
The sequence is terrifying to watch, but Flanagan concludes with an anecdote of why it was just as scary to film the episode: his wife, actress Kate Siegel, was pregnant with their second child during the sequence in which she had to keep falling down!
On a final note, @k8siegel and I learned she was pregnant with our second child the night before we filmed segment 3. Made me really nervous every time I saw her fall down. Added a special layer of nerves to the stress of the ep
— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
Stay tuned to Horror News Network for complete coverage of The Haunting of Hill House and Mike Flanagan’s upcoming projects as soon as they break!