As Mike Flanagan was developing his limited-anthology series “The Haunting of Hill House,” he decided to set the quintessential scene of the Crain siblings back together at the youngest sister’s wake in real time. His goal was to immerse the audience in “one of those moments in people’s lives when time seems to work differently,” he says. This sequence ended up in the sixth episode, requiring his cast and crew to work in harmony as the characters expressed their grief — and grievances with each other — in one long take that even included a 360-degree turn.
Showrunner and director
“This was like doing theater, or live television. We had a stage crew that needed to clear furniture and chairs out of the path of the camera, only to silently replace them a moment later. Every single mark for our actors had to be carefully lit, and those lighting cues had to be programmed and exhaustively rehearsed. We rehearsed this way for weeks, full-time, before we invited our actors to join the process. [In production] keeping the actors in the right emotional headspace was a challenge just because of the sheer repetition of what they were doing. On the other hand, though, no one wanted to be the person who screwed up ‘the’ take. So that additional pressure helped put them on edge each and every time, and that heightened sense of tension only helped the scenes feel real.”
Director of photography
“The prep started with daily DSLR examinations with our stand-ins to dial in camera movements according to the blocking. Cast rehearsals followed, which refined the camera plans. In the background of first-team rehearsals, I was on the adjacent stage running beat by beat second-team lighting rehearsals, and the electric department was installing and programming the specific lighting units and cues for the behavior, which included strobe units for the lightning in every window on both stages, and backlight for the rain FX on the windows.”
“We rehearsed this to the point of muscle memory. We created a very detailed cue sheet, and my B camera operator, Brian Osmond, read it to us in our headsets. The cues were in the hundreds, so to keep it all in your head is a little daunting. Once we got into the 360, the actors had to find that mark in the room that wasn’t there — because we had to pull it — and they had to operate off of that mark. We had to keep our pacing to them, but it was as much up to them as it was up to us.”
“Shirley’s funeral home is another character, and so we wanted it to be like her: It’s classy and it’s serious, but it’s not depressing — that was the goal. The big challenge was to figure out how to design and build without repeating or overlapping architectural details, to separate it from Hill House. Here scale itself was different, a little bit more reeled in than in the house, and the depth of molding, all of these things we tried to make sure looked the part, particularly knowing that at a certain part these two most important sets are going to be literally connected to each other, to make sure we don’t confuse the viewer.”