By now you most likely have made your way through Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House and are on your required rewatch to catch all those ghosts the show’s creative team hid in the background like psychopaths to maximize spookiness. But one episode you must just sit and soak in no matter which watch you’re on is episode six, “Two Storms”, a technical marvel comprised of five uncut long-shots in which the camera not only floats through a funeral home, it floats through time to cover two different dark and stormy nights in the Crain family’s life.
Show creator Mike Flanagan took to Twitter to unleash a fascinating thread that breaks down the preparation, technicalities, and obstacles that went into creating the episode. An episode, according to Flanagan, that was integral in pitching the show to Netflix in the first place. Once approved, the highly technical blocking and camera movements were written directly into the episode’s script.
“[T]he draft for ep 6 was a really tough read,” Flanagan wrote, “with ‘camera pivots left/tracks right down left aisle, keeping Steven in MS profile’ breaking up the dialog.”
The daunting episode six informed the way the show was planned from the start. The set for the current day Crain funeral home and the past-timeline Hill House set were constructed next to each other, so that the older Hugh Crain (Timothy Hutton) could literally walk through a hallway and into his past. The result was more labyrinth funhouse than TV production.
“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.”
Rehearsal for the episode began on March 6, with a team of second-unit stand-ins running through the blocking, lighting, and choreography. The main cast then began their rehearsals twenty days later, with shooting set to begin on April 6.
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.
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.
The first of the five segments ran 14 pages in the script, a subdued, emotional scene in which the Crain siblings and their father reminisce, get drunk, and do a horrible job suppressing their emotions around the casket of Nell Crain (Victoria Pedretti). The highlight of the opening is a 360 shot around Hutton that sees the Crain children seamlessly swapped out for their younger counterparts and then back again.
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.
According to Flanagan, the most difficult segment was the third, an 18-page beast of a shot that sees the emotion from the first segment boiling over into anger, shouting, and full-on breakdowns (not to mention a few ghosts). Off-screen, the crew also battled a camera dolly with wheels being destroyed by the funeral home carpet take after take.
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
If segment three was the most emotionally difficult, the fourth shot was the most challenging on a technical level, a trip through Hill House that sees Carla Gugino‘s Olivia Crain teleporting ghost-like from place to place and the storm blasting the house’s windows to pieces.
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.
Compared to what came before it, the final segment, running just over five minutes, was relatively a breeze, said Flanagan. “Production was murder and almost killed us all,” the filmmaker wrote. “[B]ut it was the easiest edit of my life. Took 10 seconds.”
The kicker? Flanagan’s wife Kate Siegel, who also plays Theodora Crain, found out she was pregnant with the couple’s second child the night before the crew filmed the monstrous third segment, which also includes Theodora drunkenly missing a couch and falling to the floor.
“Made me really nervous every time I saw her fall down,” Flanagan wrote. “Added a special layer of nerves to the stress of the ep.”