This post contains spoilers.
If you’re like a lot of Netflix viewers, you’ve fallen under the spell of Haunting of Hill House, the incredibly spooky series that blends gothic horror with hard-hitting family drama. One of the series’ most affecting episodes, “Two Storms,” managed to blend both the past and present incarnations of the cast between the titular Hill House and a funeral for one of the primary characters. It wasn’t just a thematic balancing act, though. The crew behind Haunting of Hill House‘s single-shot episode managed to shoot the entire thing in five separate takes, a feat that’s usually reserved for bigger budget films or 11-minute Daredevil hallway fights.
Haunting director Mike Flanagan took to Twitter to answer fan questions about how they pulled it all off this weekend.
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
Flanagan’s team obviously had to pitch the idea to Netflix leadership before production could get underway, so they had to include an awkward amount of camera directions in the script to keep things organized.
If you really dug the gothic design of the Hill House, Flanagan mentions that the set design for both the house and the funeral home were specifically designed with episode six in mind. It makes sense, given the very circular nature of Hill House’s main floor and upstairs walkways, plus the long hallway that separates the two halves of the house, and in the case of the funeral home, leads straight to the casket.
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— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
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.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
Anyone who’s been on the set of a stage play or a film can tell you that things can get out of hand very quickly, and it looks like Haunting of Hill House was no exception. Flanagan mentions that after massive rain effects rigs were installed, to give the episode an even eerier feel, the rigs flooded the sets. Flanagan says the studio proposed cutting the rain effects, but clearly, they managed to stay in for the final cut.
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.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
After giving each actor instructions via the pre-recorded rehearsal tapes, rehearsals began in earnest, but the crew decided to film anyway just in case the take ended up being perfect. What ensued was a lot of actors sprinting from spot to spot as the scenes transitioned between past and present.
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.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
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.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
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— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
Flanagan says that the third segment, in which the present-day cast needed to have “thunder emotion,” was by far the most brutal.
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.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
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.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
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.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
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— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
The most technically difficult challenge was during the fourth segment, wherein Hugh (Henry Thomas) chases a mysteriously unresponsive Olivia (Carla Gugino) around the house before she seemingly teleports back in the opposite direction. Of all things, the visual trickery involved access portals for Gugino and her various doubles to sprint through.
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.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
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.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
“Production was murder and almost killed us all,” Flanagan tweeted, “but it was the easiest edit of my life.”
So the ep is 53:38. About 51:00 is comprised of 5 shots.— Mike Flanagan (@flanaganfilm) November 4, 2018
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.
To top things off, Flanagan (who is married to Kate Siegel, the actress behind the adult Theo Crain) said that he and Siegel learned she was pregnant with their second child the night before the filming of the third segment.
“Made me really nervous every time I saw her fall down,” Flanagan tweeted, likely referencing the moment where a drunk Theo attempts to lay down on a funeral home couch but instead winds up painfully smashing onto the floor. “Added a special layer of nerves to the stress of the [episode].”
Haunting of Hill House’s sixth episode wasn’t the only technical marvel the crew pulled off. Throughout the series, the production crew managed to frame certain shots well enough to just barely hide numerous ghosts. Check out our rundown of every ghost we’ve found.