Anatomy of a Scene: The Map

The Night Of — Episode 5, Scene 13

Following each episode of The Night Of co-writer/director Steven Zaillian breaks down elements of a key scene.

Steven Zaillian: This begins the sequence in which Det. Box reconstructs Naz’s movements on “the night of,” from Point A to Point B as prosecutor Helen Weiss has requested, from when the suspect left his home to when he arrived at the crime scene with the victim.

The scene tells the story visually, using only the evidence that would be available to the detective, and is one of the reasons it was important to have all the scripts outlined in detail before beginning to shoot the first one, knowing that scenes we would shoot in Episode 1 would be examined later, as in this context here in Episode 5.

Everywhere Naz went that night left a trail, as it does with anyone doing anything on any night. How anyone thinks they can commit a crime undetected these days is a mystery to me.

Surveillance in NYC is extensive. E-ZPass records are kept, of course, at its bridges and tunnels that use the toll-collecting system. If you’re paying with cash, that, too, is recorded, by time-stamped cameras. Several cameras at the Midtown Tunnel record every car and driver coming into the city, and readers capture every license plate, alerting police in real time to cars linked to fugitives, those on watch lists, those with outstanding warrants.

Once through the tunnel, there are, it is estimated, at least 4,000 security cameras in Lower Manhattan alone (and another 4,000 in the subway system). Many of those on the streets are operated by NYPD; others are privately owned but accessible to police.

Cell phones, of course, are also tracking devices. Whether you’re on it or not, your cell phone is continually connecting to the nearest tower. In dense areas like Manhattan, there are enough towers to identify your location with some accuracy, certainly enough to describe the path of your journey driving from, say, the Lower East Side to Harlem.

In this sequence, Box uses these cellular records, E-ZPass statements, security camera footage and credit card transactions — all time-stamped — to reasonably determine where Naz went, and when, on the night of the crime.

The scene required shooting actor Bill Camp poring through all these records, of course, but also several insert shots — 50 to be exact — of the paperwork, the tunnel security camera and precinct interview room footage seen on Box’s computer monitor, and the marking up of his map, from Jackson Heights to West 87th Street — and was, in turn, all put together by editor Nick Houy. It took quite a while.

From creators Steven Zaillian and Richard Price, ‘The Night Of’ is an eight-part limited series that delves into the intricate story of a fictitious murder case in New York City.

New episodes of The Night Of air Sundays at 9 PM on HBO and are available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.