Anatomy of a Scene: Dr. Yee

The Night Of — Episode 6, Scene 25

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


Steven Zaillian: This is how the beginning of John Stone’s first visit to acupuncturist Dr. Yee is described in the script. It’s not how it was filmed. But this “Anatomy of a Scene” is more about the process involved before it was shot.

During location scouting, I was shown by Location Manager Shane Haden the examination room of Hon Jen Two. It was perfect, better than I could have imagined.

While there, I explained the scene to Dr. Two, the character’s eczema condition, and asked how he might approach treating it. He said he would first examine the patient’s ear. His ear? The inflammation is primarily on his feet — what could you determine by examining his ear? Dr. Two said, “a lot, and not just about his skin problem,” and I realized I had no clue about traditional Chinese medicine.

I asked him to show me how he would conduct his examination, and, based on that, revised the scene.

At this point, I had considered several actors for the role of the doctor, but had yet to cast it. It occurred to me what better way to guarantee the scene’s authenticity than to have a real acupuncturist play him. What better way than to have Dr. Two play himself, so to speak.

When I suggested this to him, he demurred. He had never done such a thing. I said, it’s easy, you just do what you do every day here. Of course it isn’t easy — I’ve seen how non-professional actors can freeze the moment the camera and lights are set up — but he believed me and agreed to give it a try. Giving it a try isn’t the same as doing it well, and I knew there was a chance we’d be in trouble. We were not on the kind of schedule that allowed us to reshoot scenes that “didn’t go well.” I asked John Turturro what he thought about it, since he’d be doing the scene with the doctor. He was happily game.

On the day of filming, I said to Dr. Two, okay, as I explained before, just do what you’d normally do in this situation. He preceded to conduct an examination of John and then prescribed the medicine — which was, in fact, the actual mixture he would have combined for treating eczema — and we filmed it.

The point of this is that sometimes — often — the best way to convey something as it really is, is to do it as it actually is.

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.

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