Anatomy of a Scene: Arrival at Rikers

The Night Of: Episode 3, Scene 44

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

Steven Zaillian: Though this scene, as written, is less than half a page, it was complicated to shoot. You could say we began work on it months before, on the first of our visits to Rikers to see it for ourselves.

Rikers Island is New York City’s main jail complex. It’s where you’re housed if you can’t make bail, or are serving a sentence of less than a year, though there are those who are kept longer there. There are, on average, about 10,000 detainees and inmates in its ten main buildings, and a staff of almost as many corrections officers. Its only access is a causeway across the East River.

Filming isn’t allowed at Rikers, so Production Designer Lester Cohen, based on our research there, designed and had built a large set on a stage.

It included about 40 cells on two levels, a central Officers’ Command Post, communal bathroom, TV room and hallways, all linked with a network of barred sliding gates. We called it The Annex, and spent several weeks shooting there.

Since this particular scene is the first time Naz — and we — are seeing the place, I wanted to use as much of it as possible, and to experience it as Naz would.

This meant filling it with all the “inmates” and “corrections officers” we had — about 60 of them — engaged in various activities as Naz and the other new detainees are led through it by an officer to their assigned areas.

The main shot is one continuous Steadicam shot, operated by Ben Semanoff, that closely follows Naz from the moment the gate opens, all the way through to him sitting down on his cot, with the sort of swirl of activity and looks from the other inmates around him.

Normally a shot faces in just one direction, but since this one looks in all directions, the entire place needed to be lit by Director of Photography Igor Martinovic.

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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