Tuesday night’s episode of NBC hospital drama “New Amsterdam ” features an extended opening scene shot in one long take — an extremely rare occurrence in the television world.
“I’ve never done it before, though there have been very famous examples of [long single-take scenes] including [the movies] ‘Touch of Evil’ and ‘Birdman,’ ” says Peter Horton, who directed the episode (entitled “Righteous Right Hand”). “It’s basically the full act with bookended scenes on each side … done in literally one take with no tricks.”
The seven-minute scene opens with Dr. Lauren Bloom (Lisa Montgomery), still battling a debilitating leg injury from last season’s deadly ambulance crash, hobbling into New Amsterdam’s nearly empty ER for an early-morning shift (a digital clock reads 5:05). Just as she’s pouring herself a cup of coffee, all hell breaks loose as the bloody victims of a church bus crash are wheeled into the emergency room by paramedics. “As the chaos builds Bloom starts to get lost in the adrenaline and her [leg] pain recedes,” says Horton. “It’s really about her being herself and getting this experience from her perspective.
“She’s the hub of the wheel around which we spin.”
The scene is eight pages long, and Horton says he and series creator David Schulner both had the idea to shoot it in one take after reading Erika Green’s script. “To do that in the traditional coverage, eight pages would usually take at least a full day,” Horton says. “We got it done in six hours. There would have been multiple [camera] cuts, gurneys coming in, medical things being checked … a rapid-fire, edited version of the scene.
“It wouldn’t have been as immersive as this,” he says. “The whole fun of directing for me, frankly, is finding a way to have the camera tell a story inside the scene.”
The cast and crew shot the opening ER scene nine times. “It was going perfectly on Take 8 when, right in the middle of the scene, the camera swung over and there was an extra standing right in front of the lens,” Horton says. They pulled it off flawlessly on the ninth take.
“We went out there having a couple of exit points if I needed them, like having people cross in front of the camera, little tricks like that, just in case,” Horton says. “We rehearsed it for five hours, kind of like learning how to play a piece on the piano, starting with the first patient then practicing with the first patient leading into the second patient, etc.
“At one point we were seriously threatening to wear Janet [Montgomery] out,” he says. “She was really nervous about getting to the end perfectly in each take and then blowing a line, but she just nailed it and at the end everybody just cheered. We all gathered together afterward — the cast and crew, and everybody had this moment to celebrate.”
Horton says the two scenes of Dr. Bloom in the coffee room — which bookend the frenetic action — were shot separately.
“They were done more traditionally,” he says. “We did three takes at the very end where she drinks the coffee and smiles in a traditional way, to herself. Then we said, ‘Do one to the camera and break the fourth wall,’ and that’s the one we used.”
“New Amsterdam” airs 10 p.m. Tuesday on NBC.