Shot/Scene Of The Month

True Detective Ep 4. - Who Goes There - "The Stash House"

Christopher TJ McGuire SOC, ACO shot the first six episodes of "True Detective", a television series featuring Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson as Martin Hart, two detectives on a 17-year hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana.
Episode 4 required McGuire to do a six-minute Steadicam shot, in and out of buildings at night.
Chris McGuire describes what was involved with the shot for True Detective.

Chris McGuire soc, aco follows Matthew McConaughey through a disused school Ep 5.

Great Show, Great Actors
The prospect of working with two high profile actors in Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and with a script that was so visceral in itself had all the hallmarks of a great show. And with the talent of Australian DP Adam Arkapaw, I knew the show was going to light up screens tuned into the HBO network.
The show True Detective, starting with a provoking open- ing sequence, was sure to deliver a provocative story set down in Louisiana. I had the good fortune to operate on the first
6 episodes of the show including the 6 minute shot in Episode 4; the stash house was to be a oner going in and out of small project houses in a domestic neighborhood in New Orleans.

Getting Ready for the 6-Minute Scene
Although the rest of the show was shot on film and with Panavision XL2s, it was decided to use the Alexa in this scene for image capture for run time and also size.
The process of planning and executing the shot began with walkthroughs discussing various things with departments to gauge the needs of the director (Cary Fukunaga). One of the things that was going to be required was to get over an iron fence about 15 feet high with the two actors escaping the melee they were leaving behind.
Initially I wanted to take a section of the fence out to enable a wipe through and a slight ramp to stay with the actors. Production did not get the approval to do that so we planned on a crane step on/off. Thankfully Paul Goodstein (Key Grip) suggested the Chapman Titan crane with a drop down arm that would enable me to step on and crane up without too much of an arc. It worked perfectly and much credit to the entire Grip department that made it safe. It was a daunting prospect to know after a crazy 5 minutes of heavy action, moving all the while at a rapid pace, you had to step onto a crane, stop moving, and totally put your trust in your grip brothers.
We also had another operator Ramon Engle who was an important part in the construction of the shot. Ramon had helped throughout the process in rehearsals and had also completed takes in the two nights of shooting the scene.
As with most Steadicam shots that involve a lot of actors and extras the first thing you worry about is the rig being hit. Spatial awareness is the most important attribute of a Steadicam operator. Having a close affinity with your focus puller is an essential relationship and I was working with one of the best, Donny Steinberg.
It’s always worthwhile to ‘walk the course’ many times to figure out where your best opportunities are to change sides and possibly pull the rig in close to get some rest.

Chris McGuire precedes Cohle in the disused school.

The Choreography
With the first part of the sequence we rush into the oncoming gang of guys approaching the house into a tight porch, where they force open the door with threats to the hostage. Getting into the house through the doorframe with six actors all trying to get through could have been messy.
Following Cohle through the tiny house to clear the rooms meant swapping sides constantly, but mostly with the rig ahead of me and all the while preparing for the whip pan into the child sitting on the bed.
The next part, following and opening the shot up for cap-turing the beats, was the most rehearsed. Many personality
beats of the gang members had to be seen and timing was the most important for all the people involved. This was a great testament to every department.
The brick through the window and the bullet hit were important to the whole pace of the story and we had to hit those beats.
The hardest detail was the reveal of the hand grenade booby trap in the kitchen. An insert could have cut the shot in two for sure, but Cary was adamant that it would carry through as a push in. I’m glad he stuck to his vision.
As we leave the first house the action develops into the transition of Cohle’s character into the protagonist and the real reason he’s there.
Into the next house and a quick moment to catch my breath, although as Cohle takes off after Ginger he throws the phone to the ground right into my feet, causing me to do a little dance to shake the phone line free of my legs. Then I was chasing after Cohle to get around him as he’s attacked by local gang members. It was important to get wide as we came around, and this made for bigger gulps of air! I knew I had a breathing rest point coming up so could dig in. The move around the building and rejoining Ginger with a punch in the face was welcome! As the characters ducked down for the gangs and the police to pass by, it was time to pull the rig close and have a split second rest.

Chris McGuire tracks the action between the houses.

Dealing With Fences
Running through the clothesline had to be a well structured segment as I didn’t want to get caught up in any laundry, so we made sure those particular garments and sheets were placed to enable a smooth transition through.
Incidentally, throughout the shot, the makeup department lay in wait to add blood to Ginger’s character, thankfully hiding well and stealthily applying.
Across the road and into the last house, catching the gang member looking down the road but not seeing Cohle and Ginger was rehearsed many times, as this actor was going to lead me into the house where other members were ‘tooling up.’ This was a rig transition across the body to ramp up speed and switch the rig in front to get into the narrow doorway and then switch again to laterally slide through the house to exit and reveal Cohle and Ginger again.
As I ran backwards with a mix of Don Juan and 3⁄4 operating it was all about hitting the crane platform safely and having another rest, before stepping off and chasing the actors into the end of the scene that was: “The Stash House —Episode 4.”

Why Needed
It was always the director’s idea that the camera would be another character caught up in the journey through the projects and would show fatigue. Personally I didn’t like that, as we all want our work to be the best we can achieve, but when I watched the shot afterwards it really was a factor in involving and believing the physicality of what the character Cohle was experiencing.

I’m so thankful of the opportunity to have worked the shot and hope to be involved in another someday soon!

Chris McGuire with the MK-V AR rig.

- Article reprinted with permission from Camera Operator Magazine Spring 2014 -


  • Writer/Exec. Producer: Nic Pizzolatto
  • Director/Exec. Producer: Cary Fukunaga
  • Director of Photography: Adam Arkapaw

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