True Detective: How They Did That Stunning 6-Minute ‘Heist’ Scene Tracking Shot

HBO’s True Detective is only four episodes into its first season, but the hour-long weekly cop drama is already earning raves as the best show on TV. While that may seem like hyperbole, the final six minutes of last Sunday’s episode, “Who Goes There?” did nothing to dispel the skyrocketing True Detective critical reputation.

To tell the story of that shot requires some spoilers, so if you haven’t watched True Detective Episode Four yet, here’s your chance to click away from this page.

As the episode comes to a climax one of the show’s two lead detectives, Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust Cohle goes back undercover with the same drug-dealing biker gang who almost destroyed his psyche when he spent four years with them earlier — before joining Woody Harrelson’s Martin Hart in the Louisiana State Police homicide squad.

The gang insists that Cohle prove his bona fides by joining their heist of a rival gang’s “stash,” that is, drug supply house. Of course, the whole caper goes horribly wrong. Cohle blows his cover and escapes with the biker gang’s leader Ginger as a hostage.

Nothing special there. We’ve seen that scene a hundred times if we’ve seen it once. What made the True Detective version stunning was the way director Cary Fukunaga choreographed the six-minute scene — in one continuous, unbroken shot.

If you watched True Detective on Sunday, you may have missed the amazing level of detail in that incredible, single shot. Take another look in the video below.

Fukunaga has directed every episode of True Detective in its debut season. He’s also known for the feature films Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre, both of which also included long tracking shots, known as “oners” in industry parlance. But any movie or TV fan would be hard-pressed to find a shot as complex and action-packed as the one in Episode Four of True Detective.

First of all, Fukunaga told MTV News in an interview that just getting permission to film the shot was a seven-week chore.

For authenticity, Fukunaga insisted on shooting the sequence in an actual housing project. Once he finally had permission to bring in his True Detective cameras, the next step was finding “the most interesting path, but also the most logical path” for Cohle’s escape with his bearded biker hostage.

Because True Detective is a TV show, not a movie, and is filmed at a comparatively breakneck pace, the director had little more than a single day to rehearse the shot with McConaughey and the other cast members and extras.

Then they ran through seven takes of the single, six-minute action shot before finding one they could use.

“We had ADs [assistant directors] all over the neighborhood because we had to release extras, crowd running background, police cars, stunt drivers. There were actual gun shots and stones being thrown through windows. There were a lot of things to put together,” Fukunaga told MTV. “Even the action, the stunt sequences were complicated.”

In the end, however, no tricks were employed. The six minute shot that marked the halfway point of the eight-hour True Detective season is indeed, one single, unbroken show, exactly as it appears.