Wednesday's (May 2) Code Black will have a very unexpected opening. The doctors are getting all dressed up and putting on their dancing shoes for a spectacular musical number set to Hozier's "Angel of Small Death & The Codeine Scene."
The whole cast, yes including Marcia Gay Harden, dances around the ER and sings when a psychic patient is brought in and — because of a tumor in her gut — sees the magic and beauty in the chaos of Angels Memorial. The scene looks stunning, but it was a huge feat for the actors and production staff to pull off. Code Black creator Michael Seitzman talked to TV Guide about the logistics of filming the scene, stepping outside the box and how the cast and crew got it all done in less than a day of shooting time.
How did the conversation about creating this musical number begin in the writer's room?
Michael Seitzman: Well, I go back to the documentary a lot when we're making the show — the documentary that Ryan McGary made, who's the executive producer on the show — and there's a line in it where we're seeing the complete chaos of the ER in LA County...He says,"I see beauty in that chaos," and it stuck with me. I thought what if someone saw beauty in that chaos and they saw their own version of that beauty. What if somebody looked in the ER and they saw the choreography and they took note of it and they appreciated it in a particular way?
So I brought it into the writer's room and said let's figure this out. Who would the patient be? And then I found the song. I loved this song by Hozier called "The Angel of Small Death & The Codeine Scene" and I thought, just in the title, that sounded right for Angel's memorial.
So you have the idea. What were the first steps in bringing it to life?
Seitzman: Then we covered [the song]. We recorded it with Briana Lee singing, who does a lot of music for us on the show, and we started. We hired a choreographer. Rebekah Schweitzer was our choreographer, who did a wonderful job, and she started teaching all the actors. She choreographed everything and then taught them how to do it. And we brought in a whole team of dancers and we put them in scrubs.
And the production, the art department had to change the whole ER because we wanted to give it a surreal colorful look. But we had to shoot in that ER the same day, so how would we transform it from the colorful world that it was, back to the regular world, so they skinned it. What they did was they created a new set of walls and a new set of bulletin boards that looked like our musical and laid it on top of our existing ER, and when we had to change it over to shoot our next scene, they had to pull it all down and then we shot our scene in the regular ER, which is amazing.
You shot this scene in less than a day?
Seitzman: We shot the whole sequence in about a half a day, yeah. We shot with multiple cameras and a lot of rehearsal so we could just get in there and do it. But yeah, we shot that whole musical sequence in the beginning, we shot all that in a few hours. And then, on another day, we shot the ballet sequence and that also took a few hours.
Who surprised you with their dance moves?
Seitzman: Marcia had to dance with a broken toe, so the day before we started filming the dance sequence, one of the gurneys ran over her toe and broke her toe. So she had to do all of that with a broken toe; she crushed it. I think the person who was the most concerned might've been Ben Hollingsworth, although he pulled it off, I thought, brilliantly. And Noah Gray-Cabey...he was also very nervous but they pulled it off somehow. But yeah, I don't know if anyone surprised me. Oh, maybe Will Allen Young's tango, you know, that was pretty great.
Who did you get to sing for this?
Seitzman: Everybody sang. We brought them all in a recording studio and recorded all of them. Eve Nelson, our music producer, she recorded all of them and she was a gentle loving hand for each one of them because many of them hadn't sung before. You know who crushes it is Boris Kodjoe. In Campbell's scene, I feel like I'm watching some amazing music video from the '90s.
How refreshing is it for you to film something like this because you guys sort of deal with a lot of life and death and everything's hectic and chaos?
Seitzman: It was fun. It was a relief, do you know what I mean? Sometimes we deal with some heavy stuff, sometimes very dramatic, sometimes very real and this was a let your hair down, go crazy kind of scene. It was fun and we had a really good time. Sometimes you know, I mean we're human like anyone else. We just want, you know, we want a field trip like everybody and this was a field trip for us.
This was a really fun patient who actually had like sort of very deep moments with several of the cast members, is there a chance that we could see her again later in the season?
Seitzman: No, we don't bring her back this season, but we could bring her back again in the future. We liked her too.
Code Black airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on CBS.
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