Though he's Canadian by birth, screenwriter Martin Gero was living in New York City, just a few blocks from Times Square, when police evacuated the iconic tourist trap in 2010 after discovering a car bomb in the heart of the theater district.
"That image has always stayed with me," Gero tells TVGuide.com. "I thought about, what if they went to go dismantle a bomb in the middle of Times Square and there was a person inside that bag?"
Fast-forward five years, and Gero's vision has come to life in the form of Blindspot, NBC's new drama about a Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) who's discovered in a duffel bag in the middle of an evacuated Times Square, covered in tattoos and with no memory of how she got there, who she is, or what's going on in the world around her. She's brought to the FBI after authorities discover that one of her tattoos is the name of an FBI agent (Sullivan Stapleton) - who has no idea who she is or what their connection is.
Gero revealed how producers managed to pull off the show's haunting opening scene, clearing out one of New York City's most popular destinations in the process.
"When I was on Bored to Death, we shot a sequence in Times Square and it was pretty easy. I mean, it was nowhere near what we tried to do on this show, but I just knew that Times Square was up for grabs as far as a location goes," Gero says. "But I never thought we would be able to do what we did all in-camera. We had a huge effects budget to kind of paint out cars and make people go away. But astoundingly, with the help of the NYPD and some extraordinary army of PAs, there's not a lick of visual effects in that opening sequence. We really did shut down Times Square."
The tedious filming process began in the late evening and stretched until 6 o'clock the next morning. "That was a full day," Gero says. "We started shooting around 9 or 10 with everybody in there, with a bunch of extras and our cop finding the bag. Then we broke for lunch at around midnight, and then started shooting Jane coming out of the bag from basically 1 a.m. 'til 6 a.m. We started on all the close-ups, like the zipper and the arm coming out, because we could control 50 feet around us really easily. And then as Times Square gets naturally emptier and emptier, we would fall back wider and wider. Those final shots were shot at about 5 in the morning."
Unable to completely shut down the streets for several hours, the scene had to be shot piecemeal. "We would do, 'OK, everybody stop traffic,' which would take four or five minutes. And then we would get people to hold. Then we'd get Jaime in the bag and then you'd roll ... and then you get as much as you can. We were shooting four cameras at the same time. Then you cut, and then it takes 40 minutes to reset. So it was a real deal."
The finished sequence spans just about two minutes total, but was worth the effort, Gero says. "The show has kind of an out-there premise, I'm the first to admit," he tells TVGuide.com. "But what we tried to do is ground it in a reality. You can't beat shooting in the middle of Times Square, which is one of the most iconic pieces of geography in the entire world, and showing it off in a way that people don't usually get to see it. It makes a really exciting opening."
Check out the scene here:
Blindspot airs Monday at 10/9c on NBC.