Filming in the SF County Jail

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If you’ve been following us on social media, you’ve probably seen some of the images from our last shoot where we filmed inside the San Francisco Jail Kristian Aspelin was housed. We thought it’d be great to walk you through the process and let you know what this experience was like for us.

As with any location like this, you need permission to film there; so we reached out to the SF County Jail asking if it was a possibility. The process was actually pretty easy; mostly just answering questions about our production and why we wanted to film there. Once we told them about In A Moment, the police department needed to run background checks on the crew. We all passed with flying colors, obviously, and were able to set up a date. All in all, from initial contact to getting permission, it was a 3-week process. Not bad!

Our escort at the jail took us to what they call a “pod” which is, essentially, a modern style jail. Basically we were going into a very large 2-story room where the inmates live. The bottom floor is all open air and is reserved for those inmates who have proven they can live in that environment without causing any problems. The top floor is made up of cells with bulletproof glass and two men per cell. They house the inmates that are considered more high risk and not suitable for general population. A staircase connects the top and bottom floors. There is a command center in the middle that looks a lot like something you’d find on “Star Trek”.

Inside the “pod” we were in the general population. It was quite obvious though, with our street clothes and film gear, that we weren’t inmates. The police officers let the inmates know who we were, and that they weren’t allowed within 20-25 feet of us. Aside from a few harsh stares from inmates, we felt very safe and there were no problems. Now for the question everyone wants to know…”what was it like?” Quite simply, it was unique. At first, it was very much “ok, here we are…in a jail”. It was as clean as a jail can be, but it smelled like “funk”. Yes, it’s a county jail but it felt a little like we were filming in someone else’s house without their permission. And there was an underlying feeling of uneasiness that stemmed from being in the general population and not knowing who these inmates were or what they had been convicted of. But after a minute or two, we got over the fact we were in a jail and got down to business. It was a grounding experience to be able to go there and film, and it was humbling. Kristian, an innocent man, spent 6 days in that facility and 2.5 hours was more than enough time for us. And even though it’s a well-run machine, it’s a place you never want to go.

This was an experience of Kristian’s we really wanted to capture for the documentary. We are very thankful to Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and the staff at the San Francisco County jail for allowing us to film there.

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