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How did hit show ‘Euphoria’ pull off that nebulous and trippy look? DoP Marcell Rév describes the process

A still from HBO’s Euphoria’s ‘Stuntin Like My Daddy’ episode features Rue (Zendaya)

A still from HBO’s Euphoria’s ‘Stuntin Like My Daddy’ episode features Rue (Zendaya)   | Photo Credit: HBO

The Hungarian cinematographer says reality-grounded creativity and various technologies around lighting, framing, smoke and more were key in bringing the mood to life on-screen

HBO’s Euphoria tackles addiction, self-exploration and other trials which come with growing up. Equally addictive is the show’s cinematography. The first season just concluded but the visuals linger in your mind; picture jewel toned lights in low-lit rooms and a dizzying haze. Euphoria follows determined drug-user Rue (Zendaya) who returns from rehab with no intention of staying clean. She strikes up a friendship with fellow high-schooler Jules (Hunter Schafer) and we observe their shifting relationships with reality.

Speaking with one of the show’s cinematographers Marcell Rév he reveals he worked on four episodes out of the eight: the pilot, part of ‘Stuntin’ Like My Daddy,’ ‘Made You Look’ and ‘Shook One: Pt II’ before moving on to other projects.

Cinematographer Marcell Rév

Cinematographer Marcell Rév   | Photo Credit: Sandor Fegyverneky

The Hungarian, who’s currently in Europe shooting Léa Seydoux-starrer The Story Of My Wife, explains it was no easy journey to achieve the look and feel of the final result but the entirely collaborative process was truly a satisfying one.

Excerpts:

Can you talk about how you came to work on ‘Euphoria’?

I had worked with Sam Levinson, the showrunner, writer and director for most of the episodes, on a film from the previous year Suki Waterhouse-starrer Assassination Nation (which premiered at Sundance Film Festival). When we finished that, he was already talking about Euphoria and we were trying to figure out how it would look and the world of Euphoria. He actually hadn’t finished with the script yet, but he had an idea of what he was going for.

Did you look to the original Israeli series by Ron Lesham for reference?

I’ll be completely honest, I haven’t seen it! It was on purpose, I didn’t want it to influence me and I think Sam wanted to change a lot of things; it’s more like a personal work for him than an adaptation. HBO bought the license but I think the original had a completely different storyline and set of characters.

What was your and Sam’s collaborative process like during ‘Euphoria’?

We started prep pretty early on and it’s during those moments where you share ideas and images, books and other movies. These are long conversations. We narrowed it down to a reel of where your project is heading, seeing what works and what doesn’t. Every time I work with Sam, I discover a lot about myself and about film-making too.

Of course, we started to scout. Production designer (of four episodes) Michael Grasley was also involved pretty early. After the pilot we built most of the interiors on stage, so the three of us started to figure out the main sets of the show.

A still from HBO’s Euphoria’s ‘Made You Look’ episode with Nate (Jacob Elordi)

A still from HBO’s Euphoria’s ‘Made You Look’ episode with Nate (Jacob Elordi)   | Photo Credit: HBO

How did you balance the psychedelia and the realities of the world of these high schoolers? How did you finalise on the framing?

We wanted to have something that was grounded in reality but, at the same time, as Sam phrased, wanted to give teenagers a show of what they imagine for themselves, how they would see themselves in a show. There is a lot of technical stuff you have to figure out in terms of cameras and lenses, lighting style, colours as well as the amount of haze or smoke, we had to plot how the camera would move, etc.

So basically the visual language of the piece that consists of lot of small technical decisions. We wanted it to feel real but not in a way you would normally call realist, more like an emotional realism. That allows you to be a little more courageous in terms of style.

You’re telling the stories of these different characters (macho jock Nate, drug addict Rue, lost soul Cassie, sexually experimental Kat and more) whose lives all collide in this singular and messy world. Did their narratives drive any cinematography?

We wanted to create a coherent world first as a main approach. In that same world, we dramatised each and every scene… not really by character because the production design was going by character, which came naturally.

The rest is dramatising the scenes and helping with photographic ideas to make it more efficient.

A still from HBO’s Euphoria’s ‘Shook Ones Part II’ episode with Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer) at the carnival

A still from HBO’s Euphoria’s ‘Shook Ones Part II’ episode with Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer) at the carnival   | Photo Credit: HBO

The light (and sometimes absence of it) is a major element in these visuals, too! It keeps shifting, especially during these hazier parts. Was lighting controlled in real time?

Interestingly, in post-production, we didn’t do a lot in that aspect. To get more technical, we had a lookup table (LUT), provided by the show’s colorist Tom Poole, which we see on the set and it is used to determine the colours and contrast with which a particular scene or frame will be displayed in its final form.

What we saw on set was pretty close to what ended up on the scene. So, yes, it was controlled on the set.

That said, how experimental did you get with the cinematography? Was there something new you tried which you haven’t done before?

I’m just trying to help directors create something they want and not push my own wild imagination [laughs] but I enjoy experimenting. Sam is someone who was really encouraging and pushing everyone to go as far as they can with their imagination, and I was also pushing him. It was a good force of experimentation.

But this show only works when it’s grounded in reality; we said to ourselves, ‘we can allow ourselves everything within the emotional realm of the characters.’ So if it’s driven by an emotion, you can be really brave and we tried to be.

I loved the music of ‘Euphoria’, all thanks to British musician Labrinth. In the show, the visuals, the sound and the music come together in this world. Did you stylise your work in that sense to suit the music?

I love the music too! Sam and I were also kicking around ideas and listening to music. Some of them end up in the show, some don’t. Plus Labrinth was working simultaneously while we were shooting, so sometimes while we would ride to set, we would be listening to all that in the car and it was inspiring. I wouldn’t say we were designing or choreographing shots for the music except for the last episode which was done by Adam Newpart-Berra.

A still from HBO’s Euphoria’s ‘Made You Look’ episode. The still sees a split screen scene of Jules (Hunter Schafer) and Nate (Jacob Elordi)

A still from HBO’s Euphoria’s ‘Made You Look’ episode. The still sees a split screen scene of Jules (Hunter Schafer) and Nate (Jacob Elordi)   | Photo Credit: HBO

Speaking of Adam and the other DoPs, how did you guys engage continuity between the episodes?

Most of it was led by Sam so most of the communication was between him and the DoPs. But mostly we set up in the first four episodes we’d set up a world. Drew Daniels, Adam Newpart-Berra and André Chemetoff took it to another level and they did such a great job.

Do you have any favourite scenes or episodes?

Visually, I’m really proud of episode four; the carnival episode ‘Made You Look’... it was a technically challenging and also rewarding episode. The split-screen sequence in episode three and also in that same episode the scene where Rue takes pictures of Jules in her room; it’s a simple but deeply emotional and honest scene and Z and Hunter are just so good in it.

Naturally there are emotionally difficult subject matters here. What did you observe in terms of the actors’ approaches to these issues? Were you nervous prior to the show airing?

The fact that the cast was this young made the topics more sensitive. But the actors were so mature and professional; I was so impressed. For any sexual subjects, HBO has an intimacy coordinator who’s constantly present and helps communicate with the director and the actors. And when you talk about these issues in a profound and direct way, that’s the best way to approach these subjects in a safe zone.

I, like I guess everyone involved, was nervous before the show aired but now I’m pretty happy with what it is. Of course there are people who don’t agree with what I would call the subject matter of the show, but that’s more like a political or ideological issue not a quality matter and it also proves its importance.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 4:12:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/exclusive-interview-marcell-rev-cinematographer-of-hbo-tv-series-euphoria/article29100638.ece

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