A chaotic precision sets the tone for ‘Euphoria’

The “Euphoria” kids are older but no wiser in the second season of the teen drama, and cinematographer Marcell Rév was determined to reflect that.

“First thing I wrote down after talking to Sam [Levinson, the HBO series’ producer/writer/director] about season 2 was ‘every scene or image should feel like a piece of broken memory, an echo of something we wish for or imagine,'” Rév says via video call during a visit to his native Hungary. “‘There has to be a sense of incompleteness, something distant, broken, but familiar.'”

This aesthetic reaches its exponential extreme in the penultimate episode of the season, “The Theater and Its Double,” for which Rév was nominated for an Emmy. In it, East Highland High School’s only “good” girl, Lexi (Maude Apatow), performs her semi-autobiographical play “Our Life” to a full audience. Her best friend Rue (Zendaya), sister Cassie (Sydney Sweeney), idol Maddy (Alexa Demie) and insecure jock Nate (Jacob Elordi) are amused or outraged when they watch classmates act out their drug-obsessed, sex-charged staff dramas.

Rév’s cameras make emotionally charged movements between the action on stage, reactions in the seats, past incidents that shape Our Life, and events that take place off campus.

“We tried to combine these things in a way that still made sense, but you can’t always decide where you are,” says Rév. “For example, we used camera movement to connect scenes in Rue’s bedroom to what you can tell isn’t her bedroom but a set on the theater stage, and then she watches the scene unfold from the audience . Another similar trick was the mirror gag when you think you’re in Cassie and Lexi’s bathroom; We go on stage through the mirror and look at Lexi from behind as she talks to the audience.”

Rév used more mirrors for a Magritte-inspired shot of Nate looking at the back of his head, one of several visual art references scattered throughout the season (Rév studied at the Budapest University of Theater and Film Arts, where he attended a master class occupied the late Vilmos Zsigmond). Frantic behind-the-scenes deals were inspired by Bob Fosse’s 1969 film Sweet Charity; like everything at EHHS that was shot on sets built for camera movement in the plumb in West Hollywood. These remarkably energetic, sometimes dimly lit driving shots were shot with dollies, cranes and hand-held cameras. Despite the chaotic precision achieved in such scenes, no steadicams were used during the season.

The most talked about visual move of the season was shooting on 35mm film stock, most notably Vision3 500T and Ektachrome inversion, which Levinson and Rév persuaded Kodak to revive. The odd colors and contrasts created when Ektachrome is cross-processed (like negative stock) proved perfect for the flawed memory flashbacks that are so much a part of Season 2.

For this episode, however, Rév used ektachrome sparingly, mainly for scenes in the glowingly lit house of soulful drug dealer Fezco (Angus Cloud) and traumatic flashbacks Lexi has of times the sisters spent with their drunken father. The stage show had to be shot on fast, sensitive Vision3.

“For the most part, stage lighting has a more direct, harder quality,” notes Rév. “Lots of followers, profile lights or spotlights hitting the actors’ faces, which isn’t really what you’re used to in contemporary cinema. But I really enjoyed this freedom to go in and do some grosser lighting. It’s a bit more old school.”

Rév’s cameras also took a classic approach to the play’s big, climactic production number, in which underdog boys twirled around a gym to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.”

“To be honest, that was the most straightforward part of this episode for us,” says Rév. “We got the choreography from Ryan (Heffington, also this season’s Emmy nominee) early on, and we just wanted to be in all the right spots at the right angles with the right camera moves for every beat of it to make it so spectacular and fun as can be.”

OK. But there must have been tricks to filming the stunning arrival of a huge punching bag penis, right?

“Yes,” Rév concedes. “We really needed that foreground; coming in from above, blocking the actor with it, then cropping to the long shot and revealing what it is. This is how you tell a joke, add some excitement to it, and then reveal the gag. That’s how I think a good TV director would direct this thing. They probably wouldn’t have three days and the resources I have for that, but a live TV director would do it something like this.”

Rév is quite unassuming for a man whose work is often considered the most artistic on television.

“Sam and I have good shorthand,” he says. “It’s also a dream relationship for a DP. He involves me as soon as he knows what he’s up to, I find out about the project before he writes it. And of course he’s a very visual director. Some of what people are probably attributing to me is sometimes already in the scripts.

“We get most of the resources we ask for, we shoot what we like, it’s fun to shoot, it’s a good set that I’m working on with a lot of very talented people. And I’m nominated for an Emmy? What more could I ask for?”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-08-09/euphoria-director-photography-marcell-rev A chaotic precision sets the tone for ‘Euphoria’

Sarah Ridley

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