Coming off a whoosh of buzz for its first season (plus a history-making Emmy win for lead actress Zendaya), “Euphoria” seemed primed to become one of the chief watercooler players going into a second season due to its provocative and frank look at teenage life. And then just as the makers of the HBO drama were in the process of beginning their awaited sophomore year, they were completely shut down by a little pandemic virus that we’ve all learned makes TV production awfully difficult.
“We didn’t really have a choice, so we had to regroup and come up with something,” says Marcell Rév, who has served as cinematographer of “Euphoria” for several episodes, including its pilot. “[Creator and director] Sam Levinson then decided to write something that we might be able to do actually do. And I got more confident, and a lot of what we did informed our work after it.”
And what resulted were a pair of self-contained episodes featuring Zendaya’s Rue and Hunter Schafer’s Jules, two of the show’s central characters. The first one, entitled “Trouble Don’t Always Last”, represents a concise, (mostly) chamber piece prominently featuring only two actors spilling their guts in a diner, perfect for a small crew and containing the ability to social distance and keep everyone safe. (Jules, the trans girlfriend of Rue, is the focus of the second, though she is briefly seen in the opening of “Trouble”). In what is essentially a two-hander, the former finds a relapsed Rue having a tête-à-tête with her grave, not-before-seen sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo), who gives the 17-year-old firm lessons in tough love and responsibility.
“I think what you see there is a combination of circumstances,” says Rév, “in that we were not able to shoot on, like, hundreds of locations, and unable to have a lot of actors and extras around. But we were also in the process of finding a different kind of visual language. So, this episode is a blend of those two things.”
It is a rather tranquil visual departure for the impressively mounted show and could just as easily work as a standalone one-act movie, keeping the camera very close to the subjects (strategically placed either on them, near them or just outside the diner windows), all moodily lit in the Los Angeles-based Frank’s Restaurant amid neon-lit rain slicks and puddles outside as Rue and Ali bare their souls to one another.
Adds Rév on the new digs: “We were really limited in having that one location, those new faces [including a waitress who invokes the episode’s title] and backgrounds, and every little detail gets really magnified. So, we had to carefully plan everything, as opposed to what was supposed to first season where we had a lot to work with. This was going vertically when you’re used to going horizontally.”
This attention to detail netted the relatively young Rév his first-ever Emmy nomination (he’s only 36), and if the special episodes weren’t enough to keep him busy, he and frequent collaborator Levinson crafted an entire film during the pandemic as well: “Malcolm and Marie,” also starring Zendaya (with John David Washington), released by Netflix and shot in shimmery black and white in Carmel, CA with a tiny crew and, like this particular “Euphoria” episode, primarily at night.
Also noteworthy for both projects? Both were completely shot on film, a choice that is thankfully getting more embrace by cinematographers working in TV these days. “I’m not against digital at all, but when I have the opportunity to shoot on film, I do,” says Rév, who adds that the currently-in-progress Season 2 will also be shot in the same manner. “I think it captures skin tones better than anything and that’s really important, especially with a piece like this. There’s a stock called Ektachrome which Kodak stopped manufacturing in 35mm in the 2000s I think, and we convinced Kodak to manufacture a couple thousand rolls for us, so it’s really exciting.”