‘Euphoria’ Cinematographer Marcell Rév on Shooting Season 2's Most Memorable Scenes

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Photo Source: Eddy Chen/HBO

The visual style of “Euphoria” is as recognizable and exhilarating as the high school drama it depicts. Cinematographer Marcell Rév breaks down how the show evolved for Season 2 and how some of its key scenes came to be.

What did you and the team talk about when you began working on Season 2?

The big difference for us was that in Season 1, we really wanted to tap into a current-day, teenage, contemporary vibe. In this one, we felt like it should feel more like a memory of high school or something more fragmented and fractured—more like an echo of something. There’s distance between the subject and the viewer.

Viewers had such a strong response to Season 1 and the show’s visual style. Did you feel the pressure of that when you were working on Season 2?

There was definitely pressure. But we decided not to deal with it and do something completely different, to be honest—we decided not to fall into the trap to repeat ourselves or try to mimic something that we’d already done. We were trying to evolve or look in different directions. The pandemic helped in a weird way. We got to make those special episodes, which took the pressure off and got us to experiment. And that evolved into something else for the second season.

You shot on digital for Season 1 and film for Season 2. What was the reasoning behind that switch?

The first season being on digital was for practical reasons. [We shot] on large-format digital, which was a new thing at the time, and it felt like the right thing for that contemporary look. For Season 2, we could do whatever we wanted. We tested a lot [of different cameras], and it was a long process to arrive at where we ended up. It’s not only deciding to shoot on film, but then what stock to shoot on, how to process that stock, how to grade it, how to expose it, and also how to light it. We brought back 35mm Ektachrome stock, which was only available for stills and is now available for motion picture. It’s a reversal stock that we developed in a special way, which creates a very strange variety of colors and contrast. We shot about 50% of the show on the stock, which, in combination with our lenses and the way we lit it, created the effect closest to what we were looking for.

Colman Domingo and Zendaya on “Euphoria”Colman Domingo and Zendaya on “Euphoria” Credit: Eddy Chen/HBO

Because the film has to be processed in order to get the final look, what you’re looking at on playback looks very different, right?

It looked awful on the day [of the shoot]. We were shooting on two different stocks—one was a more standard stock and looks like how a set would look, and then when we switched to the Ektachrome, it suddenly became like a sitcom. It’s very bright. It’s a very flat image on the day [of the shoot] on the digital monitors. Then when it comes back from the lab, it looks right. It involves a lot of trust with the actors and [series creator Sam Levinson]. But there was a lot of testing before, so it’s not like we showed up the first day and [said,] “OK, how do we approach this?”

Your use of light throughout the whole series is so interesting. How did you go about capturing that aesthetic?

It starts with having an image or some kind of idea in your head that makes you feel something. We were referencing a lot of images, especially fine art and photographic examples with Sam Levinson, and then you try to create it. It’s a really long and detailed process. Once you’re there, the challenge is how to apply it to the actual location and plot and scene you’re shooting. You can figure out something very delicate and complicated, but if you have to do long 30-second shots through hallways and different spaces, then you might have to change your approach. Those things shape your style, obviously, and your lighting.

How did you create the visual framework that you applied while filming? 

I read the script, I talked to [Sam Levinson] a lot, and then I started pulling a lot of images. By a certain time, I would have walls full of pictures in my office. Some of them I’d take down or change to something else, and then Sam would come up with an idea and I would say, “What if we reference this sequence to this kind of visual language?” That added another layer to it. By the time we started shooting, [we were] surrounded with these images that represented the feel of what we were going for. But these [images] are not really technical references—they are not mimicking lighting styles or actual technical approaches. It’s more about how they make you feel.

The New Year’s Eve party on the season premiere was such a fantastic sequence. Can you walk us through filming it?

This was an actual location—or at least most of it. We built the hallway and the bathroom where Cassie [played by Sydney Sweeney] is hiding, for space and to get those camera angles, but the rest of it is a real location. We wanted to kick off the season by catching up with all these characters, and that involves a lot of connecting spaces and people. So that gave it that energy, but we also wanted to introduce this new look, so [we took] a different lighting approach and a whole different technical approach to it. We shot that in a little less than two weeks in that location. Then we went to the stage to shoot the bathroom and hallway sequence.

Another standout moment was the montage in Episode 4, which ended with that stunning shot of Cassie surrounded by roses. 

That image was very much influenced by Mexican murals. We came up with that whole sequence because we thought we needed a summary of where these characters are in their lives, and to have a visual representation of that. We thought that it should be something that you could capture in one frame. And those murals are like that; you can tell a whole story with just one image.

What advice would you give somebody who’s just starting out as a cinematographer?

This is a very technical and specific profession. Especially in the beginning phases, you’re overwhelmed with the technicalities of it—how to create something nice and beautiful or powerful—and you forget what you’re actually doing: making a movie that should work as its own piece. You’re not just creating images for yourself. I would say trusting a filmmaker is something you have to learn, and also understanding your colleagues and your directors is probably the most important thing. 

What’s one piece of equipment that you can’t live without?

When I’m shooting film, a light meter, but that’s a very practical item you can’t live without. I don’t have a favorite technical one. I’m not an items person.

This story originally appeared in the June 16 issue of Backstage Magazine.

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