Cinematographer Marcell Rév On Cultivating The “Emotional Realism” Of ‘Euphoria’

'Euphoria' cinematographer Marcell Rév
Gábor Osváth

On HBO’s Euphoria, cinematographer Marcell Rév refined a gorgeously stylized aesthetic, to tap into the interior world of teenagers struggling to find their place in today’s world.

Created by Sam Levinson, the drama centers on Rue Bennett (Zendaya), a 17-year-old recovering drug addict, following her and her high school peers through turbulent experiences with sex, drugs, relationships, identity and trauma.

Featuring sophisticated camera movement, highly cinematic lighting, and a saturated color palette, the project came to Rév while he was working with Levinson on another project. “We started to think about it almost six months before we actually started production. So, it was pretty early on, and there wasn’t really a script or anything. It was more like an idea, but it was really fascinating,” the DP says. “And we were working on [another] project that was about teenagers, as well, so it was something that we could connect.”

Hunter Schafer and Zendaya in 'Euphoria'

In early conversations with Rév—who shot Episodes 1 through 4 of Euphoria, thereby establishing its aesthetic—Levinson explained that he wanted the show to look the way teenagers imagine their lives to be. “So, it’s not really based on realism. We called it emotional realism that’s more based in the characters’ emotions, and not how the world surrounding them really looks,” the DP explains. “So, that was his brief, basically, and then we’ve gone from there and developed a vision, technically.”

While the overarching aesthetic of Euphoria would almost always remain elevated, it was important for Levinson and his DP to approach the show scene by scene, figuring out what the emotional drive of a scene or sequence was, and going from there. “So, everything, like lighting and the camera movement’s energy, is based on that,” he says.

In contemplating a color palette for the show, the pair wanted to keep things fairly simple. “It has to be colorful in a way, I think, to feel that elevation. But we didn’t want it to go like rainbow colors, or with no real system in it. So, most of the time, we’re using primary colors, and I’m relying a lot on the orange-blue color contrast, which is a really basic one,” the cinematographer says. “We use that in night scenes, as well as in day scenes.”

Hunter Schafer in 'Euphoria'

In lighting the show, day interiors would center on the ambient blue of the sky, and the warmness of the sun. In night exteriors, by way of contrast, the DP would rely on elements including moonlight, a blue backlight, and yellow tinted streetlights. “Then, of course, you have party scenes and stuff, [with] basic colors,” he adds. “Sometimes, it’s red; sometimes, it’s blue. But we try to stick to one defined color, and not be all over the place.”

In the case of both day interiors and night exteriors, Rév turned to the same kinds of light sources, including “old school tungsten lights” and HMIs. “And, of course, we’re using the advantage of the SkyPanels, and LED lights. But I think it seems more like an LED-lit show than it is, really. Most of the time, it’s old school lighting, and a lot of big light boxes and special light rigs that our rigging crew is suffering with a lot,” the DP laughs. “I mean, it’s a lot of work for them, but they’re doing a great job.”

Throughout the first season of Euphoria, camera movement is a design element that stands out. “For camera movements, we really wanted it to have a certain energy that ties the different storylines together,” Rév reflects. “So, I would say the camera movement is the glue in the show, that glues it together.”

Zendaya in 'Euphoria'

Ultimately, because Euphoria was so sophisticated in its movement—featuring endless whip pans, and sequences that track from one character, to another, to another—the DP engaged in prep, prior to most shooting days, alongside storyboard artist Peter Beck. “The storyboards are a good plan, but we were never really sticking to it. Sometimes it’s great to shoot the storyboards, but sometimes you come up with something better, or there’s something happening on set that’s a little different than what you expected, and you just roll with it,” the cinematographer shares. “We were always ready to improvise, and that’s a great feeling of freedom, when someone like Sam is really up to improvising, but he always has a plan.”

In Euphoria Season 1, one of the most stunning examples of camera choreography appears in “Shook One: Pt II.” Taking place at a carnival, Episode 4 opens with a 10-minute-long tracking shot, passing the visual baton from one character, to the next, as Rév tracks seamlessly through the chaotic environment. “The idea was to introduce a space where all our characters were present, and somehow connect them in one shot,” the DP says, of the inspiration behind the episode. “We started off in the pretzel stand, where Ashtray and Fezco are selling drugs. So, we designed this whole carnival around that shot.”

Traveling from ground level, to the top of a Ferris wheel, and back, the high-energy sequence came together through the use of a dolly, a technocrane, and four camera stitches. Given that carnival scenes comprised two-thirds of Episode 4, and the production team only had seven days to shoot them, Rév and his collaborators in the camera department had to work fast. “So, it was really beneficial to design the carnival the way we can really shoot it,” the cinematographer notes. “We set up like a hundred feet of dolly track, and we could shoot it one way, and we could look in the other direction, as well, because the set was working that way for us.”

Hunter Schafer in 'Euphoria'

Fortunately, while a lot of background action needed to be choreographed to make the episode work, getting the Euphoria cast to properly hit their marks was never an issue. “Throughout the whole show, it’s a pretty disciplined set. We had a really great, nice, young cast, who were really helping us a lot with their attitude, and hitting marks, and really taking care of not just their performance, but also the look of the show,” Rév reflects. “So, that wasn’t really the difficult part, because they were really paying attention, and they did a great job. We were fighting the elements, not the human factor.”

While every day on Euphoria presented another major technical challenge, Rév found the series to be the DP’s dream. “The whole show has an amazing vibe, [and] I think the reason for that is that the vibe on set is so great, and everyone was just helpful. There was no bad apple,” he says. “Everyone’s excited to be back for Season 2, because it was just a blast. When you’re shooting something, it becomes your life, and it was just a happy life.”

After Rév departed Euphoria for another project, his role was taken over by cinematographers Drew Daniels, Adam Newport-Berra and André Chemetoff—and from the DP’s perspective, there was little not to admire about their work. “[They] did a great job continuing and pushing even further. So, I do want to say that it’s not me, alone,” the cinematographer says. “They just continued that vision, and I’m really happy with what they’ve done.”

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