High School Memories: Visualizing the Teenage Psyche in ‘Euphoria’ Season 2

Watch cinematographer Marcell Rév, costume designer Heidi Bivens, and supervising editor Julio C. Perez IV discuss the level of ambition that went into every visual detail.

Euphoria season 2: sydney sweeney alexa


Eddy Chen/HBO

Curated by the IndieWire Crafts team, Craft Considerations is a platform for filmmakers to talk about recent work we believe is worthy of awards consideration. In partnership with Amazon, for this edition we look at how cinematographer Marcell Rév, costume designer Heidi Bivens and supervising editor Julio C. Perez IV reinvented the tone and style of HBO’s “Euphoria” for its second season.

The first season of the HBO series “Euphoria” was an audacious cinematic adrenaline rush, a compendium of boldly expressionistic camera moves, intensely visceral music cues and cuts, and vibrant colors and lighting effects designed to convey the kinetic existences of its teenage characters (and, in some cases, their parents). For Season 2, showrunner and director Sam Levinson wanted to take the show in new directions, leaving behind the immediacy of Season 1 in favor of a more reflective, contemplative tone — yet one with plenty of room for the passion, angst, rage, and conceptual and technical fearlessness that marked the show from the beginning.

The mantra for Levinson’s cast and crew was not to repeat themselves, a mission cinematographer Marcell Rév, costume designer Heidi Bivens, and supervising editor Julio C. Perez IV took to heart. Whether it be through Rev’s shift from digital photography to a celluloid-based approach (one that included reviving a nearly extinct film stock), Bivens’ shift in the color arcs for each character to trace their changing attitudes and experiences, or Perez’s more restrained yet poetic cutting patterns, Season 2 of “Euphoria” is not only a stunning departure from everything else on television, but from its own initial episodes. The videos below demonstrate the high level of ambition that went into every visual detail.

The Cinematography of “Euphoria”

While Season 1 of “Euphoria” was shot digitally, for Season 2 director of photography Marcell Rév opted for 35mm film, shooting a majority of the episodes on the unique — and, until recently, discontinued — Ektachrome stock. That choice was tied to how Rev saw the evolution of the show’s style in season two. “Season one had a very in-the-moment, contemporary look,” Rev told IndieWire. “This one has more to do with how we remember things.” To that end, Rev tried to make many of the images look like old photographs, and was strongly influenced by still photographers, as seen in the video above. While many of Rev and Levinson’s references in season one came from movies like “Magnolia,” for season two Rev looked at the photography of Nan Goldin and took cues from its intimacy. “In Season 1 we took the visuals to their extremes. For Season 2 I thought we could dig a little deeper rather than broadening the horizons.”

Rev and Levinson also allowed their visuals to be more fluid and organic than in the more tightly planned Season 1, which Rev said “was storyboarded from beginning to end.” For season two, more space was allowed for instinctive decisions on set. “Obviously there are moments you have to plan because you need to plan a shot around a certain set or idea,” Rev said, “but we were way more flexible with how we approached it on the day.” That more intuitive methodology helped Rev be more responsive to the actors, which he saw as key to the show’s power. “Even in the most technical shots, all we’re doing is creating an unusual environment for the performances.” To that end, Rev and Levinson engaged in a close collaboration with the actors in which the blocking and camera positions were figured out on set based on what made the performers comfortable as well as what allowed the filmmakers to achieve their dynamic shots. “There are some very sensitive scenes,” Rev said, “so you have to create a certain kind of trust and make your actors comfortable with what they’re doing.”

The Costume Design of “Euphoria”

Making the actors comfortable was also a key concern of costume designer Heidi Bivens, whose striking clothes help define and differentiate the various members of the “Euphoria” ensemble. “I’m very sensitive to actors’ needs and requests because I can’t imagine being an actor and being that vulnerable,” Bivens told IndieWire. “I’m very responsive to them and I believe that a huge part of my job is setting them up for success so that they can inhabit these characters. It’s a constant collaboration and they can text me at any time about any costume change.” For Bivens, the challenge is to not only find precise looks that are appropriate for each individual character, but to think about the cast as a whole and how the costumes will work together. As the video above shows, some of Bivens’ most effective and satisfying work came in group scenes that allowed her to create detailed clothes for dozens of characters.

Bivens enjoyed the chance to explore a new visual style in season two. “I was excited to ride the line between the reality of the world we had established and the dream world that exists in the characters’ consciousnesses and memories,” she said. “It really freed me up to think differently about my approach.” One difference between Seasons 1 and 2 is that Bivens got bolder with her influences, which included the New York Fashion Week she attended between the seasons. “I hadn’t really looked into runway fashion when I was working on the first season, but going into the second season that became a resource.” Bivens also looked to social media — “I could sit for hours going into the wormhole of Instagram looking at what young people are wearing today” — and random images Levinson found online. With the show’s success she has found that “Euphoria” itself is influencing the way people wear clothes and present themselves. “I’ve received a lot of feedback about how the show has inspired people to embrace their own individual styles and express themselves in ways they were afraid to before,” she said, “and that’s rewarding.”

The Editing of “Euphoria”

Like Bivens, supervising editor Julio C. Perez IV takes many of his cues from how he views the real experiences of teenagers. “The dynamics of the show are structurally supposed to mimic what it feels like to be a teenager in a highly pressurized context,” he told IndieWire. Perez, who edited or co-edited five of Season 2’s eight episodes and oversaw the editing on the remaining three, found that the scripts offered more opportunities for exploring “the liminal spaces, the netherworlds between rationality and irrationality,” which placed “Euphoria” right in his sweet spot as an editor who likes to use cutting as a poetic means of expression. “There were things that were more visual and impressionistic and less about story logic, and I immediately respond to that. Ways where you use suggestion as opposed to direct language to give impressions and allow the audience to build their own interpretations and meanings along with you.”

For Season 2, Perez felt that “Euphoria” settled into a style that was more confident and less anxious than Season 1, though there were still “frenetic and bombastic” passages. “Sam had an idea for a conceptual construct that would shift for Season 2,” Perez said. “A lot of his decisions across the board — from wardrobe and makeup to shooting on 35mm — were made to avoid becoming stylistically stagnant.” For Perez, the shift in style meant showing a little more restraint in his editing choices. “There was a certain desire on my part, not to be afraid of bombast, but to have the edits be meaningful — not to wantonly edit unless there’s a certain passage that demands a cuttier treatment.” The idea was to use editing to convey the dualities of the show’s extremely complex characters. For bad guy Nate, for example, Perez was interested in balancing his evil side with his humanity. “Breaking down dualities like good and evil makes us stretch out a little bit and try to really understand what it means to be toxic or non-toxic and how someone can be very complicated,” Perez said. “I think what we’re trying to do with our visual and editorial language, and our heightened stylistic approach, is poke around these dark mysterious corners of strange psyches, where elements of them are heroic, or villainous, or mythic — and parts of them are not that different from you and I.”

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