With our launch into film, we’re bringing you the best of the best, and asking them 4 questions: how did you get here, what do you do, what advice do you have, and how are you coping during this time. Next up is Marcell Rév, the cinematographer behind White God, Assassination Nation, Paterno, and Euphoria. In this new series spanning across all of our interviews, our aim is to illustrate a map of fashion, beauty, film, and music, giving you the insight you need to get to where you want to go.
This interview took place over the phone between Tate in Echo Park and Marcell Rév in West Hollywood, Los Angeles
TVPS: Hi. How are you? How’s your quarantine going?
MR: Hi! I mean, it's fun because I get to spend some time with my family, but I'm ready to work.
For sure, and you have young kiddos. I bet that's insane, right?
So getting into it, where does your story start?
I'm from Budapest and went to film school there as well—the University of Theatre and Film Arts. It's a 5-year cinematography class. It was a long 5 years, but it was really beneficial, I had great teachers, and it was only 8 of us in the class. I think the reason why film school has its advantages is that you can experiment without any consequences. It’s a great playground.
After graduating from film school, I started to shoot movies locally in Budapest. I did this movie called White God, which went on to get a little bigger than usually foreign language movies do. So it got a little attention all around the world, but especially in the US.
That’s actually how I met Sam Levinson, who is the creator of Euphoria. He watched the movie and reached out. He was starting this new film at the time, Assassination Nation. It was funny because 10 minutes into that call, he offered me the job!
Budapest doesn't sounds like a long way from here, because in LA people are from all over the globe, but getting from Budapest to LA and working on features here was a pretty long way to go. Looking back to my university years, I wouldn't have imagined this.
Is there a big difference between working on set in Europe versus The States?
Like on a surface level? There are some differences in terms of how you communicate, how things are structured. For example, pre-production is way shorter in the US than in European movies because everyone there is local—we’ll prep movies for like 6 months, or a year. But in the US, when you go to Louisiana, and half of your crew is brought in from out of town, you have to pay for all those people, so you can’t afford that extra time. So that’s a little different, and some positions are a little different, but the core of what I do and how I collaborate with directors is kind of the same, I would say.
So Assassination Nation was my first US film, but before I started on Euphoria with Sam, I did a movie with his dad, Barry Levinson. It was Paterno for HBO with Al Pacino, and we shot in New York. It was like a dream come true.
How does your role vary from pre-production to filming to post-production?
Pre-production, for the most part, is spending time with the director—discussing scripts, just kicking around ideas. It’s less official than how it looks; they’re just really exciting conversations. For instance, with Sam, he is the writer and director of Euphoria, so he has the power to change certain things in the script. So he’ll come up with an idea, and that will morph into a really creative conversation that involves multiple aspects of shooting, not only just the lighting or the shots. He has a lot of visual ideas, so I get inspired by his ideas.
Then, of course, there are certain things that you have to lock in on, like scouting locations with the production designer to come up with options for Sam, working with a storyboard artist, hiring the crew... all these things so that Sam can spend more time on writing. He also has a really good understanding of visuality, a sense of what we can achieve with certain equipment, and and how time-consuming something will be. So that makes this process easier.
Of course, when you meet a new director, you have to establish a language between the two of you. I think a big part of the job of a DP is to deeply understand what someone wants to create.
At this point in pre-production, are you having any conversations with the rest of the crew?
Yeah, of course. So I spend a lot of time with the production designer, Jason Stewart. We’ll sit down and tell him the idea of the scene, or if it’s a set that we’ll carry for multiple scenes or multiple episodes. Then we layout the floor plans together. It’s a lot of back and forth—he’ll have an idea, come up with a floor plan, then we have another idea, so we’ll modify that a little bit, then he’ll come back with a new design. It's always an evolving conversation.
Then there’s a lot of creativity in lighting. So with Dan Durr, our gaffer, and Jeff Kunkel my key grip, the 3 of us spend a lot of time together figuring out certain lighting setups or camera moves. For example in Euphoria there are a lot of complicated lighting and camera moving situations, so I rely a lot on their creativity.
Then I’m also working with my first AC, Norris Fox. So before shooting, when I’m choosing equipment, like a certain lens or camera, I always discuss it with my first AC. Just in terms of technical questions like depth of field, whether he's comfortable with a certain lens, whether he has a better suggestion for something, certain filters, because these guys are shooting 24/7. They’re spending way more time near cameras than I do because they're not in prep. So they might have a better knowledge of equipment that I can use when choosing certain stuff.
How do you go about hiring the crew?
It depends on the job, but it’s really simple for the most part. For example, if I'm going to Louisiana to shoot a movie. I look up recent movies that were shot in Louisiana, and if I like the film, and I’m looking for a gaffer, I’ll look them up and see if they’re available.
What are your responsibilities on set?
I think it's hard to tell what my main responsibilities are because there aren't really any straight lines. What’s on the image? For the most part, yes. But when it comes to a color on the wall, partially.
What we're creating is teamwork, so my responsibility is a common responsibility with some other people. Is it my responsibility that the actor feels good on set? Yes, partially, it's my responsibility to create an environment where they can feel comfortable, and they can do their job in the best way. Also, for example, the framing is my responsibility, but also that's a common responsibility with the director. And the lighting for sure, and the camera movement. A lot of things. Then also to deliver something on time, so time management, running a set.
What about in post-production?
I’m pretty much just involved in coloring—sometimes it’s just me and the colorist, and then sometimes the director attends the color grading as well.
When I'm shooting in the US, I usually work with Tom Poole, who's at Company 3 and is a great colorist. So before we start shooting, he’s the one developing a look-up table according to what look we are going for and what kind of camera and lenses we are using. This is essential, so on set, we can look at an image that is really close to what we’ll end up with on screen. In post, we’ll sit in a dark room and fine-tune the final result. But I usually like to solve things on set, or before we start shooting.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
I think it's just important that if young people start working in this field, they have to realize that this is... they should have fun. I mean, it's serious and hard work, but at the same time it will become their life, and they should enjoy what they're doing. Maybe it's not the most fun sometimes to be out in a forest on like a cold winter night, but you're doing something exciting.
If you have no experience, and it’s your first time on set, you're maybe not doing the most creative job. But just knowing from being there before, I always try to enjoy myself, meaning that I’m deeply interested in what I’m doing. No matter what you're doing on a film set, I think it's the most interesting work environment. I think you should just pay attention because I think the best way to learn is to watch other people shoot or just to be on set.
Last question! Is there anything you’re doing during this crazy time that you’re enjoying?
In Los Angeles, we went into shelter in place the week before we were set to start shooting Euphoria Season 2. So we’re able to take more time prepping now and have a little more time on those tiny details which we usually don’t have—really storyboarding it out.
So I could come up with a totally detailed mood board and storyboard for each location and scene. And that’s a rarity, especially in television. So we have time to revisit certain ideas and let them evolve into better ideas. And you can get into the details, like really deep into the details, and let those evolve, too. I think this will also make us quicker on set because we’ll have a better plan.