Awards Radar had a recent opportunity to speak to Vincent De Paula, the sole cinematographer for seasons one and two of Netflix’s Firefly Lane. For the series, De Paula established looks that take audience back in time as they follow the story of two best friends.
In a season two, which recently premiered on Netflix, Kate grapples with the painful aftermath of Johnny’s ill-fated trip to Iraq, while Tully faces a lawsuit after walking away from her talk show and must start her career over from the bottom.
In the interview De Paula shared how he utilized lights, framing, and lens filters to capture the spirit of each decade explored in the show and reflect the characters’ mental state.
Q: You shot both seasons; what motivated you to come back? What are some of the challenges (or opportunities) working as a sole cinematographer?
A: I was the only cinematographer on the show; we shot 10 episodes in season 1 and a total of 16 episodes in season 2, which is split into two parts. So, I filmed all 26 episodes of the show. It meant that I didn’t really have a lot of time to prepare episodes with the upcoming directors or scout locations properly, but we tackled this show as a long feature film with a specific look that would change between all the different timelines. Having just one voice behind the camera allows for a unified and consistent flow throughout the episodes. I did have other cinematographers coming into the show to shoot some second units.
All the directors coming in were fans of the series and knew this show very well. So it was a pretty flawless process working with them. My challenge was to prepare their episodes whenever I wasn’t filming and relying on my gaffer and key grip to pass information to me about those locations I couldn’t scout in person. There were times when I was filming in places I hadn’t even seen before the actual shooting day, and I often had to make decisions on the spot.
I always need to connect with the stories I am working on. If I don’t have that connection, I don’t think I can bring anything interesting to help visualize the story, and it would just feel like another job. And this connection is what prompted me to come back and shoot season 2. But, of course, I also had a lot of fun working on Firefly Lane, so it was pretty easy to come back.
Q: How did your approach evolve or change coming into season 2?
A: We had created a style and look for season 1 that we carried on. Season 2 has some very strong dramatic moments, and we introduced new plots and timelines, like some scenes set in the 1990s that required their own shooting style.
One of the main differences from season 1 was that we built more sets in our main stages at Eagle Creek Studios in Vancouver, BC, instead of relying so much on location shooting as we did in season one.
I also decided to change our lenses. We had Cooke S4s in season 1, and this time around, we switched to Panavision Panaspeeds. Unfortunately, these weren’t available for us when we started filming.
Jeff Cronenweth was the first one using them while filming Tales from the Loop also up in Canada, and I have used the Panaspeeds while on the TV series Maid.
I love Panavision Primos and have been using them extensively in my career when shooting with spherical lenses. Still, they are very popular and weren’t available for us last season.
The Panaspeed spherical primes are a high-speed, large-format companion to 35mm-format spherical Primo optics.
When it comes to period stories, smoke/haze also plays a part in the visual language, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. But, unfortunately, Covid and other factors prohibited us from using as much haze or smoke as we wanted.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges in seasons 1 and 2?
A: It is really challenging to film all these different periods and have a shooting schedule with only one of them on any given shooting day. The 1970s were the easiest in scheduling them together with others, as we had cast different actors for this part of the story, Ali Skovbye playing a young Tully Hart and Roan Curtis playing a young Kate Mularkey.
But all the other timelines were far more complicated from a scheduling standpoint. For example, sometimes we had to film Katherine Heigl, Sarah Chalke, and other cast members between the 1980s and 2000s on the same day. It meant there was always going to be some waiting time for hair, makeup, and wardrobe to switch between these different timelines, so we tried to schedule them with only one period in our shooting day as much as possible, but we couldn’t consistently achieve this on a TV schedule.
There were also times when we went back to the exact locations that span different periods. For instance, there were locations we covered in the 1970s that the characters returned to throughout the decades, which means that our art department would need time to prepare those sets to play for different timelines. They did a fantastic job, and sometimes, they had to work with very little notice.
When I was hired for the job, some locations had already been chosen, so sadly, I didn’t have much input on those, and some proved to be quite challenging logistically.
Q: Is there a particular scene in season 2 that stuck with you or was unique to shoot?
A: We knew from the beginning that we would tell this story over these two seasons. We weren’t going to extend it anymore, and I am happy about that. So in part 2, which will be coming to Netflix in 2023, there are unique moments towards the end of our story that felt especially emotional to all of us. I cannot elaborate more without introducing spoilers, though.
But from part one, I would definitely choose the scenes we shot with Johnny (Ben Wilson) in Iraq. We shot these in a soundstage at Bridge Studios in Vancouver. I had to recreate a very hot, surreal, and harsh environment that should feel believable to the viewers as an exterior in Iraq. We didn’t have the biggest stage, as Vancouver was so busy at the time, and I needed to have enough height to rig my general ambiance light and be safe for an explosion we had for those scenes. I also had a few 20Ks in lifts that I could be moving around and several sky panels 360s, the 60s, etc.
I used a lens baby and a very shallow depth of field to help compress the background, and it was very appropriate for the very emotional scenes we were filming.
We had to come up with a plan for all these scenes quickly, as we were originally going to shoot all of them at the end of our schedule in an exterior location miles away from Vancouver, but it was decided to film them earlier on in a stage. The art department did an amazing job at putting all the pieces together in a very limited time.
Q: The show jumps between decades, each with a distinctive look. Which decade was your favorite to shoot and why?
A: I have a very special connection with the story we are telling in the 1970s, and of all the timelines we covered on the show, I would probably pick this one as my favorite to shoot.
I really like the overall look of this timeline; Of course, when filming a period drama, everyone has their own interpretation of how these different decades should look based on history, culture, films, photographs, and experiences. There are lots of references to look at. But I wanted to approach these different timelines from an emotional and character perspective rather than just a period-accurate perspective.
The 1970s has the warmest look in the whole series. It is our happy and warm period. This is a time when our girls get to know each other and explore youth together. Yellows, oranges, and greens are very prominent colors for this period, with milky blacks suggesting a pastel feel. It should be the time that the girls would always look back to, their special moment, dreaming about an amazing life ahead of them, before they would grow to experience the reality of life. To help achieve this overall tone for this period, I had stockings in the lenses and an 81EF filter at all times. As a result, a hard and warm light was almost always coming in through the windows.
As both characters have very different personalities, I also wanted a different approach for our camera movement and framing for this period. So I introduced a more dynamic approach to young Tully’s character, played by Ali Skovbye, contrasting with a more still and isolated camera movement and framing to that of young Kate, played by Roan Curtis. This was, of course, more obvious earlier in season 1, and as their relationship matures, they will share the frame more, etc.
Q: Visually, is there anything you are excited for viewers to experience this season?
A: Similarly, to season 1, I think the viewers appreciate these different looks throughout the show and all the transitions we also play, mainly when switching timelines.
We introduced some scenes that play in three new decades this season, and I think the audience will also appreciate them.
Q: Are there any projects you are currently working on that you would like to share?
A: After wrapping the series, I had a few offers in both the US and Canada, but I chose to join the team of the DC comics TV series The Flash as they were about to shoot their last season ever, and I wanted to explore more of this superhero genre and bring my approach to it.
I wanted to adjust the visual style for this final season by making subtle changes from a pre-established palette.
It’s unusual for me to join a show that already has an established look.
I usually like to start a show and create that look, but I thought it was an excellent opportunity to elevate the show and be creative with this genre. I’m currently prepping episode 10, and so far, it has been a great experience.
I like to switch between TV and features, so I will probably aim to shoot a feature film after The Flash.