Despite all the deception and intrigue in the episodes of HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” it would seem as if the best drama surrounding the series is behind the scenes. After reports of Season 2 director Andrea Arnold losing control of the series in light of Season 1 helmer Jean-Marc Vallee stepping in to take over, many fans were upset that a series about women dealing with imposing and controlling men would mirror that drama behind the scenes, as well.
Now, thanks to Deadline, HBO programming president Casey Bloys has opened up about what really went on behind the scenes, hoping to mitigate the damage done by the earlier report. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much to ease the minds of people who think Arnold was set up in an unfair situation.
“There’s a lot of misinformation around that subject,” explained Bloys. “To clarify a couple of things. There would not be a second season without Andrea. We’re indebted to her. She got an extraordinary performance out of the cast. As anyone who works in TV knows, the director doesn’t have final creative control. That creative control was taken from a director is a false premise.”
He added, “Typically a director turns in a director’s cut to the showrunner and producing team who hone the episode. That’s what happened here. The other thing I would clarify is that Jean-Marc Vallee didn’t unilaterally decide to take over the process. Andrea did director’s cuts for all seven episodes, and handed them into the showrunner and producing team.”
Bloys would go on to say that Arnold was aware of the situation beforehand and actually had dinner with Vallee before production, going over scripts, and presumably what the season would look like.
The HBO executive continued by saying there is a group of editors that works on “Big Little Lies” that was handpicked by the Vallee. He said, “For Andrea to do her director’s cut, and then when they were turned over to the producing team. When they went to Jean-Marc, he is an editor and has a team of editors he works with. He’s particular as to who he works with.”
So there you have it. HBO says that Arnold knew the situation and was never given “final creative control.” Of course, the earlier report said that Arnold was told she would have control to bring her vision to the project. And unfortunately, for HBO, at least some of the evidence seems to point to the latter.
The part of the story that HBO doesn’t mention and is seemingly fairly important is the change in Director of Photography. Of course, in Hollywood, there are no absolutes, but it is fairly common for “hired gun” TV directors to inherit a crew that has worked on the series for much of the run to ensure some sort of continuity. However, for ‘BLL’ Season 2, Arnold changed the crew, including bringing in Jim Frohna as the new DP. He worked with Arnold previously on the shows “I Love Dick” and “Transparent.” It’s clear that the director brought him on because she enjoyed his work and wanted to have his look on ‘BLL.’
If HBO and Vallee wanted to let Arnold know that her control was limited, then it would stand to reason that they would have let Vallee’s DP, Yves Bélanger, work on Season 2. Yes, he went with Vallee to “Sharp Objects,” and might have been unavailable. If that was the case, then why not bring on someone that Vallee trusted, as he did with the army of editors?
At the end of the day, it would appear HBO and Arnold are involved in a he said/she said situation with no real answers. However, if we were to speculate, it would appear that Arnold thought she had some sort of creative control over the production of the series, bringing in her own crew and whatnot. And even if she was told that she didn’t have final cut or complete creative freedom, it appears that any control or freedom was taken away immediately once she turned in her director’s cut and Vallee was brought on to edit and control the reshoots. Which, if true, would be pretty crappy, but not completely out of the norm in the TV world.
But what about Season 3? Yesterday, we reported that Nicole Kidman seemed interested in the possibility of new episodes if everyone returned. When asked about this possibility, Bloys had some fairly definitive thoughts but allowed a bit of wiggle room.
“To me on the face of it, there’s no obvious place to go, but this is an extraordinary group of actors and producers, and if they said ‘we have the greatest take’, I’d listen to them. I’d be open,” he concluded.
After the drama and the high budget the series demands, maybe HBO is willing to let “Big Little Lies” fade away. Or maybe the ratings and publicity are just too good to pass up. Let’s just not bet on Andrea Arnold returning.