HBO’s award-winning drama series “Big Little Lies” series has found itself the subject of controversy today over calls of network interference which goes to explain the criticisms of a disjointed and oddly edited new season.
The biggest change behind-the-scenes between the first and second season of the series was the switch between directors with first season helmer Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “Demolition”) handing over the reins to British helmer Andrea Arnold (“Fish Tank,” “American Honey”) for the new run which is in the midst of airing right now.
Arnold and several of the returnees were sold on the fact that Arnold would get free creative rein and it seemed that through pre-production and filming, that was the case. However a new report in IndieWire says that after the series successfully completed production, HBO and several behind-the-scenes executives changed things up.
The outlet says in late 2018, things took a dramatic shift as the show was yanked away from Arnold and creative control was handed over to executive producer and first season director Vallee in an attempt to unify the visual styles of the two seasons – in other words, HBO let him take Arnold’s work and recut it to look and feel more like his.
The show’s writer/producer David E. Kelley believes shows have a “unified style, rather than a directorial voice” and so firmly believed Vallee’s look established in the first season had to be maintained. Vallee was originally going to return to direct the second season, but had committed to “Sharp Objects”. As a result, they hired Arnold because they believed her directorial style was similar.
They’re not, in fact the misunderstanding is so great that some have questioned if those who took over had actually watched any of Arnold’s work. The site’s sources say Arnold was reportedly kept completely out of the loop of all this, and was given no ‘style bible’ which lays out the visual rules of the show and is pretty standard for TV series looking to maintain consistency – rather she was allowed to hire her own creative team.
In fact, Vallee and Arnold never spoke during last year’s production, there reportedly never was a showrunner or creative producer who Arnold was answerable to on set – Kelley only turning up a few times and each visit lasted only an hour. Meanwhile the show’s stars and executive producers Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman were said to have loved working with Arnold and trusted her intrinsically.
HBO also reportedly did little to interfere with Arnold’s shoot throughout production with reports from the set glowing praise for Arnold and the smoothness of production. It was only during post-production where things turned and Vallee’s own editorial team started cutting what is now airing. A little over two weeks of additional photography were scheduled in February and at that point Vallee became an extremely hands-on executive producer and reportedly dictated what would be shot.
The addition filming resulted in more reliance on first season flashbacks, and there was also removal of some of Arnold’s signature contributions with some severe edits of episodes, especially of character development scenes, resulting in eleven editors currently being credited for the new season. Sources close to Arnold tell the outlet the filmmaker is heartbroken about the experience.
Update: HBO issued a statement to the original site: “There wouldn’t be a Season 2 of Big Little Lies without Andrea Arnold. We at HBO and the producers are extremely proud of her work. As with any television project, the executive producers work collaboratively on the series and we think the final product speaks for itself.”