Netflix’s Firefly Lane follows the story of Kate Mularkey (Sarah Chalke) and Tully Hart (Katherine Heigl), who meet as teenagers in the 1970s and become inseparable friends throughout 30 years of ups and downs, successes and failures, depressions and disappointments. Viewers witness their friendship through different decades. In Season 1, there is a focus on the 1970s, 1980s, and early 2000s, while briefly touching on the 1950s. Season 2, which premiered on December 2nd, spends time in the 1990s and 2010s.
Vincent De Paula, CSC (pictured), served as the sole cinematographer on Season 2, and says he wanted to create a distinct look for every time period, mainly from an emotional perspective. Here, he shares some insight into his work on the popular series.
Vincent, can you detail your camera package for Firefly Lane?
“We shot with Panavision DXL2 cameras and Panavision Panaspeed lenses. I introduced the idea of filming the TV series for a 2:1 aspect ratio in Season 1, as it would fit these two characters’ stories, allowing us to frame them together and share the screen.
“I genuinely think the wider screen can also be a really intimate format. You can frame two actors in a medium close-up in the same frame, you can let things play, and it allows the camera to move in a way that doesn’t force you into as much cutting. Firefly Lane is shown on Netflix at 4K and HDR.”
What was your shooting schedule like?
“We shot Season 2 in two parts. Part 1 will [dropped] on Netflix on December 2nd, and part 2 will follow sometime in 2023. In total, we filmed 16 episodes this season, and as in last season, I filmed every episode of the series, while I had other DPs coming in to do some second units for us.
How did you approach the idea of shooting so many different decades?
“It is really challenging to film all these different periods and have a shooting schedule that reflects only a specific period on a given shooting day. The 1970s were the easiest period in terms of scheduling, as we had different actors for this part of the story — Ali Skovbye playing a young Tully Hart, and Roan Curtis playing a young Kate Mularkey.
“But we had to film Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke between the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and other periods we also covered briefly, as well as all the other actors, including Ben Lawson, Beau Garrett, Chelah Horsdal, Jason McKinnon, etc. If we had to shoot them over different periods on the same day, they would have to have hair, makeup and wardrobe switched between these different timelines. So, we tried to schedule them with only one period on our shooting day, as much as possible. We couldn’t always achieve this on a TV schedule, but everyone did a fantastic job when we had to switch periods on the same day.
“There were also times when we went back to the same location that spans different periods. For instance, our 1970s location in Firefly Lane also gets covered years later in the 1980s, 1990s, and even 2000s. It meant that our art department would need time to prepare the locations and sets to play for different timelines.”
Did the aesthetic you were aiming for in Season 2 change from the previous season?
“I decided to change lenses for Season 2. We had Cooke S4s on Season 1, and we moved to Panavision Panaspeeds this season. These weren’t available for us when we started filming last season. I have used the Panaspeeds on the TV series Maid, and they have become one of my favorite lenses. I have used Panavision Primos extensively in my career when shooting with spherical lenses. The Panaspeed spherical primes are a high-speed, large-format companion to 35mm format spherical Primo optics.
“We had created a style and look in Season 1 through lighting, framing and camera movement that we carried on this season. Season 2 has some very strong dramatic moments, and we introduced new plots that required their own style of shooting. At present, I cannot elaborate more without introducing spoilers, but we focused more on solid dramatic plots this season that I think the audience will appreciate.
“One of the main differences regarding filming the series was that we built more sets this season instead of relying heavily on location shooting as we did in Season 1. Our 1970s interiors, the 1980s apartment in Seattle, and the 1980s news station were built on stages in Vancouver, BC.
“When it comes to period stories, smoke/haze also plays a part, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, COVID and other factors prohibited us from using as much haze or smoke as we wanted.”
Can you talk about the differences in aesthetics?
“I wanted the different decades to have a distinctive look, although we did not want the different periods to be too radically different. Of course, when filming a period drama, everyone interprets how these different decades should look, based on history, culture, films and photographs, and experience. But I wanted to approach these different looks from an emotional and character perspective, rather than just a period-accurate perspective.
“Transitions also play a massive part in our visual vocabulary, especially when transitioning between different periods, so we are always trying to find exciting ways to create these.
“The core of our main story lives in the 1970s, 1980s and early 2000s. The 1970s has the warmest look in the whole series. This is our happy and warm period. It is a time when our girls get to know each other and explore youth together. In the ‘70s, yellows and greens are very prominent, with milky blacks suggesting a pastel feel.
“For the characters, it should be about exploration, hope, adventure, youth, friendship and learning, creating an environment that should generally feel safe and warm. 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 the girls 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. Also, I had mainly hard and warm light coming in through the windows.
“Our characters have very different personalities, and I also wanted a different camera movement and framing approach for this period. We introduced a more dynamic feeling to young Tully’s character, played by Ali Skovbye, contrasting with a more still and isolated style for young Kate, played by Roan Curtis. It was more obvious in our story in Season 1, and as her relationship with Tully matures, they will share the frame more.
“The 1980s have a deeper contrast with a more saturated palette since the ‘80s had more vivid colors and a particular look with clothing and hairstyle characteristic of this period. Therefore, I introduced a different filtration for the 1980s using Schneider Classic Soft filters of different strengths.
“At this point, our characters are experiencing the real world, first jobs, relationships, etc. Everyone at this age has a higher energy that should also be part of this style so that the camera movement could get even more dynamic now. Here we are not so much observant of two girls growing up together, but instead, we are more participants, so I feel we have now moved in closer with our characters. The wider focal lengths closer to our subjects helped achieve that feeling. We want to feel like we are there with them, helping them transition into adulthood and the real world.
“Instead of casting different actors for this period, like in the 1970s, Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke played themselves in the 1980s too, so we were doing de-aging in post production to help sell their younger selves.
“We treated the 2000s as our ‘present’ period. In Season 1, we showed how Tully had had a successful career, contrasting with Kate, who is struggling career-wise, but is the one of the two who managed to start a family. Framing for this period is more dramatic. Some scenes feel like the framing is calling for a more short-sighted composition. Until now, we have seen our girls growing and becoming women, and we have witnessed the development of their strong relationships. Now in this period, we see more of the ups and downs of two mature women dealing with the routines of everyday life. Overall, it feels more current, and the camera movement is looser for this period. I had a subtler filtration for this period, using light Black Satin filters or sometimes none, and softer lighting coming through windows. The images have a more desaturated palette overall.”