If you haven’t watched Euphoria yet, you know you should. The show premiered in 2019, and shocked people with its frank and, at times, upsetting portrayals of Gen Z teens and their lives filled with sex, drugs, and…well, more sex and drugs. Eddy Chen, a stills photographer who works on set for HBO, said that the set itself can feel like high school. “It's like a big extended family, but it can also feel like being back in high school sometimes,” he told us. “And I feel like the school photographer that gets to document it all.”
Chen, who has been working in the movie industry for over a decade, shot 70% of production images of the show on film, “which is unheard of in this day and age,” he told us over the phone. His film photographs are in perfect synchronization with Euphoria itself — writer and producer Sam Levinson shot the second season entirely on film as opposed to digitally, and even worked with Kodak to make sure they had the resources to do so.
What has it been like watching the reaction to the show as the finale came out?
It's been really exciting! There was a lot of anticipation from fans of the show for Season 2, but filming was delayed for a whole year due to the pandemic. The show changed a lot stylistically between seasons. Everything was shot on film for the show, and I think I shot around 70% of the stills on film too. As we neared the end of filming, everyone knew that people were going to lose their minds over this show. Season 2 is a completely different look.
How did you get into shooting stills for movies and shows like this?
I wanted to be a photographer; I grew up in the suburbs, and I left college and moved up to LA trying to chase that dream. I remember cold-messaging photographers off of Flickr — the Instagram of the day — asking them to meet for coffee so I could pick their brain about the industry. All of the people I met up with from Flickr were photographers that had some tie in the entertainment industry. A couple of them were kind enough to take me under their wing.
In LA, because of Hollywood, the entertainment industry is so big, but it was really the people I met and the natural connection that became the route that I took, shooting entertainment and stills. We see stills from film/TV all the time, but I didn't know it was a job that existed — it never occurred to me that it was an actual position on a film crew.
I feel the same way as a photo editor! On Euphoria, what's the relationship like with the cast and the crew?
It's like a big extended family, but it can also feel like being back in high school sometimes. We've been together for four years now, since [shooting] the pilot in 2018. You see these people day in and day out, and we spend a lot of time together on set. The different departments are all like cliques, there’s the AD department, camera, grip and electric, hair and makeup, set decoration, and all the people that work in the office are like the school admins. Some people get along great with you and you create these bonds and friendships with them, and other people you don't click with at all. The cast is definitely the popular kids. And I feel like the school photographer that gets to document it all.
Who's the gold standard in stills photography?
I don't know if there's a gold standard. I think it's project by project. The needs are always so different. Stills that work for a show like Euphoria may not work for another show. But I think as creatives we're always striving to set ourselves apart by creating our own look, to be recognized for it and then hired/paid for it. I'm just hoping my photos end up on a lot of mood boards or creative decks, haha.
What advice would you give to people who are interested in starting out in film photography?
Go for it! It's easy to pick up a digital camera or take throwaway photos on your phone. In digital, you snap, snap, snap away, and if you don't like it, you delete it. With film, because it's more expensive, every frame counts and every frame is precious. It allows you to slow down and think about how you want to frame up your shot before you take it. That's what a part of it is really about — taking your time to make a cool picture before you snap away. No one's going to burn through a roll of film just shooting off their shots without thinking about it. Technically, it trains you, and it trains your eye.
What kind of style do you consider your signature or your favorite?
I remember when I first got into shooting stills on set and some of these networks would try to put you in this box with their photo standards. I couldn't do it. It was just too restrictive and worst of all you couldn't tell one photographer apart from the other. It looked all the same and that drove me a little crazy. My approach is definitely more off the cuff. I like to shoot loose and dirty (with foreground elements), a bit of on-camera flash, and most of the time my photos are cockeyed. I think the really special moments that I try to capture are the moments in between a take, whether it's before they roll or shortly after they cut. The actor is in that headspace, and if you can get a photo, those are the moments I look for — really intimate, and if I'm lucky, a subtle glimpse of themselves in and out of character.