Season 2 director Andrea Arnold signed up to have full creative control of this season of Big Little Lies. According to IndieWire, the show’s executive producers approached Andrea Arnold about directing the second season with a simple pitch stating they not only wanted a British filmmaker to direct the entire season, they wanted Arnold’s version of the show and all that entailed. From pre-production, through production, and through post-production she was to have free rein of the show. However, the show’s showrunner, David E. Kelly had a different plan that was not shared with Arnold.
Apparently there was a dramatic shift in late 2018 as the show’s creative control was handed back over to season 1’s director Jean-Marc Vallée. The goal was to unify the visual style of both seasons to make it feel more like Vallée’s style back in season 1. According to IndieWire sources it was always the plan to bring Vallée back to work on season 2. Showrunner Kelley believes that television shows should have a unified style rather than a directorial voice, and he grew to trust and appreciate the distinct tone and visual style of Vallée.
However, at the start of season 2 Vallée was committed to work on Sharp Objects, and the creative team was unwilling to wait for Vallée to finish ultimately deciding to hire Arnold. Both Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, who star and produce the show, said they loved working with Arnold and trusted her intrinsically. Vallée stated, “We have similar ways of shooting, when you look at it. She shot handheld, available light. She aims for performances, like I did in season 1. She is who she is, but the spirit of the other is there.”
According to IndieWire, Arnold was an unconventional choice to take over Big Little Lies due to different directing styles between Arnold and Vallée. Arnold’s ability to create emotional immediacy with her raw handheld work marked a departure from Vallée’s more ponderous floating camera emphasizing the gravity of the situation. Arnold was given free rein over the show, but it was never explained to her that she was expected to follow Vallée’s style. She was never given the style bible laying out the visual rules of the show, which is commonly passed down to directors of a television series who are looking to maintain consistency between the directors style. Arnold was also allowed to bring in her own creative team, including a new cinematographer as well as her own editing team. All through production no problem appeared with Arnold’s work, but as she started working on the edit Kelly and HBO started to see a problem. Before Arnold finished her editing Vallée was brought back in and he and his editorial team started cutting the show.
The show underwent reshoots that have changed the show’s overall story and have relied more on season 1 flashbacks. These changes have involved removing Arnold’s contributions and the sixty-page scripts were trimmed down into 40-plus minute episodes by editing down scenes and removing what is described as Arnold’s character exploration. Elements of Arnold’s work do remain on screen but as the season has progressed the show has settled back into the familiar style of season 1. HBO has stated, “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.”
Fans of Arnold took to twitter where #ReleaseTheArnoldCut began trending.