Jim Frohna has a knack for framing female-centric stories that are lyrical and dramatic. As Jill Soloway’s shooter since her debut feature, “Afternoon Delight,” as well as several seasons of “Transparent,” Frohna has become a preferred DP for capturing the female gaze. So when conflicts in scheduling kept director Jean-Marc Vallée and DP Yves Bélanger from returning for Season 2 of HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” which debuts June 9, it’s no surprise that Frohna was asked by new director Andrea Arnold to join the team.
Frohna had worked with Arnold on Soloway series “I Love Dick” in addition to “Transparent,” and he had heard good things about “Lies.” When he studied the show, he understood why — both visually and stylistically — he and Arnold had been tapped for Season 2. “It was so grounded in naturalism and done mostly handheld,” Frohna says. “I thought, ‘I could have shot that.’ It played to my strengths and felt like something I knew how to do very well.”
Frohna stuck with the Alexa Mini for Season 2 but changed up the lenses from vintage Zeiss Super Speeds to Canon K35 Vintages. “The K35s are softer in a subtle way and also a bit desaturated,” says the DP, who notes that the lenses better convey the beauty of the location and soften the look of the characters, adding a degree of humanity and compassion. It was all part of a change in the show’s overall visual goals.
“The first thing [we focused on] was this facade” from Season 1, Frohna says. “The face that each character showed to the world versus what their lives were really like, or what their secrets were. In Season 2, we know that the facade is not the truth. Andrea wanted to dive in and get to know these characters and
find their humanity.”
The conversation between director and DP eventually revolved around showing the characters at moments of vulnerability. “That was an important thing to carry in our minds and hearts as we filmed them,” he says. Arnold also connected each character to a part of nature, delving more deeply into the landscape and their relation to it. Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz), who held a dark secret last season, is seen jogging among redwoods, whereas Jane (Shailene Woodley) is very much a part of the sea and sand. In one such scene from the first episode, in which Jane dances on the beach with headphones on, unaware of the outside world, Frohna’s strengths as a DP are on full display.
“There is so much plot, so many characters and a powerful and compelling, fun story, that there aren’t many quieter moments when we can connect with a character,” he says. “Andrea strove for that whenever possible, and what I so much appreciate about her is that she knows and trusts that I come to life as a DP when I’m able to do those scenes.
“It was Andrea who thought of it and then said, ‘Go dance.’”