HBO Stands by 'Big Little Lies' Director Amid Report of Behind-the-Scenes Drama

Big Little Lies Season 2 Inset Andrea Arnold - Publicity - H 2019
Jennifer Clasen/HBO; Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

In response to a report about a behind-the-scenes struggle on Big Little Lies, HBO is saying the second season of the premium cabler's prestige series speaks for itself.

"There wouldn't be a season two of Big Little Lies without Andrea Arnold," the network said Friday in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter about the season-two director. "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."

Earlier on Friday, IndieWire reported that Arnold lost creative control of the second season when the seven episodes entered postproduction. Citing unnamed sources, the story went on to say that Arnold, who came on to helm the entire second run, had her vision for the return of the Emmy-winning series "yanked away" when her cut was handed over to the show's executive producers, which include season-one director Jean-Marc Vallée.

According to production sources referenced but not quoted in the story, Arnold's work was changed after the episodes had been shot in order to visually match the style that Vallée brought to the first season. Sources in the story claim Arnold was unaware that was happening. (Arnold declined comment to IndieWire and her agent did not respond to an inquiry from THR.)

The return of Big Little Lies, which has two episodes left to air of the second season, received rave reviews and debuted to the drama's second-largest audience ever when it premiered June 10. Nearly the entire creative team returned for season two. Writer-showrunner David E. Kelley, who wrote all seven episodes based on a story by author Liane Moriarty, executive produces with stars Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman and Vallée. The team brought on the Oscar-winning Arnold (American Honey, Wuthering Heights) in place of Vallée to helm all of season two. Vallée, who won an Emmy for directing season one, was not available to return given his commitment to HBO's limited series Sharp Objects.

Sources tell THR that Arnold's deal — like Vallée's for season one — did not include final cut. As is standard in television, the director's cut was turned in to the executive producers — which in season two included Vallée alongside Kelley, Witherspoon and Kidman, among others. The exec producers ultimately had final say over how episodes would be cut.

DGA rules state that a final cut is not guaranteed to a director, though the helmer has a right to be present during subsequent cutting. Any greater rights would have to be individually negotiated by a director or their representation. (The DGA did not respond to a request for comment.)

Vallée brought a signature directing style to the first season, and Arnold was chosen to helm season two because of their similarities, which include shooting with handheld cameras and natural lighting. The exec producers were looking for someone who could mirror the signature style Vallée brought to Big Little Lies and are said to be very happy with Arnold's work. Sources describe the postproduction process on season two as a collaborative one to match season one continuity given that Arnold, who has directed episodes for Amazon's Transparent and I Love Dick, came into a project with an already existing and specific framework. This season has done that with its trademark camera cutting and movements.

During a cast panel ahead of the season-two premiere at The Wing in New York, Witherspoon spoke about the collaborative editing process she experienced with Kidman. "We fight for characters," she said of her and her co-star. "We see it through the eyes of experience with walking through the world as long as we have as women, as mothers, as daughters, as sisters, as friends. And I think all that is valuable and when I think about what women have to contribute to film, it's infinite and it's just beginning to open up and it's really beautiful."

The second season of Big Little Lies follows the "Monterey Five" characters from season one — played by Witherspoon, Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz — as they struggle to keep their big secret amid the arrival of a threatening character, played by Meryl Streep.