Fox got off to an action-packed start in 2021 thanks to the new seasons of 9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star, and Lone Star did more than just pick up where it left off. By delivering everything from a runaway tank to a volcano to a food truck swarmed with scorpions to escape lava over the course of just the first couple of episodes, 9-1-1: Lone Star made it clear that the emergencies were going to be even bigger and wilder in Season 2 than they were in Season 1, and that's saying something.
So, how did the 9-1-1 spinoff manage to raise the stakes, increase the scale, and build the tension in the crisis scenes despite new challenges? 9-1-1: Lone Star cinematographer Andy Strahan opened up about how Lone Star is approaching and upping the ante in Season 2. The second season so far has delivered danger on grand scale, like with the wildfire that required the services of the 9-1-1 crew to create the first big 9-1-1/Lone Star crossover, but also on a more enclosed scale with limited space like with the woman trapped in her nightmarish food truck between lava and scorpions.
Speaking with CinemaBlend, Andy Strahorn explained how cinematography allows for the creation of the sense of "impending fear" and more in Season 2:
One thing that the general feeling of the show was, and is today, is that the characters play the space. So what does that mean? That means that they love the idea that whether you're a firefighter or a person in trouble, you're playing the environment. You go here, you jump here, you come over here, you do this, you do that. And so it forces an interesting scenario from a lighting aspect of, 'Okay, how do I create that atmosphere of a sense of weight to it, and impending fear, but at the same time, allowing flexibility for the actress to start on this tabletop, then jump over here, then cross over here, and then do that all within the same shot, and lighting for that. So, you know, that's the interesting thing that it sometimes becomes a bit of a Tetris mix of trying to go 'Well, how do I do this? How do I light something pragmatically, but at the same time, it has a sense of feeling that is Lone Star?' So, it does take a little bit here and there sometimes to wiggle around, and to work that out. But in some ways, you know, it's a challenge that traditionally you wouldn't have to normally do if you weren't moving the camera as much.
Something is pretty much always happening on 9-1-1: Lone Star, especially during one of the emergencies that requires the heroics of the first-responders of Austin. Whether that means the firefighters are on the scene or the paramedics are ready to provide aid or the 911 operators are trying to solve some truly bizarre problems with limited resources, Lone Star gets creative in building the atmosphere to guarantee some sky-high stakes for everybody involved.
Fortunately for the characters of 9-1-1: Lone Star, scorpions aren't usually much of a concern when they're not fleeing lava, but that doesn't mean Lone Star doesn't set its crises in some unexpected spaces. Andy Strahorn elaborated on finding unconventional ways to create something unique for 9-1-1: Lone Star, saying:
It definitely takes kind of thinking of a different dimension, of going 'How do I do this, and light for this?' Letting the camera be free to follow the performance that is not being beholden to what may normally be a traditional approach, of hit the mark and do this and do that. So it sometimes allows the actors flexibility to fill that space. Obviously it's not always the case, but for the most part, I try to let the actors play the space and not think of the technicalities of what is happening around them. I think it works into getting a better performance, therefore better scene, therefore a better approach in getting what the showrunner and the studio wants, but also too getting something that feels a little bit more realistic. So, it definitely sometimes takes a minute there just to think about it… It’s a bit of a dance.
9-1-1: Lone Star has delivered its share of twists that defy belief, but that doesn't mean they're shot in ways that are unrealistic. The cast (which went through some changes before this season and is seemingly facing another) brings the crises to life, for better or worse when it comes to the people of Lone Star's Austin. The show never pulled its punches when it comes to the emergencies that the heroes of 126 have to face, but what they've faced in Season 2 so far has been on a different level than what they faced in Season. Andy Strahorn explained the approach to Season 2:
The scope and the scale has definitely gotten bigger. Now the expectations are a lot more, so you've got to deliver. It's nice because it doesn't feel like you're covering ground you've covered before. And I think that's the challenge that... particularly what pertains to my department, cinematography, there's something exciting about going... 'How do we recreate this? And do it on a scale that is the way it's written?' So the thing that I've enjoyed about this is that every time there's a challenge, sometimes there's a bit of scratching your head in the first day of prep, going 'Well, I mean, how do we do this with smoke and mirrors, basically?' And it's just a matter of that the challenges that you hopefully succeeded in overcoming from the previous time you shot, is now, 'Okay, this is, I think, how we should approach it.' And then what seems somewhat sizable now is like, 'Yeah, we can do this.' To me, that's the exciting, adrenaline part of working on this show, is that each time you come up to bat, you're put against a challenge that we haven't come across... The competitive nature of episodic [television] in 2021, you have to keep upping the ante for that viewership. And for storytelling and whatnot. But what keeps it interesting, so you're not re-covering old ground.... So definitely, without a doubt, it seems a lot larger this year than it does last year.
For all that the 2020-2021 TV season got off to a later-than-usual start for many series and has continued with some unconventional production methods, television is as competitive as ever. 9-1-1: Lone Star found a way to tread new ground for the entire shared universe in Season 2 with the crossover event that brought a few major characters over from 9-1-1 to lend a hand.
Of course, Lone Star had to have a valid reason for some heroes to make the trip all the way from Los Angeles to Austin, and the reason really couldn't have been much more valid than the massive wildfire that required all hands on deck from not only the 126 but also the crews from surrounding states. The massive fire and crossover came in just the third episode of Season 2, and Andy Strahorn shared what went into making that massive event:
I was lucky enough to work very closely with [director] Brad Buecker and he's got a very finite sense of the tone of this show from our showrunner. And it's big scale and the relationships set against big scenarios. So working with him it always feels like 'We can do this, we can do this,' but definitely [Episode 3 of Season 2], just the ground we covered. It felt bigger. It felt like so much more layering. Just the integration from photography to effects, obviously on an episode like that, goes hand in hand, and marshaling with the great effects blokes we have... almost like a conductor with regards to placements of smoke units, and multiple layers of smoke units. We're saying right now in this sequence, we're three miles from the line, and the line is over that ridge. So therefore, this is what needs to be happening here, or we're this close to the ridge line, to now I need to feel that we're very close to the heat and all the rest of it, and the smoke. So from that end it was always an interesting challenge.
The challenge was bad news for the firefighters of Lone Star's 126 and the visiting heroes from 9-1-1's 118, but it was pretty great for viewers to watch and apparently interesting from a cinematography perspective! Notably, the episode featured a helicopter sequence to go with the massive fire, and in true TV fashion, that helicopter did not stay up in the air for too long. Andy Strahorn weighed in on the production that went into setting up the helicopter sequences:
So from a scale point of view, particularly when we were photographing the chopper stuff, you know, you have three units shooting simultaneously, when that chopper is in the air. You have an aerial unit up top, you have operated in the hero chopper, from their point of view, and you have cameras on the ground linking, connecting the characters from the ground to the aerial, in two different places. So there was coordinating all that... definitely [takes] thinking ahead and getting those pieces in, but also the tone. Most important to me is the tone. If you don't have the tone, you can watch a show and it doesn't feel like anything. If it doesn't feel like anything it's because there's no tone. That to me is the the number one thing you're always, I'm always trying to do anyway is to achieve a tonality to not only each individual scene, but the episode as a whole. And to stay within the universe that is Lone Star.
Considering that Andy Strahorn and the rest of the 9-1-1: Lone Star team is tasked with creating that tone while also recreating Austin, Texas from where they film in California, the show pulls off cinematic episodes that might not have seemed possible for television not so long ago. The wildfire for the crossover was undoubtedly the biggest emergency of Season 2 so far, but Lone Star is still delivering the heart-pounding sequences on a weekly basis.
Find out what happens next on 9-1-1: Lone Star with new episodes airing on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox, immediately following new episodes of 9-1-1. Despite being paired in primetime and the characters between the two shows forming bonds during the wildfire fight in Texas, crossovers aren't necessarily going to happen on a regular basis, but there is still plenty of action to look forward to.