Vince Marcello, co-writer and director of “The Kissing Booth 2,” knew he needed an opening scene that quickly updated fans of the original with what Elle (Joey King) did over the summer after high school sweetheart Noah (Jacob Elordi) graduated and left for Harvard. Adding to the degree of difficulty: Marcello had to create visual references to Los Angeles in the sequence, even though the sequel, which hits Netflix on July 24, was shot in South Africa.
“The idea I had was to acquaint you with the character in a really fast way that was fun, energetic and exciting,” explains the director, who used snapshots of time — Elle at the beach, watching TV and working on her college essay — as the couple try to maintain their relationship from afar.
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Marcello called on cinematographer Anastas Michos, who framed the first film, to deliver his vision — a flurry of images mixed with music and voiceover. Michos calls the director a master of montage. “He understands cinematic pacing. One question I always asked him, because he’s also a musician, was the rhythm of the scene. A shot always has a beginning, middle and end. A montage has a beginning, middle and end.”
Michos set out to enhance the snappy look of the previous film. He used a Panavision XL2 camera with primo lenses that helped the colors pop. For budget reasons, he says, he shot in higher resolution to deliver an image that would be easier to work with in post. “We shot in 6K [instead of 4K], framed for 5K, and Marcello could manipulate whatever shots he needed to later. A key moment in the opening montage was how to feature the Hollywood sign that was so iconic in the first film, as the spot where Elle and Noah first make love. Long conversations were held about how to include it in the sequel.
The vignette was partially shot at an abandoned airport in Cape Town, and was a collaborative effort among Michos, production designer Moore Brian (“Iron Man”) and VFX supervisor Jonathan Alenskas (“Jupiter Ascending”).
Marcello and Michos agreed the shot required the soft light of magic hour to best capture the moment and memory of the place. Alenskas was tasked with creating the effect. And, Michos says, “I told Moore Brian how much sign and grass I needed for the sequence.”
Back in Los Angeles, Michos had used a drone, flying an Alexa Mini, to capture the landmark. He shot Elle on a special VFX plate at the airport in South Africa as she looks at her phone and thinks of texting Noah. In the film, she appears with the Hollywood sign in the background.
“Through the magic of visual effects, we had Joey King in South Africa and had it appear as if she were in L.A.,” Michos says.
Marcello, who notes that fans on Twitter had called for an update on Elle, sees the shot — and the montage — as the best way to quickly deliver the goods. “[It’s] a great reveal and calls back the first film in a fresh way,” he says. “I didn’t want it to feel like something we had done before.”