Today in a Q&A following the show’s TCA 2016 Summer Tour panel discussion, Marvel’s Luke Cage showrunner Cheo Coker talked about how the Netflix series’ look and feel came together, how hip hop music and comic book cultures intersect, and how shooting on location played directly into the political themes it explores. “I didn’t want to speak Harlem and say Harlem without seeing Harlem,” he said.
All of Netflix’s Marvel Comics-based shows are set in and filmed in New York. However in the case of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, both of which are set in Hell’s Kitchen, shooting took place in areas of Brooklyn, Long Island City, and East Harlem that still look like the old Hell’s Kitchen as opposed to the highly gentrified modern incarnation. For Luke Cage however, Coker was adamant that the show be shot where it takes place. “It was really important to me that if you really are going to call New York City “the fifth Defender,” as executive producer Jeph Loeb did during the TCA panel discussion, “that you see New York.”
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“Harlem, particularly Lenox, that’s the only place in the city where you see those wide boulevards,” Coker continued. “We really wanted to capture the color, the rhythm of the streets, it’s so beautiful and unique up there. That’s why it’s gentrifying, people are beginning to see the value of it. You see that kind of changeover from old to new.” That plays into the show’s political themes, Coker said, with Alfre Woodard’s character Mariah Dillard “wanting to protect the Harlem of old and being resistant, but at the same time trying to put a political foot forward.”
To that end, says Coker, they filmed wherever possible in the real parts of the city a given scene took place. “We shoot in New York, we use New York for New York. We had stuff in Harlem, stuff in Brooklyn, all over,” he said.
Establishing a look and feel for Luke Cage was an important part of the production, for which Coker gives credit to director Paul McGuigan, who helmed the show’s first two episodes. “He not only talked cinematically,” says Coker, but “before he was a director he was a professional photographer. And the way he directs his episodes, whether you realize it or not, we would do every scene [as] long takes, from multiple takes over and over again. We would run an entire eight page scene almost like a play, so when it comes together it’s seamless.”
What led Coker to hire McGuigan was the director’s work on BBC’s Sherlock for the second season episode “A Scandal In Belgravia.” is I love Sherlock. He was delighted to learn how much of it didn’t rely on CG, and wanted the same for Luke Cage. “It’s just old school camera stuff,” Coker said. “He brought a very analogue perspective, analogue feel to the show.” Which ties back to those multiple takes. “What happens when you do multiple takes… they stop thinking about lines and it becomes about the emotions… [viewers are] going to expect the brawn and the fun, but I think we can compete with any show out there in terms of the drama.”
One oft-mentioned aspect of Luke Cage since Netflix debuted the first trailer last week during Comic-Con is the prominence of music, particularly classic era hip hop. Old Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” was the auditory centerpiece of the trailer, and in many interviews since, Coker, who began his career as a music journalist, has talked up how he thinks about the series like an album or a playlist. Each episode is named after a Gang Starr and artists ranging from The Notorious B.I.G. to Jidenna are featured on the soundtrack. Meanwhile, music producer Adrian Younge and founding member of A Tribe Called Quest Ali Shaheed Muhammad composed the score. Keeping with that theme, there are plans for a vinyl soundtrack album produced by Younge and Muhammad.
When asked about the prominence of music, in light of the hip hop community’s obsession with comic books, Coker says “it wasn’t as much about bringing the world’s together as it was talking about something that was already there. Hip Hop fans are obsessed and they’re geeks about Hip Hip. Comic book fans are also geeks, and when you can meld the two then you open the world up to I think communities that will just take to each other.”
So, what does Coker think Luke Cage listens to? “I had all these sequences with Luke running with music, some stuff we could clear, some stuff that couldn’t make it. I always in my head had him listening to Boot Camp Clik, Biggie, Mobb Deep, Hieroglyphics, Pharoahe Monch, a lot of the real lyrical mid-to-late 90s era hip hip, but at the same time also appreciates the west coast. [Dr. Dre’s] “The Chronic” is gonna be in there. Just kind of that era of Hip Hip, very specific as to why Luke Cage is wearing Carhartt, very specific as to why he’s wearing Timberlands”
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