How Baz Luhrmann's Netflix Series 'The Get Down' Painstakingly Re-Created the '70s
The showrunner admits it "wasn't cheap" to re-create the Bronx of four decades ago as his new Netflix series utilizes graffiti artists, rapper Nas and Halston's archives.
The Get Down, Netflix's 12-episode musical drama about the birth of hip-hop and disco in an embattled 1970s New York City, is a project that director and ersatz showrunner Baz Luhrmann ruminated on for a decade. "I remember being in Paris and seeing this picture by Jamel Shabazz," he says of the photographer who has documented youth culture in New York City since the 1970s. The Australia-born director was inspired by the urban devastation of that era — an apocalyptic mix of burned-out buildings, poverty and violence. "I wanted to explore how these kids living in the Bronx with such struggle managed to create this art form that changed culture around the world."
Recent reports indicate that the production pace was as glacial as the project's gestation, resulting in overruns of $7.5 million an episode. "We are total TV rookies," concedes Catherine Martin, Luhrmann's wife and executive producer. "Working for the small screen was a real challenge. My husband kept saying he was so tired; I pointed out he was 650 times more productive in two years than he'd ever been." Lurhmann addressed reports of The Get Down being the costliest series in TV history with THR: "It wasn't cheap. But I don't think it's the most expensive show."
"I wanted her to look like the most iconic image of an angel," says San Juan of the Halston-inspired dress she designed for Guardiola's character, Myleen.
The task of transforming a now-slick Manhattan, and bringing the Bronx back to the burned-out shell it was 40 years ago, fell to Martin, production designer Karen Murphy and costume designer Jeriana San Juan. DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash (who is an executive producer) contributed oral histories for reference, while high school yearbooks and the private archives of hip-hop photographers such as Joe Conzo provided a visual blueprint. For authentic exterior shots, street artists including Lady Pink and Crash and Daze consulted, with Martin translating their aesthetic: "We shot in St. Mary's Park [in the Bronx] and painted all the rocks with a special solution that would allow us to wash off the graffiti when shooting was done," says Martin, who also covered walls at the Bronx's Andrew Freedman Home library in paper, which was painted on to show decay. "Mainly, we removed tons of window air-conditioner units" in postproduction.
Costume designer San Juan cast her net on NYC prop houses, vintage stores and beyond for era-appropriate unused inventory: "The Japanese are mad collectors of denim that is the bread and butter for clothes from this time," she says, adding, "It was important to be accurate, because people like Grandmaster Flash would be on set seeing themselves portrayed." For the disco clothing, San Juan was given access to the archives of Halston and Diane von Furstenberg: "The character of Myleen [played by Herizen F. Guardiola] wears a white, frothy dress in a nightclub scene. When we shot it, there were people behind the monitors with tears in their eyes." Other favorite looks are the denim suit with rainbow leather trim she created for lead character Ezekiel (Justice Smith) and brocade suits for nightclub king Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).
The Brooklyn lot before the shoot. (Photo by Jeremy Zalben)
A costume sketch of Dizzee.
Rapper Nas came on as an executive producer to lend original music to the series. "Nas was an invaluable partner as well as Grandmaster Flash, who was such a team leader for the young cast. With everything going on, I really viewed my role as a curator," says Luhrmann. "Actually, Grandmaster Flash called me a DJ because it was about mixing all these different components together." Talk about mad props.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.