The Get Down, Baz Luhrmann’s new series for Netflix, tells the story of the birth of hip-hop in the late 1970s in New York’s South Bronx. The show depicts a world filled with colorful characters pulsating to the rhythms of an emerging musical form.
Shot on the Red Dragon and Weapon in 6K, sound and picture finishing for the full series was completed over several months at Technicolor PostWorks New York. Re-recording mixers Martin Czembor and Eric Hirsch, working under Luhrmann’s direction and alongside supervising sound designer Ruy Garcia, put the show’s dense soundtrack into its final form.
Colorist John Crowley, meanwhile, collaborated with Luhrmann, cinematographer William Rexer and executive producer Catherine Martin in polishing its look. “Every episode is like a movie,” says Czembor. “And the expectations, on all levels, were set accordingly. It was complex, challenging, unique… and super fascinating.”
The Get Down’s soundtrack features original music from composer Elliott Wheeler, along with classic hip-hop tracks and flashes of disco, new wave, salsa and even opera. And the music isn’t just ambiance; it is intricately woven into the story. To illustrate the creative process, a character’s attempt to work out a song lyric might seamlessly transform into a full-blown finished song.
According to Garcia, the show’s music team began working on the project from the writing stage. “Baz uses songs as plot devices — they become part of the story. The music works together with the sound effects, which are also very musical. We tuned the trains, the phones and other sounds and synced them to the music. When a door closes, it closes on the beat.”
The blending of story, music, dialogue and sound came together in the mix. Hirsch, who mixed Foley and effects, recalls an intensive trial-and-error process to arrive at a layering that felt right. “There was more music in this show than anything I’ve previously worked on,” he says. “It was a challenge to find enough sound effects to fill out the world without stepping on the music. We looked for places where they could breathe.”
In terms of tools, they used Avid Pro Tools 12 HD for sound and music, ADR manager for ADR cueing and Sound Miner for Sound FX library management. For sound design they called on Altiverb, Speakerphone and SoundToys EchoBoy to create spaces, and iZotope Iris for sampling. “We mixed using two Avid Pro Tools HDX2 systems and a double operator Avid S6 control surface,” explains Garcia. “The mix sessions were identical to the editorial sessions, including plug-ins, to allow seamless exchange of material and elaborate conformations.”
Music plays a crucial role in the series’ numerous montage sequences, acting as a bridge as the action shifts between various interconnecting storylines. “In Episode 2, Cadillac interrogates two gang members about a nightclub shooting, as Shaolin and Zeke are trying to work out the ‘get down’ — finding the break for a hip-hop beat,” recalls Czembor. “The way those two scenes are cut together with the music is great! It has an amazing intensity.”
Czembor, who mixed dialogue and music, describes the mix as a collaborative process. During the early phases, he and Hirsch worked closely with Wheeler, Garcia and other members of the sound and picture editing teams. “We spent several days pre-mixing the dialogue, effects and music to get it into a basic shape that we all liked,” he explains. “Then Baz would come in and offer ideas on what to push and where to take it next. It was a fun process. With Baz, bigger and bolder is always better.”
The team mostly called on Garcia’s personal sound library, “plus a lot of vintage New York E train and subway recordings from some very generous fellow sound editors,” he says. “Shaolin Fantastic’s kung-fu effects come from an old British DJ’s effects record. We also recorded and edited extensive Foley, which was edited against the music reference guide.”
The Color of Hip-Hop
Bigger and bolder also applied to the picture finishing. Crowley notes that cinematographer William Rexer employed a palette of rich reddish brown, avocado and other colors popular during the ‘70s, all elevated to levels slightly above simple realism. During grading sessions with Rexer, Martin and Luhrmann, Crowley spent time enhancing the look within the FilmLight Baselight, sharpening details and using color to complement the tone of the narrative. “Baz uses color to tell the story,” he observes. “Each scene has its own look and emotion. Sometimes, individual characters have their own presence.”
Crowley points to a scene where Mylene gives an electrifying performance in a church (photo above). “We made her look like a superstar,” he recalls. “We darkened the edges and did some vignetting to make her the focus of attention. We softened her image and added diffusion so that she’s poppy and glows.”
The series uses archival news clips, documentary material and stock footage as a means of framing the story in the context of contemporary events. Crowley helped blend this old material with the new through the use of digital effects. “In transitioning from stock to digital, we emulated the gritty 16mm look,” he explains. “We used grain, camera shake, diffusion and a color palette of warm tones. Then, once we got into a scene that was shot digitally, we would gradually ride the grain out, leaving just a hint.”
Crowley says it’s unusual for a television series to employ such complex, nuanced color treatments. “This was a unique project created by a passionate group of artists who had a strong vision and knew how to achieve it,” he says.