MAKING ATLANTA SUPERFLY
As Director X is one of the most innovative and visually inventive filmmakers in
the music video world, it's no surprise that his watchword was to bring style.
He explains, "My philosophy for the entire film is everything is super fly: the
lighting, the camera movements, the clothing, the sets, the cars, the guns and
the actors. Everything you see is a little fly-er than normal. I want people in
the movie theaters to ask, 'Where'd they get that?' 'That's so cool. 'Look at
that!' It's a wave of cool stuff flying at you constantly for two hours as you
enjoy the ride."
Where the original Super Fly was set in Harlem, the new film is set in Atlanta.
Seen by many as the "capital of the South," Atlanta has seen a renaissance and
now serves as a cultural center, with a kinetic mix of music, sports, film and
television entertainment interwoven throughout its streets.
"Harlem was the epicenter of black culture," says X. "It was what the whole
world heard and thought of. The clubs in Harlem were famous worldwide. Even the
drug dealers in Harlem were famous worldwide. It was really what Atlanta is
today - if you're an artist in Atlanta and you've got a hit record, you've got a
hit record around the world. When we're telling this story for today, we're
placing it in the epicenter of today's black culture. There is no question that
it has to be Atlanta."
Silver, who spent time in Atlanta in 2016 during production on The Nice Guys
starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Goslin, was immediately smitten with the
diversity and charm of the city. "I was really intrigued by the city. It's an
incredible panorama of urban life," he says. "I really felt the energy and
excitement of the city, and the thrilling nature of the music scene and the
clubs, and I just thought that this was where Superfly should take place."
Veteran production designer Graham Grace Walker was charged with bringing all of
these aspects of the city to life on film. From the sexy Masquerade Club or
Priest's modern home, it would be up to Walker to visualize the film's diverse
backdrop. "Superfly was a huge challenge from the very beginning and thanks to a
very efficient art department and construction team, we were able to help bring
the film visually to life," he says. "In the end there are some outstanding sets
and locations I am very proud of."
One of the more attention-grabbing landscapes Walker would design is the
Masquerade club. Filmed inside the baroque-themed Atlanta nightclub Opera in
Midtown, Walker, set decorator Kristen D. Walker, and their team would spend
several weeks preparing the site for filming by integrating some of the existing
dÃ©cor into a seductive adult playground reminiscent of an eye-popping Cirque du
In the hands of X, the club becomes an elevated, fantastical circus that
overloads the senses on every level. A vibrant harmony of flashing lights,
thumping, rhythmic beats, beautiful tactile fabrics mix with luxurious shine,
glitter and smooth cool surfaces, all showcasing stunning women of every
ethnicity, sexily clad in masks and little else. Darkly lit corners allow for
more intimate interactions while dancers perform on stage. Above it all,
scantily clad aerialists perform suspended by red silk fabric.
In the original film, furs, suits, hats and sexy attire were memorable and
integral to portraying a time and place. X wanted his film to showcase an
equally timely mix of modern style. X himself brought a point of view and
opinion to each and every character's look, and to bring it about he had a close
collaboration with costume designer Antoinette Messam, translating and
integrating a finely tuned aesthetic into their new incarnation of Superfly.
From a costume design standpoint, Messam's approach is always to help build each
character with a tailored design story. While the fashions of the original Super
Fly admittedly had a huge cultural impact, Messam saw the attitude and a
rebellious independence, which resonated with her; for example, the original
Priest, played by actor Ron O'Neal, may have rocked a fur coat, silk shirts and
fedora, but it was his confidence that pulled the look off - his look helped
further the story. "One of the things that was really amazing about the original
Super Fly was that Priest was such a presence, and his look complemented it
all," she says. "That's what was important to me as I began to work on the
costume design for a contemporary audience. It was about the overall look and
tone we established for a host of characters."
An entire world of culture was open to Messam in her designs. "It was important
to me and X that the overall costume design for the film was super fly on its
own, that each look had an intent that spoke about its character while being
modern and not necessarily beholden to one place or a certain style," she says.
Trevor Jackson is well over six feet and sports straight, slicked back hair. To
augment this new look, Messam opted to give the smooth, cool character an
unexpected design story: he would have well-edited, sophisticated,
fashion-forward pieces from the likes of Phillip Plein, AllSaints, and Burberry.
Jackson's tall, lithe frame allowed Messam the luxury of outfitting him in
almost anything she pulled and it would fit the bill.
From suede Balenciaga boots worn with a Daniels New York shearling coat to a
Fear of God black leather coat worn over an AllSaints Balmorro Blazer, Messam
and her team would source hundreds of items to build Priest's wardrobe.
Eddie's ebullient personality belies a lethal strategist; his wardrobe was full
of statement pieces to illustrate the showman in him. Mitchell would sport a
Beaver fur coat from Henig Furs (the go-to furrier in Atlanta), GStar jeans, and
even a John Varvatos leopard print leather jacket.
Mitchell couldn't have been happier with the end result. "The costumes in
Superfly are super, super dope," he says. "I'm wearing everything from fur coats
to Rolexes. Everything about Superfly is over the top. We've got the whips
[expensive cars], we've got Rick Ross' house, we've got everything."
Jacob Ming-Trent was also coveting the clothes but he also saw the bigger
tableau X and Messam were creating. "Antoinette's costume design is
unbelievable," he says. "I was even eyeing some of the clothes for myself during
our fittings. The costumes, the shoes, the jewelry, it all makes you want to
live this life. Once you see the money, the luxury cars, the huge sprawling
estates, and the beautiful people - it all brings you further into the story.
Then, of course, it pulls you back - 'Oh, there's a bigger cost to this, and
it's not the price tag.'"
Due to fast-paced pre-production and filming schedule, Messam would use every
tool and connection in her arsenal to produce a layered mix of designer pieces
peppered with fashion-savvy affordable garments to create an enviable mix of
styles. This high-low approach of fashion selects would include a who's who of
fashion - Balenciaga, Tom Ford, Gucci, Valentino, Versace, and the hip label
Fear of God, alongside Zara, H&M and Topshop.
Messam was also given an exciting canvas to explore the women characters. Davis
says that as Georgia, she was able to explore a look a bit more extravagant than
she goes for in real life. "Georgia is a little more glam than me so once I'm in
her clothes, I do feel more glamorous. It gives you that extra push when you're
all done up in hair and make-up.
Messam would further the dichotomy between Georgia and Cynthia by giving them
equally sexy looks with wholly different approaches. "I love that there is a
contrast between what Georgia and Cynthia are wearing," says Davis. "Both are
very glamorous, but in two different ways. Cynthia is very glamorous, but with a
street twist, whereas Georgia is edgy and takes risks in a New-York-Fashion-Week
way. It's nice to see both of these women with two completely different styles
that reflect their characters."
In contrast to Georgia, Cynthia shows off by wearing body hugging clothes with
bold colors and sparkly bling. A changing rotation of hair colors - red, blue,
pink - accentuate it all.
One of the bigger design challenges for Messam was working with the all white
color palette for the high profile Sno Patrol. Their outlandish, in your face
style is punctuated by lots of bling, expensive luxury cars, and expansive
mansions, all in their signature color of white.
Working within the limited color palette, Messam would still give each Sno
Patrol member their own individual vibe and she sometimes found inspiration in
the unlikeliest of places. "The looks for Sno Patrol actually have some Japanese
elements," she says. "We added unstructured shapes and textures to mix it up.
You definitely have your street vibe, but I also wanted pieces that were not
necessarily urban. The color is the unifying element, but each character's
personality still came through in their costume. It was important that they all
looked like individuals, just all in white."
The filmmakers would even carry over the color motif by enlisting property
master Mark Wallace to source white weapons. Luckily, there were several
manufacturers who actually could produce white weapons for filming.
Picture car coordinator Casey Richter would round out the opulence of the
Superfly imagery with a fleet of luxury vehicles that crossed a broad spectrum.
Priest's sleek sophisticated style would be visualized by a dark grey 2018 Lexus
I500, while Eddie races his flashy silver 2016 Audi R8 Spyder through the
streets of Atlanta.
As the capo of Sno Patrol, Q rocked many high-end vehicles, from a 2017
Rolls-Royce Wraith to a 2016 Mercedes s550 sitting on custom Forgiato wheels,
while the remainder of his crew chose to flaunt their white Range Rovers and
Lamborghinis. On any given day Richter, would have hundreds of thousands of
dollars of high-end vehicles on set. For one particular scene, in which Priest
collects an overdue payment from one of his dealers, Richter had a garage full
of eye candy, including a $740,000 Lamborghini Aventador SuperVeloce and a
$300,000 Lamborghini Murcielago, I640 among others.
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