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‘Marvel’s Jessica Jones’ Is a Modern Noir Mystery

"Our primary style and tone was that of film noir," says director/writer S.J. Clarkson of the Netflix series "Marvel's Jessica Jones."

The Netflix seriesMarvel’s Jessica Jones creates an edgy portrait of the life of Jessica Jones (played by Krysten Ritter)—one of the newer Marvel characters to emerge—as she faces demons from within and without.

“Our primary style and tone was that of film noir,” says director/writer S.J. Clarkson. “Films such as Chinatown, A Touch of Evil and The Third Man were particularly influential. I wanted to blend the style, framing and lighting of the genre with a detailed psychological study of the character of Jessica Jones herself.”

She continues, “We shot on the RED [EPIC] Dragon camera at 4K. We used Panavision PVintage lenses, which were recently re-housed, and original Panavision Ultra Speeds from the ’70s and ’80s. Old glass provided fast, gentle and gorgeous bokeh—the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the unfocused elements of the image.”

Clarkson says color also played a significant role in her episodes. “We started with Jessica’s state of mind and who she is, and tried to imagine what the world would be like from her perspective. The steeliness of her character, both in terms of her strength and resilience, and her emotional state, led us to adopt a cooler tone—slightly desaturated, with a crisp, steely blue tint that pierces through the high contrast. We were also mindful of the use of prime colors, avoiding anything too bright, as we felt Jessica the character would shy away from that.”

Viewers learn very early in the series that Jessica Jones is hardly a typical Marvel superhero. In fact, she seems to accept her unusual abilities and super crime-fighting prowess almost begrudgingly. “This was an exciting theme to tease out through the action,” Clarkson says.

Director S.J. Clarkson

“The action sequences had to feel real and fitting to [the character of] Jessica. She doesn’t do anything flashy or purely for effect. It’s a ‘get the job done’ approach, which we reflected by doing as much in-camera as possible and avoiding big CGI sequences,” she says. “As such, it was important that Krysten do as much stunt work as she could herself. We had a great stunt team who kept things real and grounded.”

Even working with a reluctant superhero, Clarkson underscored the point that, as director, she treated the Jessica character with the same care and attention she would an ordinary human. “I strove to find the nuance and detail that brings her to life and to help inform the audience about who she is at her core. The world might be fantastical, but at its heart, this series is really a character piece.”