Then, moving on to the story that’s been written and that’s filming now, what were those bare bones that Jeph had given you guys to start with? Did you know the conflict that would unite the Defenders?
I can’t describe too much, but I can say that we knew it had to be something big. We knew it would take something massive to pull these four characters from their individual worlds to work together, but also small enough that it felt like it existed in our world. It needed to be a crisis that brought these people together, but it still needed to be a very street-level crisis. That’s the world we’re dealing with, so it couldn’t be anything too sci-fi or too supernatural or big. That’s the stuff of the movies.
Are we going to see the Hand and that thread continue on through?
This should feel like a continuation of all the shows. Not that I’m trying to be cagey, but yeah, we will feel like this is the next step for all four of the shows… This will be a serialized story that feels like it is about one kind of contained event and story in our world. It’ll be one satisfying, self-contained piece.
Does this mean we won’t see other villains return, the ones who are still alive?
[Laughs] I don’t think we should be expecting anything. I gotta be cagey on that too.
What about how you would blend the four shows? How did you tackle the tone?
One of the good things about how the other shows all operate is they’re all about a central protagonist, and at the end of the day, they’re not about superpowers. They’re all about someone who has some major flaw and some major crisis and also heroically somehow overcomes it. One of the things early on that I found helpful was not to think about how many differences they have but to go the opposite way and think about how much they have in common.
And aside from the fact that they are all Marvel characters, there’s a recurring theme here with people who are orphans or people who don’t understand this urge but feel the need to do good and are constantly fighting inner turmoil and having that affect their personal lives. There’s a certain amount of maturity with how they deal with the superhero-ness of it all… We didn’t think about it in terms of how we’ll combine all the tones. We thought about the tone as its own thing. It’s about making sure this thing is something that could encapsulate all four worlds.
The other thing to remember is that there have already been characters who have cross-pollinated from one world to the other… In some cases they don’t know who each other are, but in some cases, they do. Obviously Luke and Jessica know each other, but others don’t know each other, so it’s about that in the beginning. Are you an enemy, or are you a friend?
So to summarize, the big question of the show will be whether these people can figure out that they’re heroes, and they should be heroes together?
Yeah, to me, it’s about four independent thinkers on their own flawed journeys who realize for a brief moment in time, they’re actually stronger together than they are apart. It’s ultimately a story about a family of orphans who are very grown-up but still have more growing up to do.
But in terms of their individual character arcs, it was basically taking the questions that were posted. This was something I told the writers: It’s taking the questions that were posed in the finales of each of their shows. So the last times we saw them, where are they, and what are they going to need to do in order to grow up? What do they, as they come out of their own seasons, need?… We never wanted anyone to feel like they’re a guest on anyone else’s show. It’s weirdly about all four of them. It’s about all of their collective stories finally folding in on each other.
I mean, you don’t have to have seen any of the other shows to come to this. We’re not entering the world of capes and superheroes. We’re taking our cues from shows like The Wire and The Shield. This is about what happens in the back alleys of New York City, and how people have to rise to the occasion. It’s for a fan of good crime TV as much as it is for a fan of superhero TV shows.
How did you go about mixing and matching characters? Obviously, the foursome won’t all be in the same frame all the time.
It’s funny, I almost think we should shoot each coupling on the street just so everyone will realize that they’ll all be together at some point [through paparazzi photos]. When it came down to it, there was just no way we would get away with telling this story and not have Danny Rand and Luke Cage have some chemistry, just because of what’s been established in the comics for them in Heroes for Hire. Danny and Matt’s relationship is really exciting to me. The Luke and Jessica and Danny dynamic is exciting. And that may be one of the most fun parts of the show to some people. Everyone needs a relationship with everyone else here.
We look up at a bunch of boards in the writers’ room, at the full season, and say, “Oh wait, we haven’t seen an interaction between these two,” or, “These three haven’t been together yet.” So what does that mean? Where does that lead? It was almost like a checklist, like, “Where’s our great Luke and Jessica scene? Where’s our Danny and Matt scene?”
I’m also curious about that mixing when it comes to the fight scenes. Their very first scene together is a fight scene, and that means juggling four different styles into one show. How did you go about that? Were there different stunt coordinators for each character?
It’s kind of like imagining a musical composition, and everyone has their own instrument. We have to work our way for Matt to do some cool parkour-y stuff, Danny to use his fist in some awesome way, Luke to use his strength and invulnerability in some cool way, and Jessica to just be a badass brawler. Coming at them from an emotional perspective is how we write those fight scenes, so Luke ends up being the protector, and Danny and Matt end up becoming the offense. Jessica is kind of the reluctant punk rock member of the band who doesn’t want to be there, but who’s really awesome. It’s making sure each of the characters can really pop.
Will we get to see them fight each other and compete using their powers and abilities?
I can’t answer that. I can say that they are all super strong-willed. These are four wild animals who will not be tamed easily… We never lose sight of their differences, even when they’re fighting on the same side.
Let’s talk a bit about the streaming model for this. The Defenders will be eight episodes as opposed to the 13-episode seasons for the stand-alone series. So how should this miniseries be viewed? Should it be binged because it’s shorter? How do you approach streaming?
We have to assume that some fans are going to watch it all at once, and we have to assume that some fans are going to watch it in two parts, or in three parts, or more, so it’s really about finding the right shape within that dynamic and giving the audience the ability to watch it. It’s like, build your own adventure, even though the adventure is what it’s going to be. [Laughs] I certainly feel sometimes, while watching any good show on a streaming platform, that the storytellers are telling me, “Now it’s safe for you to go to sleep and come back tomorrow.” [For us], it was about making sure [the episodes] are action-packed and as fun as possible, but also making sure that the person who watches all eight feels they’ve experienced one continuous train ride.
Will there be those moments where it’s safe to go to sleep, like act breaks in the season?
If I started watching this, I would not go to work the next day. [Laughs] It’s just kind of my taste as a writer. My first TV job was on Sons of Anarchy, and that show really tended to run and gun, and you picked up with adrenaline every episode and ended with adrenaline, so to me, that feels like what we want to do with these eight.
What is the timeline of the story? Over the course of these eight episodes, will we be seeing many months pass or days? Do they all run in real time and culminate in, like, an hour?
[Laughs] Yeah, an hour would be great, every episode is, like, 10 minutes. [Laughs] No, I will say that once we’re in, we move pretty fast. Once the bullets start flying and cars start getting flipped, we are certainly not taking our time with it. The story is kind of a shot of adrenaline to the neck.
The opposite of superhero fatigue, then.
Hopefully we won’t suffer any fatigue with what we’re doing because I think we’re doing something that hasn’t ever been seen before. Certainly on TV a crossover like this hasn’t happened before, so I don’t think the audience will feel fatigue. And then the trick after The Defenders is, you know, not doing a story like this again. [Laughs]
Marvel’s The Defenders hits Netflix summer 2017.