Why So Dark? The Arrow Trend Towards Shadowy Costume First Looks

Stephen Amell as Green Arrow

Stephen Amell as Green Arrow

Stephen Amell, who plays Oliver Queen on Arrow, posted an amusing anecdote about his own experience with promotional photos, following the reveal of Melissa Benoist in her Supergirl costume.

Just saw the photo of Melissa Benoist as Supergirl on Twitter. Wow. Most importantly – the costume looks awesome. Congratulations to everyone involved. Now… let me take you back and tell you a story.

When Arrow began filming – late winter, 2012 – the very first thing I did after being cast was head for a costume fitting. There was concept art, but the producers had – smartly – left the basics open to interpretation based on who they put in the role.

Several fittings and one defiant, “I’m not wearing army boots, it forces me to run like a business person trying to catch a bus” rant later, we were ready for the exact moment that the Supergirl peeps went through today: The unveiling. And why was this important? Because the year prior a superhero costume picture had leaked and there was a perception – you can debate how accurate it was – that this leak had gotten the production off on the wrong foot.

As a result, any time I was in the suit, I had to wear an overcoat and – I swear to god – a fedora, for fear that paparazzi were lurking about trying to steal our thunder.

Well… the photos were taken and the choice was made. Ironically, the photo we ended up using (me, with my head down in profile) was a shot our director David Nutter insisted on at the last minute just from watching me shift into that stance to stay comfortable.

The photo is examined, approved… given a little panache from the DC team and set for release. I remember everyone being really happy with it and wanting to show it off to people working on the pilot. Which led to one of our producers showing it to Katie Cassidy… She immediately pointed out a glaring problem. The angle of the photo and the placement of my bow made it appear as though I was maybe a little TOO excited about wearing the Arrow suit. She was right. It definitely looked like I had an erection.

Luckily for us… changes were made and the photo erupted online (sorry…) with a fantastic approval rating. We were well on our way.

And that’s the story of why first photos in the costume are important / how we ALMOST became the show about the hooded vigilante with a boner.

Amell’s mention of a leaked superhero costume picture almost certainly refers to the Wonder Woman costume.

Adrienne Palicki as Wonder Woman

I remember the backlash to that costume very well. The consensus was that the shiny, plastic, skintight material made the costume looked cheap and tacky, like a Halloween costume. Ever since then, shows like Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Flash have avoided bright shiny costumes shot on white backgrounds in favor of deeper toned costumes shot on dark backgrounds with shadowy filters. You can see this trend in action below.

Grant Gustin as The Flash

Adrianne Palicki as Mockingbird (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Melissa Benoist as Supergirl

Now, I understand the fear of backlash against a garish costume, but those dark halo filters have got to go! Supergirl especially is a character who belongs in bright, cheery lighting. Not every character should be photographed like that Arrow publicity shot.

Compare this publicity photo from the 1984 Supergirl movie against the photo from the Supergirl TV series. The classic Superman and Supergirl movie stills look so good today because of their naturalistic lighting. Today’s superhero TV series should stop being so afraid of being mocked and embrace their bright, bold, sincere side.