Apart from the extraordinary planning “The Ride” required, the entire production had to adjust to the schedule specifications that come with having underage performers in major roles. The teen stars could only be on set for nine hours each day, and needed to spend three of them studying and one at lunch.
That meant longer takes and less coverage. While the actors rehearsed the lines, the director and DP would practice the camera movements, so that the entire choreography could be executed in just a couple of takes. This decision, both aesthetic and practical, forced them to get more creative with how they approached the scenes to maximize the visual language that had been established. Each choice had to justify the emotional journey, but also the time of production and the realities of the set.
Ahead of Charm City Kings, Soto hadn’t been to Baltimore, so he decided to spend seven weeks before production began discovering the city with locals who would ensure accurate representation.
“I didn’t want them to feel like I was there to paint my version of Baltimore. On the contrary, I wanted them to tell me how they felt about how we were doing it,” he explains.
The issue of authenticity hit hard for Soto, who has seen how Hollywood productions render Puerto Rico into a pile of clichés. He didn’t want to do that to people of Baltimore. He wanted to earn familiarity with the place through genuine interactions before putting out a movie about a city that was not his own.
“The Wire is set in Baltimore but that’s not it, the same way that Puerto Rico is not only beaches, salsa music, rum, and beautiful women. Being able to paint a different canvas of Baltimore. I wanted to respect the city as much as possible in the same way that I wish others respected Puerto Rico in their depictions of it,” he says.
He further linked Baltimore with Puerto Rico through music. Reggaeton, the popular urban genre that was born in Puerto Rico and has taken over the globe, floods key scenes with unmistakably Latino rhythms. Bad Bunny’s hit track “Chambea” and Álvaro Diaz’s “Torque” became part of soundtrack when he noticed how they elevated the emotional beats. More significantly, they add a sonic touch that reflects directly on who Soto is as a storyteller and where he comes from.
“My Puerto Rican identity is intrinsically related to how I do things. I shouldn’t need to stop being me, because what makes me is also what makes my work communicate things in a way that you haven’t seen before,” he said. “The biggest lesson I learned is to be brave enough to be myself unabashedly.”
Charm City Kings, directed by Ángel Manuel Soto, is available this Thursday on HBO Max