Bringing “Hamilton” to the screen: filming is easy, editing is more difficult

When Lin-Manuel Miranda starred in “Hamilton,” his entrance to the stage was regularly greeted with applause. The cheers and applause were so long and loud that they drowned out most of her opening notes.

“It’s not a great start when you can’t hear the opening lines of the main character,” director Thomas Kail reminded The Times. “People applauded not on the basis of that experience of watching the program, which has just started, which had not yet done anything, but what they had already done, which is to write it.”

The Broadway production paused to accommodate the acclaim; Later stages, regardless of who Hamilton is, have followed suit. But the filmed version cleverly omits this rhythm: without pause, without applause for Miranda’s request.

“Many people who will see this movie have never seen the show before,” Kail said. “We wanted to win the applause with the story we are telling for this audience.”

Kail refers to those who watch the movie “Hamilton,” which hits Disney + on Friday. The high-priced acquisition will launch on the streaming service amid closes of Tony Winning musical theater productions worldwide to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

None of this could have been anticipated when filming took place in 2016, shortly after the show won 11 Tonys and just before the original Broadway cast dispersed. It’s rare for productions to be filmed for release, especially a very popular one with a record-breaking average ticket price and multiple national tours and open productions.

Thomas Kail, left, worked with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Andy Blankenbeuhler and Alex Lacamoire.

Thomas Kail, left, collaborated with writer-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, choreographer Andy Blankenbeuhler, and music director Alex Lacamoire. The group was photographed at the Richard Rodgers Theater in 2015.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Fresh from directing the live stream of “Grease” on Fox and coordinating “Hamilton” performances for various award shows, Kail didn’t make his shot.

“The theater disappears every night after the curtain calls, and then you have to go and do it again,” he said. “That is the beauty, but it is also the challenge. There was something in this moment that we thought: ‘No matter when it comes out, let’s honor and preserve the moment we have with this extraordinary cast, all gathered in the same place at the same time.’ ”

Nine cameras were placed throughout the Richard Rodgers Theater (including from above and from the back of the stage) to ensure coverage of the 10 main actors and 11 ensemble members, who roam freely (deliberately choreographed) around the set of two floors. Two complete performances were recorded with the ticket holders in tow; Thirteen non-audience numbers were captured via Steadicam, crane and dolly between the marked dates. Each recording includes individual audio tracks from the microphones of each actor and instrumentalist orchestra. (The battery alone had seven separate microphones.)

Filming is easy, Kail learned; editing is more difficult. Especially without a studio deadline, and at a time when the director was chasing other projects. He worked with publisher Jonah Moran on a first pass in late 2016, and after directing numerous plays off Broadway, he finished another cut in 2018. Earlier this year, he and Moran re-viewed the footage for the first time in 18 months and added what Kail called “the most stylized moments in the movie right now,” which the two dreamed of after collaborating on FX’s “Fosse / Verdon.”

The result is something that exists between movie and theater media, but fundamentally resembles a broadcast of a sports game. Thanks to all the visual access, the view is possibly better from the comfort of your home than from any seat in the place.

The camera often dances onstage, close enough to the actors to sweat the head of George Washington (Christopher Jackson) and the saliva dripping from the mouth of King George III (Jonathan Groff). It captures the intimate feelings of Eliza Schuyler (Phillipa Soo) when she is madly in love and overwhelmed by heartbreak, and the irritating expressions of Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) whenever she is in Hamilton’s shadow.

“No one was ‘turning it on’ for the cameras,” Kail said of the filming of the cast. “This is exactly the same performance that everyone gave to people every night. It was always so remarkable and it always was. “

The film focuses on Jasmine Cephas Jones, Phillipa Soo, and Renee Elise Goldsberry in

The film focuses on Jasmine Cephas Jones, Phillipa Soo and Renee Elise Goldsberry in “Hamilton”.


Like televised games, this “Hamilton” movie has a number of comments that the live audience doesn’t and never will. For example, a painting in “The Room Where It Happens,” in which Aaron Burr laments being sidelined in political proceedings, puts it in focus between decision makers Thomas Jefferson (Diggs) and James Madison (Okieriete Onaodowan), both crispy. and positioned as giants compared to Burr.

“I was touched by what Tommy did because, in the theater, everything is a great possibility,” said Odom. “Cinema is the medium of a director; He chooses where to focus our eye on this performance we all did four years ago. Seeing her, I was a little out of the body, seeing myself in this role for the first time. ”

However, many of the featured takes simply encapsulate the groundbreaking creations that were not included in the cast album. Even the most experienced listeners will be amazed with three musical moments that were not audibly recorded. They will experience Howell Binkley’s directed lighting design, often only visible when sitting on the mezzanine. You will see all the visual humor, mainly delivered by Daveed Diggs in his double role as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Each line of shrunken punch meets the laughter of the audience, caught with microphones installed throughout the house just for recording.

“We all wanted to capture the spirit of the piece’s expression as it happens, live, in the room,” said Nevin Steinberg, the show’s sound designer who consulted on the film’s sound design. “Getting the right mix of audience reaction is part of that.”

Viewers will also meet the anonymous heroes of all Broadway musicals – the ensemble. In “Hamilton” they sometimes physically express the true feelings of a character or project the voice of the masses; other times, they simulate a powerful hurricane, a dream time trip, or a deadly bullet.

“The film audience is not used to a set of actors turning stories in an abstract way,” said choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. “And many times, the tendency of these theatrical captures is to approach the director [actor] all the time, and the audience misses a lot. The physicality in the show adds levels of complexity to the subtext, and I think this movie does a great job of representing that. “

Much of the humor

Much of the “Hamilton” humor comes from Daveed Diggs.

(Joan Marcus)

Still, if “Hamilton” isn’t as good as when you saw it live, well, that’s because you saw it live. Any sports fan will tell you that being in the room where the doorbell sounds always adds a layer of excitement that you can’t see at home.

This movie is not, and never will be, acting itself. It is just a version of it, deliverable to home audiences in a visual language they recognize. And according to Kail, the world is wide enough for “Hamilton”, the stage musical and “Hamilton”, the movie, without one cannibalizing the other.

“When we all feel safe to go back and see live performances, this will live with him,” he explained. “He is a partner in the same way that almost every Broadway show has a supporting album, which I think has only improved people’s experience and connections to their favorite shows.

“I hope it will instill a new generation of viewers, people who watch this and have never seen a show before or thought the musicals were for them,” he continued. “Maybe it will make someone want to write a musical, or subscribe to the tourist house within their city. Maybe it makes you want to go into the dark with a group of strangers and see how a story is told: what people have been doing in the theater for thousands of years.

“We are going to need that, when we are all working again.”

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