Five Tips for Making Your First Film from Lin-Manuel Miranda
Art and Experience:
Lin-Manuel Miranda is no stranger to the stage, but directing a film is a whole other ball game.
As a theater kid and film lover, I can’t help but fall in love with the film adaptations of musicals. While some fall flatter than others, Tick, Tick… Boom takes the fun and emotional pull of musicals and combines it with the beauty and vast opportunities of filmmaking to create one of the best pictures of the year.
The semi-biographical original musical was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut, but he had been waiting for this moment since he was three years old. His love for theater and film created a project about Jonathan Larson, the composer, lyricist, and playwright behind the beloved musical Rent.
Miranda sat down with Netflix Film Club to talk about what he learned while directing his first feature, Tick, Tick… Boom. Here are five tips that we pulled that could help you while working on your first project or your tenth project.
Check out the full video below.
Make It Personal
When you are on set for the first time, you will have to make more decisions than you were prepared to make. From the color of the table clothes to camera angles, everyone will be looking to you for the answer.
Miranda says to make your first directorial film personal because the answers will come from an authentic place. As the director, you have spent the most time with the film and will have a certain way you want the story to be told.
By knowing the story, the answer will become clear if you are very clear on what you need.
Work with the Actors
Miranda prepped Tick, Tick… Boom as if he were workshopping an original musical. These secret workshops that Miranda held allowed him time to sit actors around Andrew Garfield (who portrayed Jonathan Larson in the film) and edit the script and music with playwright Steven Levenson week after week.
This process went on for half a year before any cameras were put into place. This pre-production process gave Miranda time to know the actors, learning about their process and what they needed from him as a director. Miranda stated that he acted as a guard rails to help the actors modulate their performances for the high-stakes film.
BTS of the opening number in ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!CREDIT: Netflix
Adapting Musicals for Film
The biggest challenge for Miranda was eliminating the suspension of disbelief that the musical wasn’t grounded or captivating enough to watch. Finding the perfect balance of speech and song can throw people off if the film does not establish that breaking out into song is a normal thing in this world.
Tick, Tick… Boom established its world through the storyteller, Jonathan, as his hands touched the piano. From there, Miranda is allowed to go anywhere he wants.
His formula for introducing the musical’s world to an audience is by starting with the storyteller and then building outward to his relationships with others in the community and their relationship to music.
Then, the music begins to show what the rules of the world are. Music in Tick, Tick… Boom usually shows want is happening in Jonathan’s head whenever the music isn’t happening in the real world. The music shows his failures and ambitions through elaborate set designs and fast camera movements. We can buy into the world and what it reserves the right to do because this film set up the storyteller’s perspective right from the start.
‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’ CREDIT: Netflix
Find the Story Through the Storyboard
Tick, Tick… Boom was a blend of songs from Larson’s on- and off-Broadway rock monologue and his unproduced musical Superbia. All the songs were placed on a board, and Miranda crafted an original musical by organizing the songs in a way that pulled on the heartstrings.
From there, Miranda figured out what the musical was going to be. The story wasn’t one about success, but about the failures that lead to success. Larson didn’t live to see his work come to fruition, but his work and struggle to get there was an untold success sorry that is hopeful. Something great lies ahead, and that is the story Miranda wanted to tell when reflecting on Larson’s work.
Characters in Larson’s life had big dreams, and Miranda allowed these big dreams to manifest by giving them the space to flourish. The musical numbers were convinced and then broken down to see how it would be staged on set.
Since the musical numbers were partially in Larson’s imagination, Miranda had the freedom to showcase how creative the playwright was through the set designs. He could create a moment that existed outside of time for just a few minutes.
Collaborate with the Experts
Miranda stressed how important it was to listen to the people on set. They have the expertise in their field, so ask the cinematographer, camera operators, and sound team what they can do that you can’t see. The answer may surprise you.
Many of the shots in Tick, Tick… Boom never crossed Miranda’s mind until he asked his crew, “What cool things don’t I know you can do?”
He asked the underwater photographer what he could do to make a shot more dynamic, and gave the photographer the freedom to show what interesting and cool shots he could get, eventually using many of those shots in the final cut.
‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’CREDIT: Netflix
Don’t be afraid to push the shot. If you are unsatisfied with the way something looks on camera, ask for advice. Filmmaking is a collaborative process that requires brilliant and creative minds to come together to create beauty in the visual medium.