Why Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ‘Hamilton’ Movie Could Be a Decade Away

2016 Tony Awards Nominations
Joan Marcus

At the Tony Awards this Sunday, Broadway musical “Hamilton” is widely expected to walk away with the top trophies. If it does, it’ll cap an extraordinary year that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop version of American history has spent at the epicenter of the zeitgeist. But despite the frenzy, Alexander Hamilton’s rise and fall won’t be migrating to the big screen anytime soon, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

It’s not for a lack of interest. Beyond “Hamilton’s” watercooler cache, there’s a financial reason for studios to snap it up. It’s a hot time for Hollywood musicals. “Into the Woods” and “Les Miserables” scored at the box office, fueling a revival of a genre that many observers had left for dead a decade or so ago. Television has been equally receptive. “Glee” may have ended its run, but NBC continues to find success filming live versions of musical classics such as “The Sound of Music” and “The Wiz.”

Now studios are rummaging through their Playbills in the hopes of finding their next song-and-dance hits. “Gypsy,” “Cats” and “Guys and Dolls” are making their way to screens, and Miranda’s Tony-winning “In the Heights” will finally get the movie treatment thanks to a new deal with the Weinstein Company.

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Studios have been salivating at the thought of landing the “Hamilton” movie rights, but Miranda isn’t even taking meetings. For now, the creator and star is focused on finishing out his run with the Broadway production (set to end next month) and mounting a stage version in Chicago, according to a source close to the show. At the same time, “Hamilton” backers — a select and greatly enriched group that includes producers Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman and the Public Theater, where the show originated — are focused on launching a national tour that will originate in Los Angeles in March 2017. They are also hammering out plans for international engagements.

It seems that eager movie producers will have to wait until Miranda clears his dance card, which is certainly overextended. Up next: He has to film “Mary Poppins Returns,” and is also working on the music for the Disney animated film “Moana.” Once Miranda signals that he’s open to hearing pitches, suitors will inundate him with calls, agents and industry observers say.

“It’s going to be super competitive,” said one prominent agent. “It’s the hottest property available in any medium.”

The agent predicted that Disney, Universal and every major studio will want to take meetings with Miranda. The bidding won’t be consigned to traditional studios either. HBO might be a contender to land rights to “Hamilton,” as would a deep-pocketed streaming service such as Netflix.

But Miranda was disenchanted by his Hollywood experience on “In the Heights.” Universal originally planned to make a movie of the musical in 2011 with Kenny Ortega (“High School Musical”) directing, only to scrap the project. It’s been in limbo until last month when the Weinstein Company resuscitated the project. That’s left Miranda less likely to make “Hamilton” as a big-budget, studio film, one insider cautions.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Miranda joked that it will take 20 years for “Hamilton” to become a movie. He did hint about what kind of film he’d like to see made about the founding father. “Someone’s going to have to have the brilliant idea of how to make this into a film on its own terms,” he said, adding, “filming is an act of translation.”

Finding the right interpreter can take time, and Hollywood’s attempts to mount big-musical productions often occur in fits and starts. Six years after it took Broadway by storm, “The Book of Mormon” is only just now starting creative meetings on a movie project. It’s been 13 years since “Wicked” kicked off its run, and cameras haven’t begun to roll on a big screen version yet.

Getting it wrong can be heartbreaking. “Rent” and “The Producers” were the “Hamiltons” of their day, playing to sell out crowds and racking up awards. But when the poorly reviewed movie versions debuted, audiences steered clear. That’s a fate Miranda would undoubtedly like to avoid, and he’s willing to wait as long as it takes to find the right partners to give “Hamilton” its shot.

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  1. Ivis says:

    Why can’t we have a DVD of an original cast Broadway performance, as is regularly done for operas? That wouldn’t exclude a future film or keep fans and the curious from seeing a touring production, which won’t be going EVERYWHERE.

    • Jacques Strappe says:

      I’m pretty sure you know the answer to your question. When top tier seats for Hamilton on Broadway are approaching $1,000, a DVD will discourage the financially painful splurging by those of us with quite ordinary and modest incomes to skip Hamilton altogether. DVD;s are never released of Broadway hits while still hits on Broadway and in touring company form.

    • avietar says:

      There have always been union issues with doing that kind of thing. The most they typically allow is a recording — typically single, stationary camera — for historical documentation of original casts’ performances. The recordings are then typically archived at the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center, and made available for viewing by researchers and the public.

  2. avietar says:

    “It’s not for a lack of interest. Beyond “Hamilton’s” watercooler cache…”

    CACHET. Please learn the difference, Brent and Gordon.

    • Ivis says:

      Thank you avietar. Too bad! (such static recordings are also made for opera productions, for archiving and for use of future productions, last minute jump-in cast changes, etc.)

  3. Enrico Banson says:

    The tour begins in San Francisco on March 2017, not Los Angeles. Hopefully a correction will be made not to get disappointed Angelenos waiting to see the show in the Spring.

  4. cadavra says:

    “filming live versions”

    You mean “airing live versions.” I trust you understand the difference.

  5. bella says:

    I would rather see this live, there’s nothing like like live theater.

  6. BW Blomgren says:

    Could a live Broadway performance of Hamilton be put on big screens across the country (before Miranda leaves the cast) in the way the Met Live performances are?

  7. Dunstan says:

    “The Producers” is not really a valid comparison; it started its life as a film for those who don’t know; then it was reborn as a movie. There was simply no reason to make a second film, even with the more recent theater cast of Broderick and Lane.

    As for “Hamilton,” I haven’t seen it and have very little interest. I can’t stand hip-hop and the clips of the show that I’ve seen don’t encourage me.

    Having said that, I’ll admit that the theater version of “Les Miserables” was somewhat boring to me. Yet I enjoyed the film version, with the cast singing live during production.

  8. EricJ says:

    Producers know that a movie adaptation is deliberately intended to “bury” the musical near the end of its run, since the majority a show’s out-of-town audiences are audiences curious to get a look at it. (And Woods, Les Miz, and the disappointing Phantom movies were originally intended for the 90’s, but union rules were starting to push the whole genre into limbo.)

    It’ll be a long time before Hamilton’s producers will see the need for that, but as for other shows…will Universal PLEASE finally admit that it’s time to do the Wicked movie, so we can not only start wrapping up that run, but we won’t be deluged with everyone else’s Oz-prequel movies to try and get there first?

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