MCN Commentary & Analysis

Hamilton Flips The Streaming Script. Produced For TV, It Commits To Theatrical

The first story that everyone was all over after Lin-Manuel Miranda let the public know that Hamilton was coming to The Big Screen was the price tag. Disney paid $75 million, plus a commitment to a full theatrical release.

In every story was also the fact that the “film” of Hamilton was shot live on the Broadway stage with the original cast a few years back when they were just weeks away from breaking up.

There are a lot of layers to this that haven’t yet been chewed upon.

Unless you have Broadway HD or are over 50, you probably don’t remember when there was a regular stream of hit Broadway shows made for Great Performances, HBO, and other cable networks. And Hamilton: The Movie will be in the form of those made-for-television productions. It may be a great version of them. It may be average. The content of the show will out.

But still… interesting. As this is discussed, it was announced that Spike Lee will be making his second Broadway conversion -— first was Passing Strange, the new one, American Utopia — which he shows great style in doing, but it is still a live show shot on a stage.

But with the exception of Special Event programming onto movie theater screens by various companies, this kind of production of a stage show has never been released theatrically. Even The Pirates of Penzance, which was infamously the first and only studio experiment with day-n-date releasing (1983), was shot with the Broadway cast as a movie, not produced from a live production in the show’s Broadway theater.

Speculation that this is the most expensive movie pick-up in history isn’t really on point. It’s a project that had to cost well under $10 million to produce. It’s only “a movie” because they will release it in theaters. Also, the producers have sat on this shot footage for almost three years. The editing has surely been done for at least two years.

But let’s not shy away from the money. You can bet dollars to donuts that Netflix was in the mix on this release. $50 million for Hamilton would be, in Netflix dollars, nothing to spend on this production. They have paid $40 million for two hours of stand-up. Fifty for this would be a slam dunk. And it would be no surprise if they went for the $75 million price tag. But what they would not do is to commit to a full theatrical release. And Disney apparently did, along with a long future on Disney+.

But why does a theatrical release matter to Team Hamilton, especially when the actual content that they have made, no matter how cleverly, has always been television fare?

I would guess layers of intention, both from Disney and Team Hamilton.

1. Disney can likely turn $400 million or more worldwide with this theatrical, easily covering the cost. Mamma Mia! is the #1 Broadway-to-Movie conversion to date with $610 million worldwide. That film cost about $50 million to make, 11 years ago. La La Land grossed $446 million worldwide. Come 2022, people will wonder aloud why Team Hamilton didn’t push to get more. (Of course, they probably have back-end based on performance.)

2. Lin-Manuel Miranda will be in the 2020 Oscar race with In The Heights, but he can be there again in 2021 with Hamilton (that could also be why it isn’t being released this year).

3. Team Hamilton has been committed to bringing the stage show to audiences that do not have easy access to costly theater experiences. Assuming they feel that a movie theater showing takes an audience closer to the live theater experience than watching on a TV does, they can – and probably by contract, will – make a ton of unused weekday theatrical seats available to the financially challenged, to students, to the elderly non-theatergoers, etc. Streaming will make it available forever. But a theatrical window creates the opportunity to make this more than just another content release.

4. It simply makes business sense. Leaving what will be $100 million in profit or more on the table because it’s a little safer is buying into the foolish notion of theatrical not being an important profit center. By the time this “film” is actually released in theaters, there will surely be talk about streamers pushing some films to legitimate theatrical releases… because they are throwing away money by not doing so.

5. They can still make a “movie-movie” out of Hamilton after this plays out. A director with a vision for it can shape the material and create another theatrical release, not on a stage but on locations, that might well also be a hit. Remember… we will be getting a new version of West Side Story next December. If that hits, all bets are off.

9 Responses to “Hamilton Flips The Streaming Script. Produced For TV, It Commits To Theatrical”

  1. Hcat says:

    So Disney will have two versions of the same story released to theaters?

    How unlike them.

  2. Hcat says:

    This however is a pretty great strategy, awareness of a Broadway sensation is always bigger than attendance. And programs like Great Performances (I am under fifty, though the clock is ticking) always capped a successful run, bringing the material to a much wider audience, providing a victory lap for the production, and preserving the original cast for posterity. While I never found the filmed plays truly satisfying, there is a neither fish nor fowl feeling to them, not as astatically pleasing as a movie, nowhere near the impact of live theater, finally being able to see the material is worth the effort.

    This first release will probably work as a very profitable three hour trailer for a 2024 film adaption. Though I do have to wonder if your four hundred million WW is not a little ambitious. Hamilton is not nearly as universal as ABBA.

  3. movieman says:

    It sounds like one of those “Fathom Productions” that play select theaters for one or two performances.
    Or something that might have gotten a three-day, hard-ticket run in the ’60s the way Joseph Strick’s “Ulysses” and Olivier’s “Othello” did.
    A freeze-dried recording of a stage performance doesn’t sound like a “movie” to me. More like “This Week on PBS’ ‘Great Performances’…”
    If someone made a real film version of “Hamilton” (hopefully not Disney), I’d be first in line.

    Somewhere American Film Theater’s Ely Landau is having a laugh.

  4. MarkVH says:

    Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t fucking let Rob Marshall anywhere near a “movie movie” version of Hamilton.

    But I’m really excited about this as the timing should put it right in line with when the touring version comes back to where I live (Durham, NC). I’ve already seen it once, so I’d much rather fork over $10 for a movie ticket rather than $300-400 a seat for theater tickets even if the latter is a more authentic experience.

  5. MarkVH says:

    Actually, in thinking more about this, know who I’d love to see direct a “movie movie” version of Hamilton? Ryan fucking Coogler. Let’s make this happen.

  6. alex says:

    Pass Over was Lee’s second Broadway to film feature.

  7. palmtree says:

    Pass Over wasn’t actually on Broadway; it was at the Steppenwolf in Chicago, I believe, but yes, Lee did film that one too.

    I was wondering when this blog would finally get around to Hamilton. I honestly think $400m is low. Abba may be bigger as a pop group, but watching Mamma Mia isn’t like watching Abba at all. There is so much demand for a Hamilton theatrical experience (there are currently three touring productions in addition to permanent ones in New York and London…and those are not even with any original cast members) that I anticipate a very healthy return on this, especially with the added combo of Disney’s marketing juggernaut.

  8. cadavra says:

    HAMILTON won’t be eligible for any Oscars. The rules were changed so that a movie must be released within two years of the conclusion of principal photography to qualify. Since this was shot in 2016, its eligibility expired in the summer of 2018.

  9. DSM says:

    When was that rule change enacted? Netflix did an Oscar campaign for Orson Welles’s THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND last year–and needless to say the window was long over on that.

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