The film­maker be­hind the ‘Hamil­ton’ Doc­u­men­tary re­veals all

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - By Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK >> What was to be­come the Broad­way phe­nom­e­non “Hamil­ton” was still raw and un­shaped when doc­u­men­tary film­maker Alex Hor­witz turned on his cam­era three years ago. Whether Lin-Manuel Mi­randa’s vi­sion of Found­ing Fa­ther Alexan­der Hamil­ton would be­come a con­cept al­bum or a mu­si­cal or some­thing else had yet to be de­ter­mined. Hor­witz didn’t mind. He just wanted to be there be­side Mi­randa.

“My take was ‘I don’t care what it ends up be­ing. I just find it so com­pelling. Let me fol­low you as you con­tinue to de­velop it,’” said Hor­witz. “It was de­signed from the begin­ning to be a com­pan­ion piece to ‘Hamil­ton,’ what­ever that be­came.”

Hor­witz ended up be­ing, quite lit­er­ally, in the room when it hap­pened. His doc­u­men­tary “Hamil­ton’s Amer­ica “de­buts Fri­day on PBS as part of its Great Per­for­mances se­ries, of­fer­ing a be­hindthe-scenes look at the mu­si­cal’s cre­ation and putting it in his­tor­i­cal con­text.

The doc­u­men­tary maker, who be­friended Mi­randa in col­lege, didn’t want to make a film about the mak­ing of the hip-hop-fla­vored mu­si­cal. That had al­ready been done with “Chas­ing Broad­way Dreams,” about Mi­randa’s pre­vi­ous suc­cess with “In the Heights.”

“I thought that this could be about his­tory seen through Lin’s eyes. That was the con­ceit of the film from the begin­ning,” said Hor­witz. “It’s a sort of au­dio-vis­ual liner notes that ex­ists for all time now about this amaz­ing, whirl­wind ex­pe­ri­ence he had.”

Mi­randa al­lowed Hor­witz ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­cess, in­clud­ing a se­quence in which he was cap­tured com­pos­ing the song “My Shot” while vis­it­ing Aaron Burr’s home. Their friend­ship meant a level of com­fort

an­other film­maker might not have got­ten.

“He’s much smarter than me,” said Mi­randa, “so he said, ‘Can I just start film­ing you writ­ing your next thing?’ in 2012, be­fore we even knew this was a show. And the re­sult is that he’s got this great film.”

The Rad­i­calMe­dia doc­u­men­tary com­bines back­stage footage with field trips to places key to “Hamil­ton,” like ac­tor Christo­pher Jack­son, who plays Ge­orge Washington, vis­it­ing Mount Ver­non, and Les­lie Odom Jr. who plays Aaron Burr, stop­ping by the Mu­seum of Fi­nance.

The film is also aug­mented by in­ter­views with

politi­cians and celebri­ties in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, for­mer Trea­sury Sec­re­taries Hank Paul­son and Ti­mothy Gei­th­ner, Quest­love, Jimmy Fal­lon, John Wei­d­man, Nas and Stephen Sond­heim.

“It is quite a mot­ley crew in the best pos­si­ble way. Where else are you go­ing to get a film that stars Quest­love and Hank Paul­son?” asked Hor­witz. “Peo­ple re­turned my calls be­cause of ‘Hamil­ton.’”

Hor­witz is the per­fect man for the job. His fa­ther, direc­tor and writer Mur­ray Hor­witz, won a Tony Award in 1978 for “Ain’t Mis­be­havin’” and his mother is

a clas­si­cally trained opera singer.

He was a re­searcher for vi­sion­ary direc­tor Julie Tay­mor and be­came an ex­pe­ri­enced film edi­tor for Rad­i­calMe­dia, hav­ing cut Joe Ber­linger’s doc­u­men­tary “Whitey,” and is a big fan of Ken Burns. He also wrote and di­rected the zom­bie short film “Alice Ja­cobs is Dead.”

“It’s in my blood. I am a mu­si­cal nerd. I am a his­tory nerd,” he said. “I wanted this movie to scratch both those itches for me and ev­ery­one in the au­di­ence as well.”

Hor­witz had about 100 hours of footage that he boiled down to 84 min­utes.

He hopes it ap­peals to both “Hamil­ton” fans and new­com­ers to the show.

“I know that this film is not the work that ‘Hamil­ton’ is. This film is a shadow of that far greater piece, in my mind,” he said. “But if I did half as good a job as a doc­u­men­tar­ian as Lin did as a com­poser, then I think it will at least be an en­ter­tain­ing and en­light­en­ing piece of ma­te­rial and a wor­thy com­pan­ion piece.” On­line:


In this im­age re­leased by PBS, from left, Daveed Diggs, Okieri­ete Onaodowan, An­thony Ramos and Lin-Manuel Mi­randa per­form in the mu­si­cal, “Hamil­ton.” The doc­u­men­tary “Hamil­ton’s Amer­ica” de­buts on PBS on Fri­day as part of its Great Per­for­mances se­ries, of­fer­ing a be­hind-the-scenes look at the mu­si­cal’s cre­ation and putting it in his­tor­i­cal con­text.


Lin-Manuel Mi­randa



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