The debut of the film version of the musical on Disney+ shines a spotlight on a subgenre poised to explode while the Great White Way is shuttered.
Back in 2008, Broadway producer Jeffrey Seller approached RadicalMedia CEO Jon Kamen about filming the final performance of Rent. Kamen's New York-based production company already had a foothold in the documentary space, with such credits as Errol Morris' 2003 Oscar winner The Fog of War and 2004's Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. The live-capture experiment provided Kamen with an entry into an exciting new subgenre of the nonfiction film. The finished product, Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway, received a small theatrical release from Sony Pictures and, in the process, RadicalMedia "developed the nomenclature and a whole style of filming it in a very cinematic fashion," Kamen recalls.
Fast-forward 12 years, and the so-called live-capture film has become big business. On July 3, Hamilton — which marks another collaboration between RadicalMedia and Seller — hit Disney+. From July 3-5, some 1 million customers downloaded the Disney+ app for the first time in the Apple App Store and Google Play, according to data firm SensorTower, up 79 percent from the previous weekend. Downloads don't necessarily translate into subscriptions, but the data bodes well for Hamilton's appeal.
The stakes were high for Disney given that it paid $75 million for the film, directed by Thomas Kail (Fosse/Verdon, Grease Live!), back in February, a bounty that will be shared by the play's investors and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, among others. The deal also marked the biggest price tag ever for a finished movie of any kind.