IFH 122: What “Hamilton the Musical” Can Teach Indie Filmmakers



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If you have been living underneath a rock you probably haven’t heard of the Broadway smash-hit HamiltonFor the rest of you, this remarkable musical by Lin-Manual Miranda has changed not only Broadway but storytelling as well.

I know that is a bold statement but let me ask you, how many other new Broadway musicals have you heard about in the past 5-10 years? How many have crept into pop culture? How many have changed the game like Hamilton? Not many.

So what can indie filmmakers learn from a musical on Broadway? Here are a few lessons I learned from Lin-Manual Miranda’s masterpiece.

Be Brave and Take Artistic Risks

When Lin-Manual Miranda told President Obama he would be rapping about Alexander Hamilton at a White House dinner, President Obama said:

“Good luck with that.”

Because seriously who in their right mind would rap about Alexander Hamilton. Who would write an entire musical about boring American history? Lin-Manual saw something that the rest of us didn’t. He was brave enough to stick to his vision and bring Hamilton to life.

As an artist, you should challenge your audience. You should push the envelope. If no one around you understands what you are trying to do then you might be on to something. Lin-Manual took a crazy idea and made it his own and in turn, made the world a bit richer than before.

Needless to say, Mr. and Mrs. Obama were blown away by his performance. Check it out below:

Listen to Your GUT!

One of the great plagues of artists and filmmakers in doubt. They let that 7 pounds of gray matter in their heads determine how they should proceed with a purely emotional and artistic endeavor. Art, stories, and music are not created in the brain, they are created by listening to your gut.

Art comes from “the gut.” You need to feel the story in your gut, in your soul. Does it ring true to your ear? Once the story is out then your brain comes in to help with structure, casting, marketing, production, etc. Listen to yourself!

I can’t tell you how many times I  wished I would’ve listened to my gut and not my head. Listen to yourself! Trust yourself.

Watch this amazing documentary on the creation of Hamilton the Musical and see how Lin-Manual created his crazy art:

Challenge Yourself

Why are we here on this earth? To work a 40 hour week, pay rent and wait to die? No! You are a filmmaker. A very powerful artist using probably the most influential artistic medium known to man. As a filmmaker you need to challenge yourself, this is the only way you grow as an artist.

Lin-Manual was on the top of the world with his hit Broadway musical In the Heights. But he didn’t standstill. He decided to challenge himself so he wrote Hamilton, which took him years to complete.

Even after the success of Hamilton, Lin-Manual took on a new challenge, composing songs for the Disney Animated Hit Moana. The man does not sleep and neither should you. I challenge you to get this song out of your head.

If you study a filmmaker like James Cameron, his films get bigger and more challenging every time out. This is a man who never has to work a day in his life again. He has created the #1 and the #2 biggest box office films of all time.

After Titanic, he literally needed to take 8 years off to figure out what he could do next to challenge himself again. So what did he come up with Avatar. Now he’s planning four Avatar films back to back. You need to figure out how to do this for your own journey.

Challenge yourself guys! Take a listen to this week’s episode. I hope it inspires you. Also if you haven’t had a chance yet to see Hamilton, do yourself a favor and get tickets when it comes to your city. It’ll change your life =)

Alex Ferrari 2:21
So today I want to talk about this inspirational story of a man a young man who took a lot of risks and decided to put himself out there in a huge way. As an as a as an artist, as a writer, as a musician. As a composer. His name is Lin Manuel Miranda, and he is the writer and composer of Hamilton, the American musical. And if you guys have been under a rock for the last, for the last couple years, you would have not heard of this amazing show. But if you haven't then you have heard of Lin Manuel, he's been all over the place. And he wrote this insane, and I mean insane musical. Now, I'm gonna I'm gonna start off right by saying I am not a fan of musicals. I'm not a fan of Broadway. You know, I've seen a few shows in my life. I've never been a real big fan of those things. But Hamilton is a different ballgame. And I after studying him for a bit and studying what he did and studying the show. And listen to that soundtrack that is insane.

I realized that he had something to teach us and teach us as filmmakers and Phil and as an artist as artists. And I wanted to kind of put a light on it not that he needs any more light for God's sakes, he's got the light of the world on him. But you have to understand something that musicals generally don't jump off the arts page in the newspaper to come into pop culture earned to the mainstream. There is very few I don't remember one of in recent decades that has done that, and Hamilton has. And that's something to study because you want to wonder what happened. What did he do in that storytelling process that reached so many people? And, and Hamilton if you guys don't know and people who don't know, across the world who listened to the podcast, Alexander Hamilton is one of the founding fathers of the United States of America. And generally speaking, when you talk about history, American history, specifically but history in general sometimes can be pretty dry, can be pretty bland, and not really interesting. But this this guy, he read a book about Alexander Hamilton on his vacation, he's like, wow, I see hip hop. I see a rap battle between Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers and Hamilton and I see and he saw this, and it's crazy idea. It's absolutely lunacy. If anyone if you would tell that idea to anybody on the street people be like, wow, you're out of your mind. But he felt strong enough that he wanted to write this, this musical and put it on Broadway. Now he had had some success with a Broadway show called in the heights. And based off of that he was working, you know, just going doing the shows, seven, eight days a week or seven, eight times shows a week. And while he was doing that, he came up with Hamilton, and it took him years upon years to, to get this thing off the ground, but he kept going and kept pushing harder, and harder. And it's pretty, pretty inspiring. And he taught us three lessons. And I pulled three lessons out of this, and I wanted to kind of talk to you guys about it, because I think it's something that will help you guys along your journey. And I kind of, I think one of the big things again, why Hamilton is such such a nerve is we all see a little bit whoever sees the show, or listens to the music or understands the story, we all see a little bit of ourselves. in Hamilton in the show you you find yourself and I did for sure when I started listening to the music, and then kind of watching this amazing documentary, which I put in the show notes at indie film, hustle.com Ford slash 122, as the Show Notes for this episode, and I put this documentary on there, and it's pretty amazing. But first thing I think that he has lessons that we can pull from the Manuel's journey, as an artist is to be brave, and to take artistic risks. You know, he was invited by President Obama to the White House to do a poetry slam of some sort. And he was just invited to do like a bit from in the heights. But he decides that he tells Mr. President Obama is like, Look, I'm gonna do a rap about Alexander Hamilton. And, and Mr. President Obama said, Well, good luck with that. Because again, it sounds crazy, like who is going to listen to a rap about Alexander Hamilton? Like, it just didn't make any sense? Well, long story short, he rapped about it, and he tore the whole house down. And I actually have that performance in the show notes as well. So you can kind of see it, what, as an artist, you should challenge your audience, you should always be pushing the envelope. If there's no one around who understands what you're trying to do, then you might be onto something. You know, Lin, Manuel took a crazy idea and went all the way with it. And because of that, he is he's made the world a little bit of a better place because of it. And he's taught a generation of kids to love, not only history, but musicals and arts and things like that. I mean, the ripple effect of Hamilton will be heard for decades to come. It's generational, it's really, really remarkable. But as an artist, as a filmmaker, you should push that envelope and take risks. And again, I always say that I always say take risks, you know, with your films at a certain budget level, you know, you got 234 100 $500,000 you know, you have to make more calculated risk, when you have less than that you can be more more risky. You know, and with this is Meg, you know, I, I took some risks, you know, I went out. And you know, it's funny, I always talked to I talked to other filmmakers, friends of mine, in the industry and TV directors and so on that I've spoken to. And I tell them the process I went through to make mag and they just look at me like deer in headlights, they don't understand. They can't grasp the idea of what we did the kind of craziness the like, what, you had a guy with a boom, that's it. You had three people on set, that was your crew, like they just don't get it. And, and that makes me actually feel really good. That nobody got and nobody gets what I'm talking about. Because I mean, I'm onto something.

I think that means I'm onto something. I hope hopefully am we'll find out, won't we. But again, guys, be brave, and take those artistic risks. All right, next thing, next lesson I think we could pull from Hamilton is listen to your gut. One of the greatest diseases and plagues that affect artists and filmmakers throughout the world is doubt. Doubt is a horrible, horrible disease that we are fighting every day of our artistic lives. And that seven pounds of gray matter up in between your shoulder blades in your head, you know is where a lot of our artistic decisions are made and it shouldn't be their art in general, is an emotional thing. It's something that comes from your gut, your instinct in your soul. You have to ask yourself Does it ring true to your ear? You know, once your story is done, once you've developed and written it out, then you can bring your Brain and to help with structuring, casting and marketing, and production, etc. But you've got to listen to yourself. You know, I can't tell you how many times in my career that I wish I would have listened to myself, I would have listened to that gut. But that brain of mine, that Ed stopped me from doing something or put me down the wrong path. You know, a lot of times, especially in this business, you've got to go with your gut. And you've got to learn that if that's one thing that you can learn, a skill that you should really work on, is listening to your gut, because it won't guide you in the wrong direction. I can tell you that from being in the business for 20 odd years, and being on this earth for 42 years. your gut does not lie to you, your brain lies to you on a daily basis. But your gut doesn't. So learn to listen to your gut. Now, the third thing that I found a lesson that I pulled from Hamilton and Lin Manuel is challenge yourself. Why are we here on earth? Are you here to work a 40 Hour Work Week, pay some rent, and then wait to die? No, you are an artist, you are a filmmaker. filmmakers are probably one of the most powerful artists and influential artists in the world. You know why? Because we use one of the most powerful and influential mediums ever invented, which is film which is cinema, which is moving images in incorporates all the arts, music, sound, imagery, painting, acting, everything, storytelling, it's all incorporated in this one beautiful, artistic medium, you know, it cinematography and light and it just everything is there. And you need to challenge yourself. When you're in this in this world as an artist, you know, I'll use a perfect example. You know, Lin Manuel was doing in the heights, which was a big Broadway hit, he won a ton of awards. And he could have easily just sat around and done that for many more years, when he decided to challenge himself. And when he did, he came up with Hamilton. And you know, and on top of that, now he just did Hamilton, which is easily the one of the greatest musicals ever written and ever performed, and it is one of the biggest hits of all time. And he decides to go off and do an animated movie for Disney called Mwana. Which I've seen more on I'm By the way, if you guys have not seen one, you've got to go see it. It is probably one of the best Disney movies I've ever seen. And I challenge you to get his music out of your head when you see that movie because you'll be walking around listen to that music, but he challenged himself. He's like, you know, what can I do next? What's my next thing? You know, and a great example of that in our industry is the one and only James Cameron. You know, James has been gradually every column James because you know, we're friends now. Every every kind of project he does, he gradually grows and does something more challenges from Terminator to aliens from aliens to the Abyss from the Abyss to Terminator two, and then True Lies. And then he does this other little movie called Titanic, and he literally can't get any higher. He is the biggest box office draw of all time. He wins a just a gazillion Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards and all sorts of awards. He literally is on top of the world in his field. There is no one that's even close. He has catapulted himself beyond anybody else ever.

So what do you do? How do you challenge yourself after you've literally conquered everything you've ever wanted? He decides to take about eight years off and think about it. He travels and you know goes deep dive he comes a deep dive fisherman. That's how he challenges he becomes a deep, deep ocean Explorer, and does a bunch of documentaries and things like that. But then when he comes back, he's like, you know what, I'm gonna do this little movie called avatar. And then what does he do? He changes the game again, he pushes the technology, he does something that no one's ever done. And what does he do becomes the number one film of all time again. So he owns the number one and number two spots. And now what does he do? So now you've got the number one number two spot now what are you gonna do, you're obviously not doing this for the money. You stopped doing this for the money a long time ago. So what he's gonna do, I'm gonna do four new avatar movies over the next 10 years. That's what I want to do. And each one's going to be bigger and better. And I'm just going to take it, take it to a place that he hasn't been to before. And that's someone challenging themselves. I'll use I use something a little bit more down to earth myself. I'll use this as mag. I've made this as mag. It's done. It's in the can. I'm waiting now for festivals. I'm waiting now to see where it goes, how we're going to distribute it. Great. There are many filmmakers and I know many of them, after they make their feature, they'll live with that feature for the next two years, whether it just be running around with festivals, trying to sell it, trying to get deals, trying to get meetings, all this kind of stuff. And it's a waste of fucking time. I hate to tell you, it's a waste of time. You know, I think that you, you ride that train as long as you can. And that's great. And I'm planning to ride the mag train as long as I can. And I'm, I can't wait to see where she goes. But I'm not waiting for her. And I'm not waiting for her to give me anything else. If she gives me anything, it's all bonus meaning, any sort of attention, any awards, any access, any connections, any anything else money, whatever, I'm not expecting it, I'm not putting pressure on her. You know, I'm treating her like, you know, like my first girlfriend, not putting any pressure. But so what do I do, I'm already focused on my next two feature films. You know, I'm already writing my next one, which I plan to start shooting sometime in March or April. And then I got another one that I'm planning to shoot by the end of next year. So my goal next year is to do two feature films. I'm challenging myself. And this next project is going to be a bit little bit bigger than meg a little bit more complicated. And then the project after that's a bit more complicated than that. And if something else happens, other opportunities present themselves great. But I'm not waiting for those. And that's something that you shouldn't do, either. Don't wait around, for someone to knock on your door. Just keep working, keep challenging yourself. Keep pushing yourself, you know, I went in, I went into doing this as mag, I was like, You know what, I'm gonna do this myself. I'm gonna be the camera guy. I'm gonna do this, this, this and this, and I challenged myself, you know, I wanted to see if I could do it. It was a risk. I could have shot this movie don't get to look like dog crap. But I think it looks okay. And a lot of my cinematographer friends will see it, they say it looks cool. So I guess I did an okay job. So you challenge yourself, challenge yourself, it's the only way you're going to keep growing as a filmmaker and as an artist, and it could be little steps. But every time you go out to the plate, and you're gonna go and make a movie, or make a short or make a commercial or make something, challenge yourself, because if you get into a rut artistically, that is a one of the worst places to be, you're just going out there for the money, you're just doing this for the money, find a way to keep yourself creatively challenged. If not, you're not going to grow as an artist, or as a filmmaker. So guys, I hope you learned a little something in this episode. I was just so inspired by Hamilton, I thought, and what by what Lin Manuel Miranda did that I wanted to share that with you. And these are the lessons I've kind of pulled from from what he did. And I think they they're very valid lessons that can really help us as filmmakers, as storytellers. And as artists, you know, I really do think these three lessons are very valuable, and they don't technically teach these in school. So guys, don't forget, all right, be brave, and take artistic risks. Listen to that gut of yours. And continuously challenge yourself in every which way you can. And it doesn't only have to be artistically to guys in other aspects of your life. You should be doing all three of these things as well. Because guys, man, life is short. And I know that sounds cliche, but it is, you know, life is short, it goes by quickly. And if you don't challenge yourself and just sit there eating bonbons all day, you know, it's it's just a waste, man. So please, please Heed my words, please heed the words of Lin Manuel Miranda, and of Hamilton himself, who was if you listen and you listen to the story of Hamilton, you know, he was he was a hustler man. He was the original hustler. He hustled his ass off to get where he was, you know, before he was shot by Mr. Burr. But he was an insane it's a pretty insane story to listen to his story. So definitely check it out, go to any film hustle.com Ford slash 122. For the show notes, you'll see a bunch of videos on Lin Manuel on Hamilton, the great PBS documentary is about an hour and a half hour and 40 minutes long, great documentary, and you see how he built the whole show up. And whether you like musicals or not, man, it's really a great just story to watch and how an artist put together their art and what they went through and how they had no idea. You can tell when he was writing, he had no idea what's going to be a monster hit. He was just doing it and seeing what would happen. And that's how you got to act as art artists, man, just do it and see what happens. All right. So more updates coming soon about what's going to happen next year and we got a lot of cool stuff happening and don't forget that Head over to filmmaking podcast calm, that's filmmaking podcast.com and leave me a good Review Guys, please. It really helps me out a lot. I appreciate it tremendously. So thank you. And thank you again for all those good, great questions you guys are sending me. Again if you want to ask me a question, just send it over to [email protected]. And I will pick a handful of questions and answer them on air in our next upcoming podcast. So as always, guys, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.




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