How Netflix has sold an anticipated musical biopic.
Tick, Tick… Boom! marks the feature film directorial debut of the already-accomplished and lauded Lin-Manuel Miranda. The movie tells the story of playwright Jonathan Larson, creator of the stage sensation Rent, and is based on Larson’s autobiographical stage play of the same name.
In the film Andrew Garfield plays Larson in the years leading up to his breakthrough as he’s still a struggling artist who feels time is running out for him to accomplish all the goals he’s set for himself. The story then follows him and those around him, both family and friends, as he attempts to make the most of the time he has, especially after finding out he’s HIV-positive, which in the early ‘90s was a very different diagnosis than it is today.
The movie costars Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Bradley Whitford, Judith Light, Vanessa Hudgins and others – including many who have connections to either Miranda or Larson – as the people around the late playwright.
announcement and casting
In 2018 news came that the project was being developed with Miranda attached as director and Steven Levenson writing the script.
Netflix announced it acquired the movie in June 2019 after winning a bidding war among other studios. Garfield, Light and other members of the cast were announced at that time, with others joining in late January 2020.
the marketing campaign
The first footage came in January, part of Netflix’s announcement of its ambitious 2021 feature film slate.
The trailer (1.6m YouTube views), released in early June, is magnificent. It’s all about Larsen’s rush to create something unique and special before the ticking clock he hears in his head reaches its end. The story is made clear here and the trailer definitely conveys a sense of impending doom that has to be outrun for as long as possible.
The poster that came out at the same time shows Larson standing by himself on a stage looking at a piano sitting there as well. Copy hints at how the story is dictated by a ticking internal clock of Larsons while credits at the top make the pedigree of the movie clear.
Garfield talked about the movie when he appeared on “The Late Show” in June.
Netflix finally announced a release date in August.
At that festival Whitford was interviewed about working with Miranda, who he loosely knew from a college acting class as well as about the pressure of portraying the real life Sondheim.
In late September TV spots (also preroll video ads online) like this began running, offering a condensed version of the story.
Garfield made an appearance as a presenter at the Tony Awards around that time.
As October began the second poster was released, this one showing Larson at his piano, his hand-written lyrics and music displayed as a background behind him.
The second trailer (3.7m YouTube views) came out at the same time, introducing us to Larson and the artistically unfulfilled life he’s leading at the time. The second half is all about him being encouraged to take his shot, writing about what’s happening around him and using that to channel his frustration that he needs to accomplish something quickly, before it all comes to an end.
Miranda commented on how Garfield was cast and what was involved in making him comfortable enough to take on his role in a profile of the actor. Another substantial interview with Garfield had him talking about the pressure he felt and how he went about preparing to portray Larson.
Production Designer Alex DiGerlando was interviewed about creating the sets and other locations for the movie, including how he used Larson’s own photos and videos to recreate rooms and even specific items.
The cast and crew appeared at AFI Fest, where the movie screened.
How Garfield, who wasn’t a singer prior to being cast, learned more about Larson’s life and more was covered in a profile of the actor here. Garfield’s commitment to the role and doing right by both Larson and Miranda was praised by all involved in another feature.
Shipp, who plays Larson’s girlfriend Susan, was interviewed about how it was to work with Miranda and Garfield as well as how excited she was to finally be able to sing on film.
Three more posters came out just last week, one of which mimics the key art for the original stage production.
Netflix released a clip of the song “30/90” that really gives a sense of what Garfield’s vocal performance is.
A featurette with Miranda, Larson and others talking about the legacy and life of Jonathan Larson also came out recently that makes it clear the movie is less about his death and more about celebrating his life.
Reviews for the movie have been mostly positive – it’s 89% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes – especially calling out Garfield’s fearless performance and Miranda’s assured direction.
Both of those aspects are clearly communicated in the campaign. But while the focus is mostly on Garfield and how he came to be cast and then learn to sing for the role, everything is almost always in service of putting the spotlight back on Larson and what he was going through at the time the story is set. Miranda, Garfield and everyone else take pains to always make sure it’s Larson at the center of the story, something that seems very personal for many of those involved.