the hamilton grammy performance just happened, and i just saw it, and like everyone else i’m wowed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the performance, but can we take a minute to talk about that cinematography?
because that fucking brilliant cinematography.
i kind of became a video nerd after i started directing live programs for my university, and you know what? filming a live production is hard. like, really fucking hard, and the more cameras you’re managing and the more complicated the production is, the harder it gets.
so from watching the performance once, i think it’s technically possible to shoot that video using three cameras, if two of them are jibs and one of the jibs is really long. like, ridiculously long. you’re-in-danger-of-knocking-out-the-extras long. so that’s not likely. there’s definitely at least one jib stationed a bit left of the center of the audience, and probably at least two stationary cameras out in the audience, and you need a camera on stage to get those side-profile closeups without risking knocking out the extras.
so that’s at least four cameras to manage, maybe five if there’s another camera in the audience, which there might be.
and hamilton is a fucking complicated performance.
this isn’t the sort of thing you just wing.
so you’ve got these five camera operators, and all of them are really skilled - at the beginning of the song, when you have the camera spinning around to frame Burr and Lafayette and Laurens as they come on stage? that sort of shot is much harder than it looks, you’re adjusting your headroom constantly, someone is making sure the focus and color balance stay right, and if you stop zooming in or out before you stop moving the shot looks really unnatural. that shit’s HARD. you’ve got a couple cameras out in the audience getting close-ups, and you’ve got a huge fucking jib swinging around the place, and not only are they getting brilliant shots, they’re also staying out of each other’s way. i didn’t see a single shadow, i couldn’t see the on-stage camera that i’m pretty sure existed, the jib never crossed in front of any of the other shots.
seriously, that video wouldn’t look out of place in a movie adaptation. i caught a couple mistakes - it looks like someone walked in front of the stage camera when they weren’t expecting it, and the shot of Hamilton walking down the stairs has too much headroom in it (side note: that shot? that incredibly simple shot where Lin-Manuel Miranda walks down some stairs? that’s a rock-steady close-up pedestal shot from a jib, and you have no idea how hard that is to pull off), but you know what? you’re working with five cameras, with an incredibly complex production, and the whole video crew has probably studied every movement that every cast member makes in that first number, and they’ve blocked out their shots to make the cast look as good as possible - because that’s what cinematography is all about, making a series of moments look as good as possible - and that is difficult, long work, particularly when you’re going to broadcast live and there won’t be time to edit out mistakes.
and that production was almost flawless, and behind-the-scenes people never get enough credit.
so congratulations to the camera operators and assistants and cinematographers and everyone else involved behind the scenes of hamilton. you never get enough credit, and you did good.