Posts Tagged ‘Lin-Manuel Miranda’

We all know that it’s conflict really that makes drama happen. It’s not just a slice of life that you’re doing.”
—India-born writer/director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay!, Monsoon Wedding)
MasterClass, Lecture 3

Salaam Bombay!

It’s possible that I’ve written more about the importance of conflict in drama more than any other subject. It’s why I chose the first chapter of my book to be on conflict. Here are a handful of posts over the years that unpack that some more if you want to do a deep dive.


The Key is Conflict (movies, TV, Docs, Podcasts, Etc.)

Protagonist = Struggle

Neil Simon on Conflict

Screenwriting’s One Unbreakable Rule

Conflict is at the root of everything from Shakespeare to Hamilton to Looney Tunes:

”Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”
From Henry the IV

”There’s trouble in the air, you can smell it.”
Say No to This (from Hamilton) written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

“I like to swing upon my perch and sing a little song,
But there’s a cat that’s after me and won’t leave me alone.”
—Tweety Bird

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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Let me tell you what I wished I’d known
when I was young and dream of glory
“Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”
Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

One (of the many) remarkable things about the storytelling of Hamilton is how the creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, compressed the story down to 2 hours and 40 minutes. Personally, the story flies by. And it is that compression that makes the story stand up to repeated viewing.

Plus, the more I listen to the soundtrack while driving the more layers I find. In the song “Stay Alive” there are these lines:

Congress writes, ‘George, attack the British forces.’ I shoot back, we have resorted to eating our horses.
Local Merchants deny use equipment, assistance, they only take the British money, so sing a song of sixpence.

Miranda compresses into 35 words what could be told in a 10 part miniseries. The is the struggle General George Washington and his army face during the American Revolution.

Whether it’s a brief mention of the “Battle of Monmouth” or a passing remark by Aaron Burr about his grandfather being “a fire and brimstone preacher” are each places you could pause Hamilton and spend hours doing research on the internet.

In a later post, I will write about Burr’s grandfather and the spiritually saturated storytelling used throughout Hamilton.  I doubt that one in 100,000 viewers of Hamilton could name Burr’s grandfather —Jonathan Edwards— and far fewer ever read Edwards’ most famous sermon.  The layers are so deep in Hamilton. 

I’m sure part of that is due to Miranda compressing Ron Chernow’s book on Hamilton into a musical, but it takes a creative genius to make history entertaining, informative, educational, dramatic—and singable all at the same time. Here are two songs, sung near the end of act 1, that are examples of contrast in storytelling.

Another thing that worked for me on the storytelling front is how Miranda contrasted the big events of the American Revolution with the small events such as Hamilton and Eliza meeting, and the birth of their son Phillip.

There is much spectacle throughout Hamilton, and gigantic events that helped shape the United States of America. But at the end of the day, it is the smaller moments with Alexander, Eliza and Phillip that pack the big emotional punch at the end.

In that I am reminded of producer Lindsay Doran’s TED Talk, “Saving the World vs. Kissing the Girl,”where she said of movie characters, “Positive relationships trump positive accomplishments.”

My guess is that rings true in movies because it rings true in life. But we forget that sometimes and need art to remind us.

P.S. Over my lifetime I have watched plenty of men and women reach the top of the mountain only to be left with an “empire of dust” at the end of their lives. If you’ve never seen the Johnny Cash version of Trent Reznor’s song Hurtit’s one you should watch at least once a year to give you a perspective on life.

Related post:
It’s the Relationships, Stupid!

Scott W. Smith 

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His rival, it seems, had broken his dreams
By stealing the girl of his fancy
Rocky Raccoon, lyrics by Paul McCartney and John Lennon

After Lin-Manuel Miranda introduces the audience to Alexander Hamilton and his band of brothers in Hamilton, he then introduces and/or develops four additional characters.

One thing I noticed that they all have in common is they are different versions of a love triangle.  Each triangle is full of conflict with varying degrees of stakes.  The first triangle involves two of the Schuyler sisters (Angelica and Eliza) who head downtown looking for “minds and work.”

They both are drawn to the rising star Hamilton, but Angelica being older and wiser decides Hamilton would be better for her sister. But it’s clear that when Hamilton and Eliza get married that Angelica has second thoughts.

Laughin’ at my sister, ’cause she wants to form a harem
I’m just sayin’, if you really loved me
You would share him
Helpless, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

If I tell her that I love him she’d be silently resigned
Satisfied, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Another triangle is between Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and General George Washington. Both want the be the right hand man of the grand leader in the fight for freedom. Burr is disappointed in Washington’s choice, and as Hamilton’s influence grows, Burr jealousy burns.  But Washington sees something in Hamilton he likes—himself.

It’s alright, you want to fight, you’ve got a hunger
I was just like you when I was younger
Head full of fantasies of dyin’ like a martyr?
Right Hand Man, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Aaron Burr has his own love triangle in the he is seeing a woman who is married to a British officer. It just gets a quick mention in the song The Story of Tonight. 

And there is yet one more triangle in Act One of Hamilton. Colonial America had to make a choice between its allegiance to the British Empire or what would become the United States of America.

Way back in the early 1600s, King James I of England gave his blessing to establish permanent settlements in the new world.  What started in New England and Virginia grew into the Thirteen Colonies. 

At the risk of ineffectively reducing a 150 year history into a few words; The British Empire drove out the native Indians, brought in slavery, harvested tobacco and cotton in the South, and built grand industrial cities in the north. In short, it was a financial success.  The Thirteen Colonies were a fine little chess piece in the British Empire.

But in the mid-1700s some in the Colonies started eyeing lady liberty—and got tired of paying taxes to the British Parliament. Around 100 American colonists had a little tea party on December 16, 1773 that led to a nasty breakup. But people break up and get back together all the time.

Obviously, back in England, King George was hopeful that things could be patched up. And in Hamilton, that leads to the song You’ll Be Back.

Remember we made an arrangement when you went away
Now you’re making me mad
Remember, despite our estrangement, I’m your man
You’ll Be Back, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

That break up lead to bloodshed and the founding of the United States of America in 1776. It took a while (and there was more bloodshed) but slavey was eventually abolished. The Thirteen Colonies grew into 50 States. Great Britain and the United States never got back together, but they agreed to be friends. The U.S. welcomed the Beatles in 1964 (and the whole British Invasion) and London welcomed Hamilton in 2017. (Albeit at a slightly lower decibel  level than when the Beatles played Shea Stadium in New York.)

P.S. All the above “love triangles” of sorts happen in act one. There is a big love triangle (passion triangle?)  in act two that alters the whole course of Hamilton’s career path. And we’ll get to that in a post next week.

Scott W. Smith




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Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
My Shot written by Lin-Manuel Miranda

There’s a scene in Once Upon a Time  … in Hollywood where a young actress asks an older and fading actor who is reading a book,  “Where are you in the story?” It’s a question with a double meaning. There’s the literal meaning of what page are you on/where are you in the story’s timeline, and there’s the metaphorical meaning of which character are you in the story.

In Hamilton, where are you in the story? Most people at least have a rooting interest in Alexander Hamilton. He’s a similar but different character that uses the time tested literary device: the underdog. He’s the immigrant who’s young, scrappy and hungry.

It’s obvious that as Lin-Manuel Miranda was writing the role of Hamilton (that he would play on Broadway) that he had a special connection with the founding father. Of the line in the “My Shot” song,”I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory,” Miranda writes “This verse took the better part of a year to write. It’s the Rosetta Stone of Hamilton’s brain, and the first line of it is the most autobiographical thing I’ve written.”

It’s a line that feels like it was pulled from a Tennessee Williams play. So it’s not surprising that that verse took almost a year to write. There are no short cuts. The song “My Shot” is one of those specific, yet universal songs. It’s like Rocky running up the steps. Even if you’ve never trained for a fight, you know what it’s like to face obstacles in life. (Heck, 2020 is one big obstacles for everyone in the world.)

“My Shot”, is, in the lingo of music theater, an “I want” song. These are the numbers that appear early in a show, when the hero steps downstage and tells the audience about the fierce desire that will propel the plot. Think of West Side Story, when Tony sings “Something’s Coming,” or My Fair Lady, when Eliza sings “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?’ Without a song like this, you wouldn’t get very far in a musical: A character needs to want something pretty badly to sing about it for two and a half hours. And you wouldn’t get anywhere at all in hip-hop. For all it’s variety of style and subject, rap is, at bottom, the music of ambition, the soundtrack of defiance, whether the force that must be defied is poverty, cops, racism, rival rappers, or all of the above. Think of Nas’s “The World Is Yours,” 2Pac’s “Picture Me Rollin’,” or Eminem’s ”8 Mile.” Like the Rappers who performed those songs, Alexander Hamilton lived hard, wrote fast, and hustled his ass off.
Hamilton the Revolution
A book that’s a backstage look at creating Hamilton written by
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

“My Shot” not only helps us connect and relate to Alexander Hamilton, and shows us his ambition, hopes and desires, but it is a great transformation scene. The previous song (Aaron Burr, Sir) ends with Hamilton kind of calling out Aaron Burr, “If you stand for nothing Burr, what’ll you fall for?” and the reaction of Burr’s friends is:

Ooh, who are you?
Who are you
Who are you?
Ooh, who is this kid, what’s he gonna do?

Hamilton answers with “My Shot” and before that scene ends, Burr’s friends are getting behind Hamilton saying:

Let’s get this guy in front of a crowd

(See the post What’s Changed? to see why it’s such a valuable question to ask of every scene you write.)

And there is yet another double meaning in the words “I’m not going to miss my shot” in Hamilton firing his gun in the air in his well known duel with Aaron Burr. There are so many wonderful layers throughout Hamilton. Another line in Hamilton’s/Miranda I want song is “Don’t be shocked when your history book mentions me.” Mission accomplished on both accounts.

In Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Rick Dalton (the older fading actor played by Leonardo DiCaprio ) can early relate to the character Easy Breezy in the book he’s reading—a fading rodeo star “who coming to grips with not being the best anymore.”

Related posts:
Before Hamilton (The Successes and Failures That Paved the Way)
‘Hamilton’ as an Emotional Journey 
Finally Getting on the Hamilton Soul Train 
The ’Hamilton’ Hook

Scott W. Smith 


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You want to get ahead?
Fools who run their mouths off wind up dead
Aaron Burr, Sir lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

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“I’m king of the world.”

Years ago someone (and I wish I could remember who) said America is the kind of place where people cheer you as you enter the triumphant gates, and then throw rocks at you when you pass through to the other side. In a click bait generation, that kind of behavior is amplified.

That is as a sweeping generalization we love to see the musician, athlete, actor, politician, whatever rise up from obscurity and make a name for themselves for some super accomplishment. Then once they’ve received enough adoration, it’s like some evil emperor hits a button to sink the ship.

When I started this blog in January of 2008, Diablo Cody was the darling of the media as people ate up the story of a Midwestern screenwriter who wrote the indie hit Juno. But right around the time she collected her Oscar she crossed through to the other side of the triumphant gates and there was a huge backlash against her. And that rise and fall happened in less than 12 months.

I’ve seen it over and over again in my lifetime. In college, I remember talking to a friend about a favorite indie band of hers and she said, “Oh, I don’t like them anymore.” I asked what changed her mind and she said, “They got too popular.” Lesson learned.

Some superstars crash and burn on their own, but others we just get tired of. I think the recent backlash of Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is yet another layer of scorn in the age of social media. If you read the three day old Rolling Stone article by E.J. Dickson ”Why Generation Z Turned on Lin-Manual Miranda” you can get caught up on backlash Miranda is experiencing. (Maybe he can call Diablo Cody for advice.)

This is a screenwriting blog so I’m looking at Hamilton from a creative perspective, rather than looking for places to stab it. But I will say to those critiquing Miranda’s choices something I learned long ago from a professor:

“You can’t say everything all the time, or you end up saying nothing.”
—Richard Pratt

Every dramatic writer taking on writing about a historical character has to make choices on what to leave in and what to leave out. To boil the life of any noteworthy person into a two or three hour play or movie is mighty task. Not to mention one that will be engaging enough for producers and studios to develop and fund and that audiences will want to support and be entertained by.

When Aaron Sorkin was asked about creative choices he made in writing The Social Network and Steve Jobs, Sorkin pointed out that he was making a painting, not a photograph. For the sake of time, composite characters were created, timelines shifted around, and liberties taken with dialogue (because, to quote Hamilton, the writer wasn’t “in the room where it happened.”)

Sorkin condensed Steve Jobs’ 56 years on this earth into just three days. He didn’t even touch on Jobs’ involvement in Pixar which could probably be its own 10 part limited series on Netflix. Reportedly, when Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak saw the movie Steve Jobs he said, “None of that happened, but it’s all true.”

Sorkin used three days in Jobs life to construct an emotional truth. A painting, not a photography. An impression, not a documentary. And he used mythical language to explain the three acts he used: the king dethroned, the king in exile, and the return of the king. Brilliant.

I don’t know enough about the life of Alexander Hamilton to know what did and didn’t happen, but I know that Miranda did lean on Ron Chernow’s book Alexander Hamilton as the guide for his remix on the life of Hamilton.  From what I’ve read, Miranda hit the key signposts pretty well. And admits where he deviated for dramatic purposes. (Hamilton didn’t hit a bursar.)

Obviously, most of the people represented in the multi-racial cast were white in real life. And even back in 1776 they didn’t talk in rhyme. It’s like Miranda says from the start, if you can accept this construct then we can do business.

In the second song of Hamilton (Aaron Burr, Sir) Hamilton meets Burr and then ends up having a beer with Burr, John Lauren, Hercules Mulligan (best name ever), and Marquis de Lafayette is not a meeting that happened in real life, but that was his posse. The purpose of that scene/song is to show Hamilton as a young ambitious man without a track to run on. But then he connects with some likeminded men.

If Hamilton and his band of brothers had of lived in the 1990s instead of during the American Revolution you might find them hanging out at the local Fight Club.

“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.”
Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)

Aaron Burr, Sir sets up perfectly Hamilton’s I Want song (My Shot) that we’ll look at in my next post.

P.S. There is one line in Aaron Burr, Sir that I found particularly interesting. Hamilton says, “I wish there was a war, Then we could prove that we’re worth more than anyone bargained for.” There have been very few periods in recorded world history where humans aren’t at war. I heard on NPR a while back that at any given time there are 200 civil wars going on in the world. And that doesn’t include office politics, home owner associations, or people on TikTok. Makes you question human nature, doesn’t it? There is a direct connection with Alexander Hamilton wanting to go to war in 1776 to make a name for himself and the characters in The Hurt Locker. There seems to be a pull to be where the action is rather than wandering the aisles of the grocery store looking for Captain Crunch. Rodney King’s “Can we all just get along?” is one if the most profound questions in history.

Related post:
Aaron Sorkin on ‘Steve Jobs’ and Screenwriting vs. Journalism

Scott W. Smith 

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Lin-Manuel Miranda wastes no time hooking the audience in his musical Hamilton. Not only do the first few beats of the opening song  “Alexander Hamilton” grab your attention, but there is no wasting time jumping into the story:

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
In the Caribbean by providence impoverished
In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
The ten-dollar founding father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter

There is no set-up, just boom. It’s like sprinter Usain Bolt coming out of the blocks at the start of a race. We don’t know who is singing or who he’s singing about. (But since the show is called Hamilton we have a clue who they might be talking about.)

Within the first four lines we get an exposition dump and a major dramatic question. It’s was an extremely creative way to jump into what could be an extremely boring history lesson. The one that starts “In 1879, Alexander Hamilton became the first United States Secretary of Treasury….”

Often times history doesn’t grab our imagination because it’s presented in dry facts. Miranda’s opening line of a“bastard, orphan, son of a whore” is lets us know from the start that this isn’t your father’s history lesson about the Founding Father’s of the United States.

My post The Major or Dramatic Question has remained one of the most read ones over the years. Having a major dramatic question helps the audience avoid asking the question, “Wait, what’s this story about?” Essentially the major dramatic question in Hamilton is Who is Alexander Hamilton?  (And what did he do that was so special that he ended up on a ten dollar bill?)

One of the limitations of the stage is it is much harder to “show, don’t tell” than is done in movies. The filmed stage version of Hamilton simply starts out with Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.) walking on stage and singing. No sweeping aerial cinematic shots of the Caribbean island in the West Indies where Hamilton was born like a feature film on Hamilton might start.

Instead Miranda embraces his limitations and  uses words to stir your imagination.

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
In the Caribbean by providence impoverished
In squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

We have an underdog to root for from the get-go. Over the years I’ve written several posts about exposition and I’ll put the links to some of them at the end of the post. Two movies that came to mind regarding Hamilton’s opening were Jerry Maguire and Citizen Kane.

Jerry Maguire opens with Jerry basically saying the earth is a big place, and millions of people live here, I’m one of them and I’m a sports agent. Here’s what I do?” A pure expo dump. But with the writing of Cameron Crowe, the talent of Tom Cruise, and some fine cinematography it doesn’t come across heavy handed or spoon feed.

In Citizen Kane, Charlie Kane dies and a reporter basically asks “Who was Charlie Kane?” Simple. The audiences expectations are set. I guess we’re going to find out who this Charlie Kane dude was, and what was the meaning of his final word “Rosebud”? (Here’s the 2 1/2 minute opening with a single spoken world—Orson Welles as uttering “Rosebud.” That’s a hook for the movie that AFI listed as the #1 greatest American movie ever made.)

Miranda hooks the audience at the start, and continues to build empathy for this guy who:

Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain
And he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain

Hamilton makes it to New York as a young man and is destined to make a name for himself in the new America. He does—but we learn in the opening song that he also ends up shot to death.

We won’t know why until the end of the story,  but Hamilton’s open is one fine example of hooking your audience early and setting expectations. And the ending is implied in the beginning.

Related posts:

Screenwriting & Exposition (an oldie from 2008 post)
“Exposition is BORING unless…”
10 Solid Exposition Examples
‘A Quiet Place’ Meets ‘Screenwriting from Iowa’
Mysterious Minimal Exposition from ‘A Quiet Place’

Scott W. Smith 

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In New York you can be a new man (just you wait)
In New York you can be a new man (just you wait)
The song Alexander Hamilton written by LIn-Manuel Miranda

Before I get into the first song of Hamilton, I wanted to sneak in a post about the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, going to college. In my post Before Hamilton ( The Successes and Failures That Paved the Way) I mentioned that Miranda as a high school senior was inspired by seeing the short run musical The Capeman.

It was two years later that he began working on his musical In the Heights. That musical made its way to Broadway in 2008 and won four Tony Awards including Best Musical.  The film version of In the Heights with a screenplay by Quiara Alegria Hudes comes out next year.

The college that Miranda went to was Wesleyan University. It’s one of those beautiful campuses in New England with a history that goes back to 1831. It also has a solid history in the arts. In my 2010 post “Unstoppable” Wesleyan University I joked that they must have a secret handshake there.

Screenwriter Mark Bomback (Unstoppable) was an English major at Wesleyan.  A couple of years ago Vanity Fair mentioned Wesleyan’s Entertaining Class and how the small Connecticut school “has turned out a shockingly disproportionate number of Hollywood movies and shakers” listing among its graduates, Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), Michael Bay (Transformers), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm), Joss Whedon (The Avengers), and Oscar-winner Kenneth Longeran (Manchester by the Sea).

Now Miranda has joined that list. And he not only graduated in 2002, but he returned in 2005—not to work on his master’s degree—but to give the commencement address.

Then the following year he gave the commencement address at Penn.

Then he went back to high school to talk to students.

Scott W. Smith 

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People all over the world,
It’s time to get down
TSOP The Sound of Philadelphia
(Known as the Soul Train theme song)

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 8.52.18 PM

Before Hamilton my knowledge of Alexander Hamilton was as thin as a $10 bill.  Where was Lin-Manuel Miranda when I was struggling through American History my junior year of high school? Oh, that’s right, he wasn’t born yet.

Back in 1979 I was much more interested in movies, music, playing football and baseball, and girls than learning about The Founding Fathers of the United States. The cherry tree, wooden teeth, powdered wigs— yeah, yeah, yeah.

At least I was fascinated by the American west of the 1800s and did my final report on that and was able to pass the class. The following year Lin-Manuel Miranda was born. But I really wish I’d seen Hamilton before I took that 5th grade field trip to Disney World where they made us sit through the Hall of President exhibit. (Hamilton is now on Disney+ with a PG13 rating and I’d suggest you watch it first and decide what age is appropriate if you‘re watching it with them. But Miranda leading 5th graders on a tour of Disney’s Hall of Presidents would be interesting.)

In school I couldn’t connect past history with my future.  Even in college, I dropped the first film history I took because I did not find the topic engaging. Writing, shooting, directing and editing my first 8mm film (set to Michael Jackson’s “She’s Out of My Life”) that semester was exciting. Sitting in a class with over 100 people listening to lectures about black and white movies was less than exciting.

Two years later a passionate film professor walked the class through A Place in the Sun and a light shined in the darkness. By him walking through choices George Stevens made through his directorial choices I had a new appreciation for what I could learn from the past. (Film school sidebar. Watch how George Stevens takes just a few second and a few words to establish chemistry between Montgomery Cliff and Elizabeth Taylor. And her line “I see you had a misspent youth” replaces about 100 pages of exposition from the novel.)

And watching The Civil War, A Film By Ken Burns in 1990 awakened my desire to know more about American history. Better 10 years after high school than never. Then in 1998, Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan gave me a hunger to know more about world history.

In 1999 I backpacked across nine countries in Europe which was like walking through history. Twenty years ago you could still see bombed out churches that were remnants of World War II. After that trip I appreciated Casablanca on a whole different level.

All that set the stage to finally experience Hamilton just two weeks ago. I won’t be the last one to get on the Hamilton train, but getting on in 2020 (five years after its Broadway debut) is pretty much jumping on at the caboose.

Actually the analogy of a train fits well. Back in 1979 when I was avoiding studying for my American history class, a Saturday tradition for me was watching Soul Train and American Graffiti back to back. That was one hour featuring the hit music of the day and young people dancing (the leaders of the future).

Disco was at the end of its run then, and the first time I remember hearing rap music was 1981. It was in the locker room at the University of Miami where I was a walk-on football player. I don’t remember any of the songs, but I remember asking what kind of music it was and thought someone said it was  “rat music.” (To my defense, the music was loud.) They clarified that it was “rap music.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda was born into a world where rap and hip hop emerged and then matured. And along the way its given voice to many artists who Miranda not only pays homage to in Hamilton, but Miranda has the stroke of genius to give that voice to men and women circa 1776. And he has the talent to pull it off. With the twist of using less powdered wigs and more people of color.

Within the first few beats of the opening song I was hooked. More on that in tomorrow’s post.

P.S. And speaking of Soul Train, a little shout-out to the composers Kenneth Gamble and Leon A. Huff  for writing what is known as the theme song for Soul Train technically called “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia).” It was a number one hit in 1974. It was recorded by MFSB (a team of musicians in Philly) and featured the vocals of The Three Degrees (perhaps best known for their hit song When Will I See You Again).

P.P.S. If Lin-Manuel Miranda is looking for another unusual story to transform, I’d suggest the ESPN/Billy Corben film The U (on the Miami Hurricane football team). Somehow I think he’d make it a fine musical.

Scott W. Smith 










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There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
“It’s Quiet Uptown” from Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

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Today I’ll start a run of posts on Hamilton that began running on Disney+ last month. I was not fortunate enough to see the Broadway or touring versions of the musical, so glad to finally see the 2016 filmed Broadway version. Since I avoided reading much about the Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning (Best Musical) creation by Lin-Manuel Miranda I came at it fresh last week and it blew me away.

Ii also brought tears to my eyes in a couple of places. Repeated viewings, and listening to the CD on continue loop while driving, have enriched my understanding of history and deepened my appreciation for the dramatic experience.

The craft of storytelling is on full display. I’m not sure how many posts I’ll write, but starting Monday I’ll unpack why I think Hamilton is an instant classic.

Eventually, I’ll get around to seeing what Miranda, fans, critics, and podcaster have to say about the musical. But today I just want to mention that Hamilton is that rare emotional journey that audiences crave.

“‘What is the single emotional journey?’—That’s always the mantra for me. That’s the true north. Screenwriting is an intellectual exercise that’s designed to illicit an emotional response.  If I write a script and somebody calls me and says ‘this is the smartest script I’ve ever read’ that means I have failed 100%. Because I’m not reaching that reader on an emotional level. When you write a script that works, you do the thinking so your reader can do the feeling.”
Billy Ray (Captain Phillips, Shattered Glass, Richard Jewel) 
UCLA Story Break podcast

Last night on the Facebook group for The Rewatchables (based on the Bill Simmons podcast dedicated to movies that people find rewatchable) Jimmy Mak asked the question “What movie made you cry the hardest?” In less than 24 hours there were 300 responses. Many of the movies were repeated, but here is a partial list of movies that made people cry. (And, yes, Hamilton made the list.)

12 Years a Slave
American Sniper
Apollo 13

Big Fish
Boyz N the Hood
Brian’s Song
The Champ
Cinema Paradiso

Dancer in the Dark
The Elephant Man
Field of Dreams
For the Love of the Game
Forrest Gump
Friday Night Lights
Fruitvale Station
Green Mile
Home Alone
Inside Out
It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

It’s a Wonderful Life
Joy Luck Club
Just Mercy
Kissed By God
Kramer vs. Kramer
La Bamba

Marley and Me
Marriage Story
Me & Earl and the Dying Girl
Million Dollar Baby
Mr.Holland’s Opus

My Dog Skip
My Girl
Old Yeller 

On Golden Pond
Ordinary People
The Patriot
A River Runs Through It
Rocky 2
Saving Private Ryan
Short Circuit
Sling Blade 

Stand By Me
A Star is Born
Terms of Endearment
Toy Story 3
Where the Red Fern Grows

P.S. Personally, Hamilton has proven to be an instant rewatch. But what’s interesting about listening to Bill Simmons and his team talk about movies they’ve see 10, 20, 50, 100 times is you get an audiences understanding (verses an academic one) of the visceral level at which movies can hit people. Often times the filmmakers and actors/actresses are mystified by the depths that some of the movies they worked on impact others. (More than one actor has said they can’t watch movies they’re in because they only see room for improving their performances. Audiences come at movies from a different perspective. They’re not looking for perfection, but to have an emotional journey. But Hamilton is that rare production that achieved both.

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Aim for the Heart
Movies as an Emotional Journey 
Frances Marion on Emotion

Scott W. Smith 

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“What I’ve learned to do, probably really in just the last couple of films is to regard music and dialogue as very much one in the same. Dialogue is just as musical as music is a language. And by thinking of dialogue in musical terms, thinking of dialogue in terms of something that  conveys an emotion rather than information. It has changed they way that I write scenes. When I find myself writing something that is purely informational, if I can’t inject it with something like conflict, humor, tension, suspense, drama—especially conflict—then I know that what I’m doing is writing is information. And information is the death of  emotion. The biggest lesson I learned between Rouge Nation and Fallout was how to articulate that.  Somebody asked me about writing exposition and what was the secret to writing exposition and without thinking I said that ‘information is the death of emotion.’” Thinking about dialogue as a delivery device for emotion. That’s not to say it’s a character expressing emotions. There’s nothing less emotional than watching a character experience an emotion. What you want is the audience experiencing emotion through that character. That really changed the way I wrote dialogue. They way that I wrote exposition.”
—Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie  (Top Gun: Maverick)
The Inside Pitch interview with Christopher Lockhart 
(starting at the 1:55:02 mark)

P.S. Starting on August 1, I’m going to begin a string of posts on Hamilton which is a prime example of blending music and dialogue in what I found to be an emotional story.  If you haven’t seen the play or the taped version on Disney+ at least get the 10 day free subscription to check it out.  I look forward to exploring what Lin-Manuel Miranda created what is the best production I’ve seen this year.

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
‘Exposition is BORING unless…’
Mysterious Minimal Exposition from ‘A Quiet Place’ and ’Sicario’
Cary Grant & Exposition (Tip # 38)
Screenwriting & Exposition (Tip #10)
Cody on Expo
10 Solid Exposition Examples 
Dialogue as Music (Aaron Sorkin)
‘I’m in the feelings business’—Brian Grazer 

Scott W. Smith 

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