View Original Notice ? ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’ is a sound ‘Louder than Words’ for LA students starring in Netflix video
Los Angeles County High School for the Arts students rose to a major challenge from Netflix to produce a musical video of the song “Louder than Words,” the last of a dozen in the recently released “tick, tick…BOOM!” film directed by award-winning actor and director Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame.
And the 57 students and school staff overseeing them did it all in just under two weeks. A major accomplishment given they would normally have months to pull off a large-scale production like that.
Miranda’s film adaptation is based on the musical of the same name that never made it to Broadway.
It’s the story about the late Jonathan Larson, an American composer and playwright, who created the musical and the protagonist.
It is a biographical retelling of Larson’s struggles breaking into the theatre industry, navigating his love life and experiencing the early onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which later inspired the musical “Rent,” his most famous play, a work credited with reinvigorating Broadway and the American music theater when it first hit the boards in 1996.
Larson died in 1996 at the age of 35.
The song, “Louder than Words,” brings an end to the characters and storylines focusing on inequality, injustice, creativity and ambition.
The streaming company approached five schools nationwide, which produced individual videos that were compiled into one now featured on Netflix Film Club YouTube and other platforms.
Drew McClellan, chair of the cinematic arts department at the high school situated on the campus of Cal State LA, reached out to two of his top students, Benji Tucker and Vivian Wolfson, to lead the project.
“Benji and Vivian wrote the script in 24 hours,” McClellan said. “We had broad conceptual strokes (Netflix) wanted to achieve. Benji and Vivian came up with the script and from there gathered the student crew, put the cinematic faculty around them to support them.”
The duo slipped into the roles of co-producers, co-writers and co-directors.
“We wanted to create a video that we knew would be able to stand alone and Netflix could use however they saw fit and I think they used it beautiful(ly),” McClellan said. “The fact Benji and Vivian were able to turn the script around within 24 hours not only does that (highlight) their talent and work ethic, but I think they had a lot of good practice throughout the pandemic in terms of working under tight deadlines.”
Students lost a year-plus of on-set experience due to the deadly coronavirus.
For some, this nearly 6-minute video challenge was the first time they collaborated with peers in person and actually experienced being on a film set.
The crew and cast were masked for the entire shoot, except when the actors were on screen being filmed.
Students had just under two weeks once receiving the assignment in mid-October to delivering the final cut.
This is the first time the school, one of the top premier visual and performing arts high schools in the nation, worked with Netflix or any other production companies on this scale.
“We have done collaborative projects with certain individuals who are already established in the industry, but for Netflix to come out and ask us to do something, we were honored and I think students rose to the challenge,” McClellan said. “Netflix’s contribution was the opportunity and inspiration and thinking highly enough of us to want us to be part of this special project. That was all we needed to put the battery in our back and make a splash with our submission.”
Wolfson, a 17-year-old senior from Los Angeles, had a short window of time to show off the skills she learned in the previous three years.
The team, led by her and Tucker, had one weekend to write, budget, schedule, gather the crew and cast and anything else that goes into pre-production.
“We wrote musicals in the past, so we took a lot of time to work on the visual story by going back and watching musicals that we love, which includes “Rent” (Jonathan’s Larson’s Broadway musical hit),” Wolfson said. “We felt really lucky to honor (him) in this project. It was a huge challenge. Usually, we spend months doing pre-production for a project of this scale and we only had one week to do it but everyone was super collaborative and all of our faculty was really ready to help us. We got to use all of our department’s resources … and brought in a recent graduate to be the director of photography … overall there was really a joyful air on set.”
Upper students showed under classmates the ropes. A recent graduate was brought in to fill the e directory of photography role.
There were students who never touched a professional camera light before and by the end of the day they were setting up sets like professionals.
Tucker, an 18-year-old senior in the cinematic arts program from Tarzana, said the Netflix challenge was a great opportunity to shine the spotlight on the students’ work coming out of 20 pandemic months.
“It was a (way) to feel things were getting back to normal, and we could work as a team again,” Tucker said.
He said while the experience was challenging, it was also educational.
“I (now) understand that’s how real film directors like can work with such a large crew,” Tucker said. “And all of the actors. We had so many extras on set, as well, it was just insane.”
Tucker said the crew didn’t meet Miranda in person, but some of the main actors in his film sent kudos via a video.
Leilani Patao, an 18-year-old senior who lives in Los Angeles, was one of the four main singers in the quartet. She spent six hours in the studio one day recording vocals and about 15 hours on set.
“Honestly, it was such a blast to be able to collaborate with such talented peers of mine at this school and it was so fast pace,” Patao said. “It meant a lot to be a part of representing our school to Netflix. It meant a lot to be able to show what I have been able to do for the past four years. It was honestly a giant honor.”
While the theme of the song, “Louder than Words,” is about growing up in the time of AIDS/HIV crisis, the Los Angeles students took a more modern approach.
“We took the stance … of mental health and the crisis there and how everyone is dealing with their own crises in their own way,” Patao said. “What I took away most is, especially at my school, a lot of people care about each other more than we realized. Most of all, I’m not alone, (know) everything I do has an impact and actions speak louder than words … and not only (do) I have such a great support system with my close friends, but also here at school with my creativity.”
Pascal Connolly, a 15-year-old sophomore from Los Angeles, was a grip and worked beside the director of photography to set up the dolly track and pushed it where it needed to be.
“It was really cool to be by the camera and the (directory of photography) and learn how they operate the camera and like how camera movement works,” Connolly said.
He not only learned about the camera, but how it works technically and how to set up shots and be organized.
Because of the pandemic, this was his first chance to be on a set doing real-world, hands-on work.
“It was really exciting because obviously my freshman year I didn’t really have a chance to like get my hands on the really nice equipment or be on set with anybody,” Connolly said. “So, it was a big learning experience and I learned not only a lot of stuff about camera work, but how a set works in general.”
Elton McCrudden, a 15-year-old sophomore from Los Angeles, filled the role of a key grip, which means he worked closely with the camera and electrical departments moving things around as directed.
“(The key grip) is not only important on set, but (is there to) achieve the scene our directors were going for,” McCrudden said. “For example, lighting; we would plan out the lighting. It was so much fun and working with Netflix, it was like a dream come true.”
All of the students agreed that while they were “technically” working, it didn’t feel that way since they were doing what we were passionate about: creating and making art.