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Bringing "Rent" To The Screen
After seeing "Rent” soon after it opened on Broadway, director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) was so inspired, he immediately corralled his 1492 Pictures partners Michael Barnathan and Mark Radcliffe into seeing the musical as well. They reacted with similar enthusiasm.

It wasn't only Jonathan Larson's wonderful music and lyrics that captured their attention, but the powerful and honest way in which it dealt with crucial contemporary life issues. Says Radcliffe: "The show tackled two significant life questions we all share: First, ‘What am I going to do with my life' and secondly, ‘Who am I going to spend it with?'”

In addition, Radcliffe continues, "You add the complication of having a limited time to live. How will you deal with that as well?”

The moment Columbus, Radcliffe and Barnathan left the theater, all they could talk about was "how great it would be to do a movie with the kind of energy, power and emotional immediacy of the show we had just seen on stage,'” recalls producer Barnathan.

"To me ‘Rent' was about dealing with emotion, about confronting the feeling of falling in love for the first time,” says Columbus, "and regardless of some of its darker aspects, it was ultimately about hope, about understanding that each day is important and you need to live each day to its fullest.”

Bringing "Rent” to the screen became the filmmakers' passion and, for several years, they tried to obtain the rights to the project, which had been optioned by Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro, who run Tribeca Productions. Finally, in 2004, they were able to partner with Tribeca and secure financing for the project. "I was on the phone with Chris giving him the news that our funding had fallen through,” says Barnathan. "(Revolution Studios' founder) Joe Roth overheard my conversation, turned around and said, ‘If you're talking about ‘Rent,' I'll finance the movie. We had a deal within a week.”

When Rosenthal learned that Revolution Studios had agreed to provide the funding for Rent, she was overjoyed. "Bob (De Niro) and I had spent almost a decade trying to bring this project to the screen,” says Rosenthal. "We were thrilled to hear that Chris and 1492 were able to secure the financing and finally make this labor of love a reality.”

Though, according to Columbus, it may not be apparent from his previous films, he has a close affinity to the story of Rent. "I lived in New York for 17 years in the 1980s when Rent takes place. I lived in a loft and had a lot of those experiences. We were dirt poor and we lived in a loft on 26th Street in Manhattan for three years,” he says. "I could relate to exactly what the characters of Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal) were going through. I knew those people. So for me, it was an opportunity to go back to a very important time in my life and to bring my own experiences to that part of it. I was concerned about someone else doing it who didn't have that experience and hadn't lived in that world. For me it was extremely important not to homogenize any of the elements of the play. I wanted the film to be, in a sense, even grittier because film enables you to be a lot more realistic.”

Having secured Revolution Studios and Tribeca as partners, Columbus next met with members of Jonathan Larson's family, his sister Julie and father Al Larson. There was an immediate connection, and after several years of false starts and stops, the Larson's felt comfortable and excited to entrust "Rent” to Columbus.

"For seven or eight years, we felt a huge burden of having (a) decided to allow a movie to be made and (b) what was that going to be?” recalls co-producer Larson. "We really didn't know. We just knew it was taking a chance on something that was going to be different. We were<

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