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From Stage To Film
"Every choice Chris has made is about making things feel real,” says Barnathan. "This includes adding some dialogue to the show. On stage, it was all singing. Chris took some of the sing-through pieces and turned them into dialogue. Since the feeling of the movie was, by nature, going to be more realistic than it was on stage, Chris believed that having some spoken dialogue would help the audience with the reality of the movie as well as explain and clarify some plot points.”

As Columbus further developed the script and made his changes, he and the filmmakers enjoyed the steadfast encouragement of the Larson family.

"They've been totally behind Chris' vision for the show,” says Barnathan. "Chris made changes, cutting some songs and adding some dialogue. The Larsons never wavered in their support of his choices. They felt confident that Jonathan's spirit was coming through.”

Once the script was completed, Columbus and the producers put together their creative team, which approached the project with as much respect for Larson's music and message as the director. Each of them worked diligently to stay true to the essence of the material. At the same time, they enjoyed the luxury of being able to expand its boundaries by adapting the story to a new medium.

To capture the appropriate look for Rent, Columbus turned to director of photography Stephen Goldblatt whom he says, "Has an incredible eye. He's probably one of the five great cinematographers working today. Stephen and I immediately understood the type of film we wanted to make. We didn't want it to look too glossy, too pretty. We wanted it to feel very real. This story is an extremely strong emotional experience. What I loved about the play was that I was emotionally devastated after I saw it. I think by setting the film in a realistic world and making everything look very real and very honest, audiences will invest themselves emotionally in the songs.”

"We all wanted to be true to what Jonathan intended — all of us,” says Goldblatt, "We didn't feel it was imposed on us. It was truly a pleasure because in art, to do something that's true is pure pleasure. And that's what we were doing with Rent.” This kind of truth was extended to the production design as well. "The original play had a very elemental set,” observes production designer Howard Cummings. "It was a very simple kind of theater. It had no pretense.”

In trying to remain faithful to this simplicity, Cummings decided to retain certain original elements he and the filmmakers felt best conveyed the emotions of a particular song. For the show-stopping "Seasons of Love” number, Cummings began with a blank stage, retaining the purity and power of how it was presented onstage. "The song isn't so much about the story of Rent as much as it is a summing up of all the characters' feelings about how they become a family and how love grows. It's one of the reasons we decided to open the film with ‘Seasons of Love,' and I suggested we put the cast on an empty stage. It was very clean and simple. We shot it at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, which has the perfect Broadway backstage — steam pipes and lights and simplicity.”

While always keeping Larson's vision for the material in mind, the filmmakers explored a wider variety of looks and venues than were possible on a proscenium stage. They utilized exteriors in New York City, built unique sets on soundstages and employed a number of actual interior locations.

"It was important to Chris that we capture the grittiness of the lower East Side in Manhattan,” recalls Barnathan. "Shooting in New York City allowed Stephen (Goldblatt) to bring a gritty, real and achingly beautiful look to the movie.”

The majority of the film's exteriors were shot in New York. Cummings began his work by taking pictures of enti


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