<I>Hamilton</I>: Harbor readies the Broadway hit for its streaming debut
Issue: July/August 2020

Hamilton: Harbor readies the Broadway hit for its streaming debut

NEW YORK CITY — Post New York Alliance (PNYA) member Harbor (http://harborpicturecompany.com) helped ready the Broadway hit Hamilton for its worldwide debut on the Disney+ streaming platform. Produced for Walt Disney Pictures by Radical Media and directed by Thomas Kail, Hamilton was originally intended for a 2021 theatrical release, but with theaters closed due to the pandemic, the studio chose to release the film on its streaming platform. Harbor’s New York location delivered complete sound and picture finishing services for the project, which was captured back in 2016 with the original Broadway cast, including creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

Harbor got involved shortly thereafter, providing sound and picture finishing services for the expected theatrical release. Earlier this year, when the decision was made to release the film on Disney+, the studio went back to work, re-grading the film in Dolby Vision HDR and re-mixing it in Dolby Atmos to conform with the platform’s streaming requirements. Because New York was at the height of the coronavirus outbreak at the time, much of the work was done remotely.

“Being asked by Disney to support such an important and iconic production as Hamilton was an honor,” says Harbor CEO and president, and PNYA board member Zak Tucker. “Working under one virtual roof to deliver picture and sound finishing artistry remotely, whilst allowing all stakeholders high-fidelity, realtime review was an incredible challenge, and one we enthusiastically undertook. We see this level of borderless artistry to be part and parcel of our industry’s future, and in many cases, a welcome development.”   

Photo (L-R): Zak Tucker, Joe Gawler, Tony Volante and Rob Fernandez

Senior colorist Joe Gawler graded both the theatrical and streaming versions of the film. For the theatrical version, he worked directly with director Thomas Kail and cinematographer Declan Quinn to translate the look and feel of the stage show to the screen. 

“The dynamic range that audiences see when watching Hamilton in-person is different from what can be rendered on screen,” Gawler notes. “We had to do extra work to ensure dark scenes maintained their moody quality, while preserving detail. Conversely, we had to make certain that bright areas weren’t overwhelming. It was a delicate balancing act.”

When Gawler re-graded the film this year, lockdown requirements made it impossible to collaborate in-person with the production team. Instead, he worked alone in one of Harbor’s grading theaters with Kail, Quinn and others monitoring his progress from remote locations via color-calibrated monitors provided by the facility’s engineering team. Gawler was surprised by how little his creative interaction with Kail and Quinn was impacted by physical separation. In fact, by working in the HDR color space, he feels they were able to achieve exceptional results. 

“Personally, I think the Dolby Vision version is superior,” says Gawler. “It is spectacular. We were able to retain all the brilliance, color and contrast in the lighting, costuming and sets. It takes it to a whole new level. In my opinion, this film sets a new standard for how to capture live stage performances. It’s that good.”

Sound post production followed a similar course. Sound editorial for the theatrical version was completed at Harbor by a crew led by sound editor Daniel Timmons. The 7.1 soundtrack was mixed by re-recording mixer Tony Volante, with musical numbers pre-mixed by veteran recording engineer Tim Lathan. All the sound work was done in collaboration with the show’s music director, Alex Lacamoire.  
“The scope of the project was so large, it required an intense, coordinated effort,” recalls Volante. “The combined talent of the production and sound teams was mind-blowing. Their ability to capture the nuances in the live performance was incredible. It was one of the most creative and satisfying projects I’ve ever been involved in.”

When Hamilton returned to Harbor this year, Volante was committed to another project, so the task of re-mixing the soundtrack in Dolby Atmos for home entertainment was taken on by re-recording mixer Rob Fernandez. Like Gawler, Fernandez was obliged by lockdown restrictions to work alone on a mix stage at Harbor, with others monitoring the work from remote sites.

Staying in close touch with Volante, Fernandez translated the original 7.1 theatrical mix to a home theater environment while taking advantage of the immersive quality of the Atmos sound space. A passionate artist, Fernandez fully invested himself in the process, even listening to the near-field mix of the soundtrack in his car for inspiration. 

“The concept was to place the audience in the best seat in the house, which meant on stage,” Fernandez explains. “Atmos allowed us to give it that extra dimension of feeling like you are inside the sound.”

Given the unusual circumstances surrounding the project, it was a huge advantage to have sound and picture work localized in one facility. The effort was also aided by Harbor’s enthusiasm, perseverance and technical know-how. 

“Finishing Hamilton wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for our culture of teamwork and collaboration,” says senior producer (sound), Kelsea Wigmore. “Rather than deterred by circumstance, our sound talent, engineers and producer flourished by creating entirely new systems and workflows. Our ethos of communication and collegiality made sound post on this film a great success. We’re all so proud to have made that contribution.”