A new Netflix musical has been getting a flurry of Oscar buzz — and its pivotal number is set in a swimming pool.
“Tick, Tick... Boom!” is the film adaptation of a stage musical by Jonathan Larson, creator of “RENT.” Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and starring Andrew Garfield in the lead role, the semi-autobiographical story tells of a composer named Jon who attempts to break into the theater industry with his own musical.
After battling writer’s block (and procrastination) throughout the film, Jon heads to the local pool seeking clarity. After a few laps, inspiration strikes, and he has an epiphany underwater: The notes of the key song he’s been trying to write suddenly appear among the pool tiles.
“[Jon] is lost in his own way, so he’s going to the pool to push himself down and get rid of all the obstructions in his mind until he finds this treasure of a song,” says Andrew Garfield, ahead of the film’s premiere at AFI Fest. “There’s a ritualistic, mythical, magical aspect to that sequence that I find so beautiful.”
The scene cuts back to a shot of the entire pool, with its tiles resembling music staff paper. It was impossible for the film crew to get high enough to capture the stunning moment indoors, so they had to piece together a composite shot using three different sections of the pool.
“That feeling when inspiration strikes and a song arrives — that’s a really hard thing to describe to people,” says Director Miranda, the creative force behind favorites like “Hamilton” and “Encanto.” “You get into this rigorous process of trying to catch all the things that are floating in the air and in your mind, and then you get hit with a thunderbolt, like the three cherries line up in the slot machine…as a fellow songwriter, I wanted to honor that.”
Bringing Miranda’s vision for that moment to life was no easy feat. The film crew scouted indoor pools across New York to find the one for the scene, eventually settling on the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center in the West Village. Serendipitously, it was discovered to be the same pool that Jonathan Larson frequented in real life.
Figuring out how to best fit the cameras in the building was even more difficult. The crew spent three days installing a platform to film crane shots, and Garfield had to swim for three days’ worth of filming while divers with underwater cameras were hooked into a rigging system to match his pace.
“It was very impressive [for Garfield] to be able to take off his goggles, keep his eyes open for that long underwater and act at the same time,” says Cinematographer Alice Brooks.
“Tick, Tick…Boom!” is available for streaming on Netflix.