Andrew Weisblum and Myron Kerstein may share an Oscar nomination as the Editors of Tick, Tick… Boom! but they didn’t actually work on the film together. Because of the pandemic, the schedule went long and Weisblum recommended Kerstein to take the film across the finish line.
Kerstein jumped at the opportunity to work with Lin-Manuel Miranda again, having previously edited Jon M. Chu‘s In the Heights, which Miranda produced. The experience gave Kerstein some familiarity with Miranda, though he was ultimately there to fulfill Chu’s vision on Heights, whereas this time around, Miranda was the one calling the shots.
For Kerstein, working on TTB also meant traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast and podding with Miranda while editing the film — something that very few editors did during the pandemic — and you can practically feel that physical intimacy in the finished film.
Tick, Tick… Boom! tells the story of Jonathan Larson and recreates the New York City of the early ’90s. People might recognize his name, as Larson was the creator of Rent, but he was working on musicals long before that one brought him posthumous fame. The late Stephen Sondheim served as a mentor of sorts to Larson, and the scenes featuring Bradley Whitford as Sondheim now serve as a kind of tribute to the legend, who will surely inspire his own biopic someday.
Weisblum and Kerstein recently spoke to Below the Line, so please enjoy our chat below, and be sure to check out Tick, Tick… Boom! on Netflix if you haven’t already seen it yet.
Below the Line: How did each of you first become involved with Tick, Tick… Boom!?
Andrew Weisblum: I heard from Lin-Manuel and his producers in late 2019. They were looking for somebody in New York and I met with Lin-Manuel. We talked about our experiences in the 1980s-1990s New York and certain common interests, people, and trying to remember what the city was like then versus now. I was asked to join. We started shooting in February 2020 and had to shut down almost immediately because of the pandemic. I came back on board when they started to shoot again in October or September, I guess. Ultimately, because the schedule had gone on for so long, I had other things that I was slated to do so I had to move on. That’s when Myron’s name came up.
Myron Kerstein: I had some interaction with Lin-Manuel through editing In the Heights, but only probably a dozen times were we in the edit room together over the course of a year-and-a-half of making that film. I said to Andy a few times that this was a pinch-me moment that not only I could take over a film for Andy, but also to work on Lin-Manuel’s first film. Lin-Manuel essentially tried to sell me on what the film was. I’m like, ‘I’m all in’ to cut his film, but also to know a little bit more about Jonathan Larson after he told me the history of him, and also that there [wouldn’t be] any Lin-Manuel without Jonathan, influencing him. I was all in, so I went back east to help finish the film, and seven months later, we finished.
BTL: How familiar were you with Jonathan Larson before signing onto the film?
Weisblum: I knew some of the people who knew him at the time, and directly, growing up in the city, and being part of entertainment and art, [that] thing. He was a pretty prominent figure by the time Rent happened, obviously, even though he was gone. I was familiar with that and I was familiar with Tick, Tick… Boom! but it was more periphery for me, I suppose, just understanding the world that he came from. Anyway, that was my connection to all that.
Kerstein: Yeah, I didn’t really know Jonathan’s work at all. I only knew Rent, but I didn’t know him. The irony is I lived in New York in the mid-and-late-’90s and probably went to Moondance Diner many times. Lin-Manuel really gave me a crash course on Jonathan and his work and his journey.
BTL: How did it feel when you saw the set completely recreated for the Moondance Diner?
Kerstein: It was pretty surreal. It’s pretty surreal to see that. They recreated it twice — once, the whole thing for Andy, and then just a portion of it for me. It’s like stepping into a time capsule.
Weisblum: It was an interesting conversation early on in initial pre-production, talking a lot about how we were going to capture certain details of New York at the time that have so radically changed. Not just the Moondance Diner but Times Square and all these other things that we had to give people as a context of what the city was. It had its challenges in terms of finding the right locations for things, and settings, and trying to set the vibe of what that looked and felt like. Those challenges were different when we came back, once the pandemic happened, because not all the locations were accessible to us in the way that we would have wanted them to [be]. Moondance is not applicable. There was no Moondance, [so] there was always going to be a set. But there were certain things that we couldn’t go to anymore, so a lot more ended up getting constructed and recreated after the fact, which in some ways, gave some more control to all of that in terms of historical accuracy.
BTL: Myron, you previously worked on In the Heights. How was it working with Lin-Manuel Miranda as a producer on that film and as a director on this one?
Kerstein: Well, like I said before, Lin-Manuel only came into the edit room maybe a dozen times over the course of making In the Heights. He really let Jon and I, for better or worse, find our way through his material and allowed us to really work on Jon’s vision of what he thought this musical should be. I have to say that actually working together with Lin-Manuel, in the beginning, felt very surreal and intimidating, to be working in the same room with Lin-Manuel. But by the time we got on the other side of it, it felt like no different than any other director I had worked with — somebody who was very down to earth, open to ideas, somebody who would walk away for hours, and you could just try to think of like, how am I gonna make something better. It was no different than working with Jon. But again, as a producer on In the Heights, he just let us do [our] thing. I think on Tick, Tick… Boom!, I really was able to get into his head and — this is a guy who made Hamilton, In the Heights, and now, Encanto. When you’re close to somebody like that, you really get into their working methods, how they like to try out ideas, or when [there are] things that they don’t like, what that reaction is like. But for the most part, it was a really incredible hands-on experience.
BTL: What was the most challenging sequence in the film to edit?
Weisblum: There were a bunch of different challenges, I think, certainly, in terms of assembling. “Therapy” was probably the hardest one to figure out because it was several phases of trying to first, build the dramatic scene and the big musical number, then you figure out the intercut. And then you figure out the tempo changes and how they kind of work in tandem, which is just kind of dizzying. They all kind of have their different ingredients and challenges. In probably the broader sense, there was the question of figuring out the front of the movie, maybe the first third of the movie, and how to contextualize certain things about the time and place of Larson, which is like a process that we started leading up to the director’s cut. When Myron came on, it continued to evolve, but also trying to figure out how we can lean into certain archival [footage] and other things to help set the stage for a lot of the stuff that we needed our audience to understand. That stuff was kind of more trial-and-error than most.
The mechanical stuff, I think, it just takes time and patience to figure out each number, but they all kind of had such clear direction to them that ultimately, it wasn’t problem-solving the way they can be sometimes.
Myron Kerstein: I would say that “30/90” was my biggest assignment because if I can’t hook the audience within the first 10 minutes of the film, especially when you’re on Netflix, they’re gonna turn you off. You’re challenging the audience. You’re like, it’s a musical within a musical. Who’s Jonathan Larson for people who don’t know that? Who are all these wacky characters and diners and [people] in the Strand bookstore? Do I want to root for this person to write this thing? You’re tackling a lot — a lot of intercutting between different locations. The complexity of the music itself is challenging. It could unravel quickly. It’s like a ball of yarn that could just get away from you because there are so many different parts. Sometimes, you’re like, ‘Okay, I want to steal shots from another number to establish here,’ and am I allowed to do that? You’re kind of making up your own rules, and it’s a lot to ask of yourself to try to make sense of it. And then to ask an audience to like, ‘Okay, go on this journey and don’t turn this off. It’s going to be an emotional journey. Just hang in there.’ That was a big feat.
BTL: What were some of the biggest challenges of working on a film during the pandemic?
Weisblum: Thankfully, because I effectively podded with Lin-Manuel at his home — and then when I left, Myron did the same — we were able to collaborate in person, which I think — unfortunately, I’ve had to do some remote work with directors and it has a lot of challenges. Because you want to be able to be in a room with someone and feel their energy and collaborative spirit and vibe with each other about what each of you is responding to, and build on stuff together. There’s communication that happens on that that is not necessarily expressed in an email. I think that the challenge is staying as a conduit. It’s always true but it has an exponential challenge, when everyone’s working remotely from each other, to make sure that the channels of communication are always clear and always open and that your crew kind of understands things as they develop and knows what’s happening with the film and what’s changing, whether it’s your music editor, visual effects editor and the visual effects department, or sound, or all the different bits and bobs that you have to constantly communicate with people. If you were in the room next door from them in a cutting facility, you could just walk over and say, ‘there’s this thing, come look at this’ or ‘can I look at that?’ It’s just managerial. I don’t know that it’s different, necessarily, for anybody else for remote work. There are just a lot of moving parts [and] you have to make sure you’re keeping [things] clear.
Kerstein: Yeah, for me, I started this show before we had vaccines. My first day was actually in New York City where I was four days in quarantine, learning this film, having an Avid put into a hotel room, and then never getting in the same room with Andy or Lin-Manuel and learning a film totally remotely, totally isolated, and then moving to Lin-Manuel’s, and then picking up and getting to know a crew all remotely. Working with my music editors, my assistant editor, VFX editor, and VFX producer, who is in London, was a challenge. On In the Heights, I had this whole crew right next door in Chelsea. Now I have to work with my music editor and say, ‘Okay, you need to shift 100 edits in the song to make sure the lip-sync works and we’re gonna do this all remotely together.’ It’s hard to grasp and articulate how difficult that can be. Musicals look easy on the surface but I think they’re one of the most complex genres to cut, and so COVID just made it even more challenging.
BTL: Andy, after production shut down, what did you do while waiting for it to start back up?
Weisblum: Well, I ended up working on a film called The Eyes of Tammy Faye for a while, which I was able to kind of wrap up just in time for Tick, Tick to pick up again. That kept me busy through much of the 2020 hiatus and oddly, they all came out more or less at the same time [laughs]. That plus Tammy Faye plus The French Dispatch. There was a bit of a glut of Weisblum-edited movies.
BTL: How special was it to be able to work on a musical at a time when Broadway was shut down?
Weisblum: Well, all theater was shut down. One of the weird benefits of it was we were able to shoot at the theatre workshop where the original Tick, Tick… Boom! performance was, which was not in the original shoot plan. We didn’t have access to that theater. But of course, given that there was no live theater going on, we were suddenly able to shoot in the real place. A lot of Lin-Manuel’s theater friends came to join us for the ride, who might not have been available otherwise, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.
Kerstein: Yeah, I would just say that it’s been heartbreaking to see what happened to Broadway and what’s happening to it now. I think that working on In the Heights and Tick, Tick… Boom! was not only a gift to me but a gift to, I think, a lot of people who wanted to continue to experience the theater. People either love musicals or don’t but I think the stakes were high for both of us films to fill a void. It certainly did for me. They were both just vehicles of joy and celebration, and what it is to be an artist, a human being. I was thankful to work on those, personally, during the pandemic, and hopefully did all that —filled a void for people.
Tick, Tick… Boom! is now streaming on Netflix.