Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
For years, Hollywood has been trying to recreate the magic of Broadway by making its own version of shows for the big screen.
A producer or director attends a Broadway show and is transcended by watching a stage performance. They get goosebumps, their heart races, they laugh, they cry, they applaud. Then they leave the theater with a need to share this experience with a bigger audience. The medium they choose is a big-budget film because they believe the show deserves all the money they can throw at it. So, they take the show out of the theater, replacing the actors and theatrical craftspeople. The result is a good movie, but one that doesn’t capture the same magic. And then they wonder: What went wrong?
Theater, by its nature, is ephemeral. It happens for that one moment, and then it is gone. However, the same show is performed on Broadway eight times a week, and it’s always different and magical. The closest way to capture and share this experience is via digital capture, also known as live capture. “Digital capture” is the film or video recording of a stage production. Typically, digital capture is done in the theater during a live performance to help viewers at home feel like they’re actually at the theater.
When done well, digital captures give audiences an essence of the show, a sense of the magic, making them want to see the show in person. In other words, digital captures become long-form commercials for stage shows.
Of course, there is room for Broadway shows to be made into Hollywood movies, too. But, I believe that every Broadway show should be digitally captured, and then Hollywood can re-envision a new version of the story for the movie. And that’s not to say that digital captures don’t have downsides—they do. Digital captures are expensive and invasive, and there’s red tape to navigate (Broadway is entirely unionized). There’s also the fear that digital captures will cannibalize the live ticket sales of Broadway shows, given that they’re so much cheaper. However, despite the challenges, there are three core benefits to digital captures that Broadway producers should consider.
1. Digital Captures Are An Excellent Return On Investment
With digital captures, the biggest expense is already up on the stage. The cost of an average Broadway show today is about $20 million. Additionally, the thirteen Broadway unions ensure that the production value of the actors, lighting, sets, costumes, etc., are the best that they can be.
For Broadway producers working on digital captures, the challenge is to translate the show’s essence to a digital version; to create a sense of what it’s like to be in the theater watching the performance. Done right, digital captures keep the integrity of the stage creators’ vision of the show. This, in turn, promotes the stage show and helps it have a long, successful run—which is a win-win for everyone.
2. Digital Captures Preserve The Craft And The Chemistry Of The Original Cast
Broadway shows can take years to develop. During that development process, the casts of those shows are rehearsing, exploring their characters and strengthening their ensemble performances. In addition, they sometimes perform in front of potential investors and paying audiences in different cities, which helps them further refine their performances. By the time the show gets to Broadway, it’s been thoroughly honed.
Theatermakers are craftspeople. Many people can have talent, but it takes stagecraft to replicate a performance eight times a week. The magic comes from the blend of that stagecraft with the chemistry of a well-rehearsed team of theatremakers, which is extremely tough to replicate on a movie set.
3. Digital Captures Create Theater Fans
Digital captures of Broadway shows reach wider audiences by eliminating the barriers of geography and economics. They invite people to use their imaginations, suspend their disbelief and exercise the creative side of their brains. Viewers get to experience the show almost as if they were sitting in the audience, seeing the actors sing and dance, watching the set changes and more in real time. Digital captures give audiences an immersive viewing experience, a theatrical experience versus a cinematic experience.
And once audiences start experiencing the magic of theater through digital capture, their appetite for theater will increase. They’ll be more likely to one day go see a live stage show, be it on Broadway or one playing at their local theater.
Moving forward, my hope is to see every Broadway show turned into well-done digital capture and a re-envisioned Hollywood movie.