Spike Lee was for a long time attached to direct. The song "Light My Candle" contains the line "I hear Spike Lee's shooting down the street;" this line remained unchanged in the movie's version of the song. Other rumored directors were Sam Mendes, Rob Marshall, and Baz Luhrmann.
In "What You Own", when Mark and Roger are on the roof, you can briefly see the side of the building. If you look closely, "ANGEL" is spray-painted on the side of the building. This was purely coincidental.
After "The Tango Maureen", when Joanne is talking to Maureen on the phone, the TV screen behind Tracie Thoms showed reflections of the crew. All those shots had to be sent to ILM to remove the reflections.
After "Today 4 U" a couple of moments were added by the actors after the director called, "Cut." They are Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) making the "whipped" gesture and sound, and Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) hopping out of the screen when he says goodbye to Roger (Adam Pascal).
Rosario Dawson has said she choreographed an elaborate routine for her audition song, "Out Tonight." During her actual screen test, she was so nervous she could barely move. Convinced she'd blown her audition, she left the room disappointed. Director Chris Columbus was so impressed, however, he ran after her and cast her on the spot.
Tracie Thoms auditioned for the Broadway production a number of times, but was never cast prior to this film. However, she reprised her role on Broadway in 2008, and appeared in the final run alongside Will Chase and Eden Espinosa.
In order to film the beginning of the scene featuring "I'll Cover You", a fake subway entrance had to be built in the East Village. Tracie Thoms actually went back to try and find it, when it had already been dismantled.
During production, an Internet blog was set up on the film's official website. Blog entries were contributed by each of the principal cast members, Chris Columbus, and Julia McCallum. Occasionally, video updates would also be posted, which mostly featured footage (filmed by Anthony Rapp) of the actors on set.
The metal arch sculpture on Maureen's performance space during "Over the Moon" is an homage to the Broadway show. On the stage of the show, a similar metal sculpture is used throughout different scenes as a Christmas tree, a church steeple, and other various scenery pieces.
Since the first half of the movie takes place in the winter and it was filmed in San Francisco and New York during the spring and summer, all of the visible breath, except in "I'll Cover You", coming from the mouths of the actors was put in digitally after production. In "I'll Cover You" it was actually the actors breath coming from their mouths.
Anthony Rapp kept the famous scarf he wore as Mark in the original Broadway show. It could not be used in the film, however, because the white was too bright for the camera. Instead he wears a navy and light gray scarf.
Daphne Rubin-Vega and Fredi Walker-Browne, the original Broadway Mimi and Joanne, are the only two lead cast members not to reprise their roles for this film. By the time the film went into production, nearly ten years after its first performance, Walker, by her own admission, was too old to play Joanne. Rubin-Vega was pregnant at the time of filming, and was also nearly fifteen years older than the nineteen-year-old Mimi.
The original draft of the script ended by revealing that all the action took place as a movie-within-a-movie, and as the final scene was being shot, the camera panned away from the production to reveal real homeless people and drug addicts on a real New York City street.
A number of costumes in the film are based on those from the original stage production, including the striped sweater Mark wears during "La Vie Boheme", Collins' hat, Mimi's New Year's Eve outfit (which she actually wears during 'Out Tonight' in the stage production), Maureen's catsuit, and several of Angel's costumes, including the flowered skirt, the "Pussy Galore" costume and the Santa suit.
Chris Columbus's daughter Eleanor Columbus, along with Jonathan Larson's nephew Matt, appear in a flashback scene where Roger plays at a club. The scene is not in the movie, but you can see them in the "seasons of love" teaser.
At the very end of the credits, 'Thank you, Jonathan Larson' comes onto the screen. This could be seen as a reference to the showing of Rent after Jonathan Larson died. Jonathan Larson died right before the show was put on Broadway, and the entire cast elected to perform a run-through of just the songs to all of Jonathan's family and friends in tribute of Jonathan's most prestigious work. At the end of the performance, the entire audience sat silent for what seemed like forever until a young male voice in the back of the house yelled that line.
Several character names are updated from Giacomo Puccini's opera La Boheme. Marcello the painter became Mark the filmmaker; Rudolfo the poet became Roger the musician; Colline the philosopher became Tom Collins. Benoit the landlord became Benny married-to-the-daughter-of-the-landlord, Musetta became Maureen, and Alcindoro the rich elderly man became Joanne the young female lawyer. Schaunard the musician became Angel. Mimi the young downstairs neighbor has the same name in both shows. Joanne also shares the role of Marcello with Mark. Mark represents Marcello as the best friend of Rodolfo/Roger, and Joanne represents Marcello as the jealous lover of Musetta/Maureen.
The original Broadway production of "Rent" opened at the Nederlander Theater on April 29, 1996, ran for 5123 performances, making it the ninth longest running show on Broadway (February 2013), and won the 1996 Tony Awards for the Best Musical, Book and Score. Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal recreated their stage roles in the movie version. Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Idina Menzel all received nominations for the 1996 Tony Awards for Best Actor, Actress, and Featured Actress in a Musical, respectively. Wilson Jermaine Heredia was the only member of the original cast to win a Tony, winning the 1996 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
Less than a year before RENT opened in theaters, Tracie Thoms made a guest appearance on the TV show Law & Order (1990), where Jesse L. Martin starred as Det. Ed Green. (Law & Order: Mammon (2005).) In an interview about filming the episode, Tracie stated, "I'm like, 'Hey Jesse, it looks like we're gonna be spending a lot of time together.' And he's like, 'We are?' I'm like, 'Yeah. I'm Joanne.' (imitates Jesse gasping) 'ACTION!'"
The stage musical "Rent" won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1996. Only eight musicals have won the Pulitzer Prize in drama - one per decade from the 1930s to the 1990s. They are as follows: Of Thee I Sing (1972) from the 1930s, South Pacific (1958) from the 1940s, Fiorello from the 1950s, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) from the 1960s, A Chorus Line (1985) from the 1970s, Sunday in the Park with George from the 1980s, Rent (2005) from the 1990s, and Next to Normal from the 2000s.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The DVD release features an alternate ending based on the stage production, with all of the characters save for Angel are singing the finale on-stage. Angel eventually joins the group to finish the song.