In the Heights Cinematography: How Alice Brooks Shoot on Location


The DP is going in the back of the scenes with IndieWire to wreck down how she shot the Busby Berkeley quantity “96,000” right through a rainstorm, plus the movie’s different large musical set items.

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20 years in the past, whilst nonetheless scholars on the College of Southern California, cinematographer Alice Brooks and director Jon M. Chu labored on his thesis brief movie, “When the Children Are Away,” a musical honoring motherhood that premiered on the Tribeca Movie Pageant in 2003. That early partnership set the root for an artistic affinity that has reached its largest expression up to now with “Within the Heights,” Chu’s cinematic adaptation of the Latino-centered, Broadway hit penned by way of storytelling prodigies Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alagría Hudes.

That includes 30 dancers and filmed in South Pasadena, California, “When the Children Are Away” required Brooks to make use of a crane and close down a side road for the primary time in her occupation. Now, 20 years later, “Within the Heights” showcases scenes with as much as 300 dancers; as an alternative of bushes in SoCal, the George Washington Bridge frames the NYC spectacle.

Brooks and Chu honed their collaboration with different musically themed tasks, maximum significantly the characteristic “Jem and the Holograms” and the truth TV collection “The Legion of Ordinary Dancers.” Either one of the ones credit additionally incorporated choreographer Christopher Scott, the person in the back of the dance strikes within the “Within the Heights” movie.

“We nonetheless are doing the very same factor we did on that brief movie at USC,” Brooks informed IndieWire in a up to date interview. “That’s the best way I felt about ‘Within the Heights.’ This is a a lot larger beast than the rest I’ve ever labored on sooner than, however the collaboration is the entire similar.”

Once she heard Chu used to be hooked up to “Within the Heights” (and sooner than she used to be introduced a role on it), Brooks preemptively began compiling concepts for the visualization of the tale. “I didn’t have a script. All I knew used to be the tune,” she mentioned. “I began pulling all the ones pictures for just about 3 years. And so when Jon did ultimately question me to shoot the film, I had numerous references.”

Places Over Comfort

"In the Heights" Alice Brooks Jon M Chu

“Within the Heights” DoP Alice Brooks and director Jon M. Chu filming on location

Macall Polay/Warner Bros

Brooks arrived in New York on the finish of March 2019 to start out a 10-week prep duration. At that time, the guiding thought used to be for them to shoot in part on location after which end nearly all of the scenes on units constructed on a soundstage. However right through that gestation duration, a significant turning level modified the process the manufacturing.

Proper on the intersection of 175th Boulevard and Audubon, the place the fictitious narrative unfolds, the manufacturing had discovered an condominium that would completely function the house of Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), the neighborhood’s matriarch. “We walked in and that used to be it. We knew it used to be Abuela and Usnavi’s condominium. You’ll be able to see all the intersection from the window. It’s the center of the neighborhood,” she mentioned.

As filmmakers, however, they knew the technical implications of capturing in one of these restricted house. However they took the plunge and after all 3 musical numbers had been completed there: “Alabanza,” the single-take “Champagne,” and part of “Blackout.”

“That condominium is best 15 toes broad by way of 40 toes lengthy with two home windows on all sides,” mentioned Brooks. “It used to be very fashionable after we walked in, but it surely had the entirety else we wanted. The manufacturing fashion designer (Nelson Coates) went in and added two partitions. He redid the entirety to make it really feel like Abuela’s condominium.”

Impressed by way of the actual places, the target used to be to stay the tale grounded. To that finish, the apparatus package deal Brooks applied incorporated custom designed anamorphic lenses so as to add a way of intimacy to pictures the place the digital camera makes a speciality of one or two characters with the entirety round them falling away. After they went broad, those similar equipment supplied larger-than-life film magic

“What’s distinctive to our film is that every persona can categorical their hopes and their goals, their fears and their anxieties, no longer best thru music and dance, but in addition thru their atmosphere. Lots of the songs get started very intimate and shut after which develop. There are a number of numbers the place we really feel their atmosphere shifted visually to correlate and display the place they’re emotionally,” she mentioned.

Examples of the ones come with “96,000,” “Paciencia y Fe,” and “When the Solar Is going Down,” a putting series the place Nina (Leslie Grace) and Benny (Corey Hawkins) dance at the facet of a development. For now, Brooks isn’t allowed to expose main points of the way that breathtaking phase used to be conceived. What she did proportion is that lots of the numbers had been storyboarded and animatics had been created to maintain their complexities sooner than attending to set.

“96,000”: The Hurdles of Filming the Pool Scene

"In the Heights," filming "96,000"

“Within the Heights,” filming “96,000”

Macall Polay/Warner Bros

In “96,000,” all the community goals of what they’d do in the event that they gained the lottery whilst swimming on the public pool. With loads of dancers acting in water, this used to be the film’s maximum difficult set piece. “Within the Heights” marked the primary time a movie manufacturing used to be allowed to shoot at Highbridge Pool in Washington Heights. Prior to now, the huge swimming swimming pools had served because the water gadget for Ny, thus they have got tunnels beneath the deck, therein the primary setback.

“We knew we would have liked this very prime Busby Berkeley sort shot on Vanessa within the swimming pool, however the weight of the pool deck would best reinforce a definite crane. We additionally couldn’t use a drone as a result of New York Town doesn’t permit drones,” Brooks defined. Sooner or later, an engineering workforce discovered the precise weight of the biggest crane the deck may just face up to.

The manufacturing used to be best allowed to movie there for 2 days. Rapidly, pouring rain ruined the times that they had scheduled. And for the reason that swimming pool used to be set to open to the general public for the summer time, there used to be little flexibility. The preliminary two dates expanded into 4 intense days. On most sensible of that, the water used to be freezing chilly. The pool used to be crammed up and warmers had been set in position to heat the water, however for the reason that there used to be a leak (unbeknownst to the manufacturing), the water stored being replenished, combating the temperature from emerging.

“Jon used to be within the pool with the dancers for 4 days as a result of he felt, ‘In the event that they’re going to freeze, I’m going to freeze.” He stored everyone’s power up by way of being within the water with them,” mentioned the cinematographer.

“Carnaval del Barrio”: Discovering the Movie’s Colour

"In the Heights": “Carnaval del Barrio”

The “Carnaval del Barrio” quantity from “Within the Heights”

Warner Bros.

Brooks best had at some point to shoot “Carnaval del Barrio,” a bunch that reenergizes the tale overdue within the plot. Taking into consideration it includes eights mins of tune and 75 dancers and forged contributors, the venture used to be subsequent to unattainable. A 14-hour shoot day, from break of day to sundown, in the end gave lifestyles to this anthem celebrating the characters’ Latin American roots.

The primary part of the day crane shoots took priority. The quantity takes position in a concrete courtyard between 4 constructions. There used to be just one means in and a technique out, so the crane used to be installed place the day sooner than. At lunchtime, the rigging workforce took the crane away, and the remainder of the afternoon used to be spent shooting the entire steadicam pictures. On display, the ensuing pictures drift with the electrifying rhythm of other folks waving their homelands’ flags as they dance.

Months later, right through the pandemic, when Brooks used to be in the end in a position to paintings at the virtual intermediate colour correction in Los Angeles, she started the method with “Carnaval del Barrio” as a temper barometer.

“I sought after initially ‘Carnaval’ as a result of, to me, the film is ready neighborhood and about giving other folks their energy again. It’s about discovering your energy. I felt that if lets get the colour on that quantity precisely proper, particularly because it options such a lot of colours in that house, then the remainder of the film would fall into position,” Brooks mentioned.

How “Paciencia y Fe” Examined the Manufacturing

In The Heights: Paciencia y Fe

Olga Merdiz as Abuela Claudia in “Paciencia y Fe”

Warner Bros.

For the entire logistical problems a film of this magnitude inflicted on Brooks, the creative liberty and emotional efficiency of “Paciencia y Fe,” Abuela Claudia’s transferring quantity about her immigrant adventure, used to be perpetually enjoyable. “The primary time I noticed the dance quantity, when Abuela is shoved within the seat of the subway automotive, I began shaking. I knew the scene used to be going to be extremely robust,” Brooks mentioned.

For the movie adaption, the music is carried out in a dream-like realm with the aged girl detailing her enjoy transferring from Cuba to New York. Chu sought after the quantity to be a sublime mild display, but it surely used to be as much as Brooks to interpret that request. As they looked for the perfect location, the workforce noticed theaters and lovely architectural areas, however none of them felt suitable. The theory of a subway educate stored popping into Chu’s head.

“We then began taking a look at subways and we checked out a lot of these platforms that the MTA lets you shoot on, however all of them simply felt very confined,” Brooks mentioned. That used to be till they realized of an MTA station in Brooklyn that were deserted for a very long time. It used to be very best. They introduced in each previous and fashionable educate vehicles in order that they might use either side of the platform. “When she comes out in a single platform we’ve got one lights arrange that refers to Cuba. The colour of Cuba is a heat, yellowish mild. Then the colour of New York is chilly,” mentioned Brooks.

Then again, for the reason that MTA didn’t permit the manufacturing to modify out any lights, gaffer Charles Grubbs had picket buildings created and painted the very same colour because the educate in order that they might cover the lighting. The method used to be intricate and labor-intensive right through. They had been 3 tales underground with out an elevator, so the rigging workforce needed to deliver the entirety down by way of hand. There have been extra lighting in that quantity than in another house observed within the movie.

In the Heights Cinematographer Alice Brooks

Cinematographer Alice Brooks

Macall Polay/Warner Bros.

For the realization of “Paciencia y Fe,” Brooks presented pillars of lighting that had been the similar diameter because the subway poles to be able to do a continuing reduce between previous and provide as Abuela grabs onto it and we’re again in a subway automotive. Current the station, Abuela walks thru a 900 toes lengthy tunnel at 191 Boulevard Station enveloped in commissioned graffiti artwork and colourful lighting for a surprising finale.

“Within the Heights” is in theaters and streaming on HBO Max now. Brooks’ subsequent foray into the musical can be with “Within the Heights” writer Lin–Manuel Miranda, on his directorial debut “tick, tick… BOOM!,” set to be launched by way of Netflix q4.

As new motion pictures open in theaters right through the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieWire will proceed to study them every time conceivable. We inspire readers to practice the safety precautions supplied by way of CDC and well being government. Moreover, our protection will supply choice viewing choices every time they’re to be had.

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