In the Heights director Jon M. Chu explains why the musical had to remain a big-screen release
In April of this year, Warner Bros. announced that the movie version of In the Heights was being pushed back from June 2020 to June 18, 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent closure of theaters. That means a long wait for fans of the show and of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical's songs. But director Jon M. Chu recently told EW that very little thought was given to the idea of the film going straight to streaming, as recently happened to the filmed version of Hamilton.
"There was a vigorous debate about release dates of course," said Chu, whose previous directing credits include Crazy Rich Asians and Step Up 3D. "But in a weird way we were all on the same page when deciding [whether] this is an opportunity to stream this movie. At the end of the day, everyone who knows our movie or has seen our movie knows that it feels like it needs to be on the big screen. Many movies don’t have to be, but there’s a spirit about this one, a scope about this one, that I think we all believed in. So, there wasn't a fight between should we stream this or put this in the theatre. Everyone knew it was one we wanted to protect and make sure it got on the big screen. It is a very special movie, no doubt. To work with Quiara (Alegría Hudes), who wrote it, and Lin, obviously — the legend, the icon, Lin-Manuel Miranda. And for him to invite us into his hometown, Washington Heights, to introduce us to his neighbors, to the people he grew up with, to this area that he wrote these songs about, they’d never even performed these songs on the streets it was written about, that was really special."
Chu believes the long delay may actually help the film, giving the public time to become more familiar with the cast, including Hamilton actor Anthony Ramos, who plays the central role of bodega-owner Usnavi. "What we found in Crazy Rich Asians is, it’s not just releasing a movie, you are creating a whole ecosystem," said Chu. "You’re making stars, so they have to be on magazine covers, they have to do the talk shows, they have to get into the system. If you only have a month, a couple of months, four months, five months, it’s just not enough time. But when you have a year — once everything’s settle down — then we have the time to actually create that ecosystem for the best outcome. I think that in the same way our Crazy Rich Asians cast has become a mainstay in Hollywood now and can carry their own movies, I know these actors 100 percent will do the same, We're definitely playing the long game."
Chu considers himself fortunate that he finished shooting the film before the outbreak of the pandemic. The director confirms that it would have been an impossible to make In the Heights at the moment. "No way, no way," says Chu. "Not even a chance. Even some of the guidelines for how they’re going to shoot — like, they can’t have crowds of more than 10, and they can’t have heavy-breathing, or they can only be exercising for less than a certain amount of minutes at a time. I mean, we had extras 500, 700 people deep, dancing, moving, swimming together. This thing is about the touch, because of how close everyone is."
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