In the heights’ The director, cameraman and choreographer explain how they created their revolving stage for their love story.
The musical of the summer In the heights, follows the various Latinx communities of Upper Manhattan through a story of love and dreams. A musical for the big screen has many great recordings and dance sequences, all of which are unforgettable in their own way, but no moment can beat the weightlessness of “When the Sun Goes Down”.
The movies Director Jon M. Chu recently spoke about how they put the scene on the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcasts. Cinematographer Alice Brooks and choreographer Christopher Scott also took part in the discussion to explain in detail how she created the magic in When The Sun Sets.
Chu, Brooks, and Scott all worked together to create many other dance sequences that make us want to dance or wish to be part of the world of film. You are responsible for the hit Rise up Movies and TV series The LXD: The legion of extraordinary dancers.
The three of them got back together to make a movie that captured all of the ideas they’d been developing for years, and one of them was the iconic sunset dance performed by Nina and Benny on the side of a building.
The idea started with a kiss. The trio sat in Chu’s apartment and wondered what one of the numbers of In the heights and the idea that kept popping up when they thought of the kiss was losing gravity. Scott said the idea of the turning room had been floating around in their creative discussions for about 10 years, but until then they never had a moment for it.
“…[I]It didn’t feel like saying goodbye to the love of your life and not knowing where it was going. Sometimes you just want to be present and the rules of the world disappear and float away, ”said Chu when developing the sequence for“ When the Sun Goes Down ”. “And this idea that we could turn a building on its side, don’t just like it from the inside Royal wedding, but outside, and that those buildings that you walk past with those fire escapes every day could become benches and the brick wall could be turned into a ballroom floor with graffiti … that was the nicest way to honor this neighborhood. ”
To master this effect, the crew built a building that folded down and snapped into the ground. As the building rotates, the camera moves slowly to hide the fact that the wall has tilted completely flat. At first, the trio thought that mounting the camera on the wall was the easiest way to get the shot. When they did the pre-visualization, it quickly became clear to them that they had to change their game plan.
The way they found their camera movement for the scene was by sitting in the studio with the dancer and following the dancers the good old-fashioned way: with their iPhones.
So they learned that the best way to sell the anti-gravity scene was to keep the first shot for as long as possible. When the wall fell, the shot was dead. To keep the footage alive, they used a second camera on a techno crane to capture the remaining 30 seconds.
Another factor to consider was how the actors would sell the recording. In order to sell the recording, the actors had to learn to shift their weight so that it looks like they’re floating in mid-air. After hours of practice, the actors were able to shift their weight perfectly and the whole scene was captured in one take.
The final key element in making the capture possible was the magic of the sunset, perfected by the George Washington Bridge. The shot was shot in late June, weeks before the scene would be shot, during Manhattanhenge, which is two days once a year when the sun is perfectly aligned with the road and sets north of the bridge. The challenge was to synchronize the wall, dancers and intricate camera movements with the difficulty of creating a perfect recreation of the sunset during Manhattanhenge.
The light source for the sky was LEDs attached to a dimmer board. At the moment in the music when the wall began to tilt, the lights came on as if on cue. For the sun, Brooks used a 20k Fresnel on a crane that had to be perfectly matched to the music and hydraulics for the wall. Special Effects Coordinator Jeff Brink developed the technology for the wall and controlled many of the elements that made the shot possible. A choreographer stood next to the special effects team to count the beats of the dance so the team could cut the timing to move the wall or switch the lights.
In the end, the shot turned out better than expected. The last kiss between Nina (Leslie Grace) and Benny (Corey Hawkins), who, after their return to gravity, conclude this sequence as the best dance scene yet of 2021. The moment feels surreal but grounded in that feeling of first love that we all know too well.
If your budget allows, try the rotating wall on your next project and see if you can reproduce that feeling of euphoria.
What’s your favorite rotating set film? Let us know in the comments below!