Following the massive success of Crazy Rich Asians, director Jon M. Chu was prepping to release his next film, the musical In the Heights, when the pandemic crisis hit the U.S. in mid-March. The filmmaker was forced into a decision, whether to release the film straight to a Video on Demand service or hold out for a theatrical release.
“The studio laid out the different scenarios for us,” Chu said. “They were actually open to how we wanted to do it because they also did not have the answers. And it wasn’t one conversation that came to the conclusion. It was: ‘Let’s have three or four different conversations as every week is a different story’. Even to this day, we still don’t quite fully know what is going to be happening in these theatres. So you never know. But that’s where we landed, that next year for us-because it’s coming out June 18 of next year.”
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Chu and film editor Myron Kerstein describe how and why they decided to hold out for a theatrical release. “For me [Chu], we made this movie to be on the big screen, a musical of this scope, of this size. We shot it in anamorphic so it could span the whole screen, the way the colors are, the way you experienced this as a community where people should be singing along, dancing in the aisles. That is something [that]-again, not all my movies, but this movie in particular [and] Crazy Rish Asians in particular-had a very specific purpose of getting people together. That is part of the experience, not just the movie itself. And Myron and I have talked a lot about how movies affected us when we were young and its place in our culture now of getting people out of their homes, out of their cell phones, and together, to be with each other. So for this one in particular, that was a big thing for us. Of course, with Warner Brothers, they have HBO Man, which is coming. And so there’s always the temptation to put it over there. But obviously, that was also not ready yet” he added, “And in the end of the day, that was not the experience that I particularly wanted our movie to be. And I know Lin agreed with that.”
The lack of an opportunity for a theatrical release has also affected the cast of young stars – Anthony Ramos, Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins- this film was supposed to be their breakout moment, but it would require the large-scale marketing funds to build media profiles in the public eye before the release of the film – reminiscent of the coverage surrounding the release of Crazy Rich Asians.
“So you’re building an ecosystem around these actors to make them stars… And in a way it’s almost bigger than the movie itself, because after this movie you’re creating a new lane for these actors, and Crazy Rich Asians was all Asians from all around the world. And in In the Heights, it’s mostly Latinx actors, young, some vets, but really putting them on the map so that their next movie that’s not with us, they’re a star in that movie. And that is the real power of when you make a movie with a studio that has that kind of representation, and you get to cast people who never got the chance to be in those roles because they’re always the side characters, always playing stereotypes. And [in] this one they really get to blossom, and that is the bigger lasting legacy of these movies. I believe In the Heights will have that, and that takes time. That takes a whole mechanism of a company spending tens of millions of dollars getting behind that. So that was also a big part of my decision.”
With all the accommodation for social distancing measures, and the Australian cinema industry’s goal to be operating by July, the cinema-going public has the opportunity to remind themselves of cinemas necessity – a sentiment shared by Chu, as believes audiences thrive for a collective experience.
“The movie theatre experience, while it may evolve, I don’t think it ever—I don’t think it ever goes away. There’s the community experience. It’s like sports. You want to get out, and you want to be with people, and you want to experience this dream in the dark together. So you all can talk about it and debate about it afterwards. I don’t think that ever goes away.
“I do think that cinema has a very big role to play in our culture, always will. And there’s big stories to tell. And those are really important for us all, as a world, to learn about each other and have empathy for each other and see stories that we aren’t used to seeing every day. I think it’s a huge key to unifying the world as it always has been. And not just, again, in your home looking at it by yourself, but actually being also with people to do that. Yeah. I have to believe in that. I cannot give up. I can’t give up on that dream. And so our job is to give reasons for it to exist.”
Eloquently put by Jon M. Chu, we second the necessity of cinema and we cannot wait to enjoy In the Heights on the big screen!