‘In the Heights’ Cinematographer Alice Brooks on Capturing the Film’s Stunning Reflection Shot

"It’s two huge pools because, in the early 1900s, it used to be the reservoir for the whole city. We knew we wanted that high overhead shot on Vanessa and the Busby Berkeley shot. But we had to work with engineering to see what size crane we could actually fit that wouldn't collapse the tunnels below. The challenge for us was there was a system of tunnels under the deck.
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“We had to shoot the dancers on location because that bodega wasn't built and we had to shoot Usnavi at the bodega. We shot the dancers four or five weeks before we ever shot Usnavi’s shots. So it was a lot of knowing what our puzzle pieces were and how they were going to fit together.
She breaks down the framing process for key sequences.
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"What I love about that number and it plays in several numbers is unique to our movie, each character can express their hopes and their dreams, their fears and their anxiety.
"You Benny (Corey Hawkins), the salon ladies, Vanessa, Usnavi and Sonny. You get to see that this movie is about dreams, big and small and how the community really supports those dreams."
That relationship is captured through her framing of the film. From the shoe shot of Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) to the crane shots capturing the neighborhood, Brooks translates Chu’s vision of adapting the Lin Manuel Miranda musical for the screen with aplomb, drawing raves for her camerawork.
"With the subway tunnel, we could only shoot there from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Our radios didn’t work along this 900-foot tunnel so it became a relay system of people communicating to each other, down this line."” />
Chu’s “In the Heights” (out in theaters and HBO Max on Friday) cinematographer Alice Brooks fell in love with “the people, the smells, the sounds and the taste of Washington Heights.” While filming Jon M.
“I asked my gaffer to take lots of color temperature readings and weather readings. We kept a really good journal of exactly what the light was doing outside the bodega, and we were able to replicate those then when we got to our stage, and I think it works seamlessly.
We couldn’t move it because the pool was opening for the summer and it was freezing, the water was freezing. "That was meant to be shot in two days, and we had torrential rain.
“The pool was incredibly challenging. We shot in Highbridge Park pool, and it was the first time any movie was allowed to shoot there.
We did the underwater shots when it was raining because you can't see the rain. "We ended up shooting over four days because of the weather challenges.
We used both sides of the platform. "The current platform was three stories above ground. A lot of that was about the platform lights which we rigged ahead of time. There was no elevator, it was dark and hot. We also had to bring the equipment down. We had old vintage cars coming in, but we couldn't just leave the cars there. So, we had to light the train cars and we had one day.
"It's not only song and dance, but also through the world around them, and sometimes you feel their world visually shift. I love that we rush into the swimming pool behind Sonny's ( Gregory Diaz IV) back as he opens the door and that allows us to start getting into everyone's dreams.
"We have underwater shots where we start in a crane and then we end up under the water. We had a wonderful underwater operator come from Florida and work with us.
It’s organic and part of the storytelling. When Usnavi tells the kids at the beach that the streets are made of music, you are allowed to be in a musical, and it invites the audience to suspend their disbelief. I love that the music feels so organic and that it feels like an expression of the cast members when they need to sing.
"Our location manager and the MTA worked hard together understanding what we wanted. They found an abandoned platform way out in Brooklyn on a D Avenue line.
We started looking at all these beautiful architectural spaces and huge spaces in New York, but none felt right, and then the idea of the subway came up. "This was one of the first locations we started looking for. Jon knew he wanted it to be an elegant light show of some sort, but not too theatrical.
Everyone was passionate about being there, and that's so rare to have everyone feel such ownership and love of a movie while you're making it. "It was incredibly challenging. Filmmaking is a team effort, and when it's magnificent.
During the titular number “In the Heights,” a song and dance that introduces audiences to the key players, Brooks hones in on Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos, peering out the bodega window as he dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic. In the window is a reflection of a group of dancers.
The Reflection Shot
“Reflections play a big visual role throughout the movie, we have lots of reflection shots, and that is our first main one – there’s a smaller one with Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) before that, but for this, there’s a push in of Usnavi in the window of the bodega, and it's the first time you see dance, and I love that the first time you see dance in this movie is reflection.
It is joy. It is the story about what happens when your dreams come true. Brooks describes the film as one that is an “immigrant story. It is a sense of community.”
“The first time we see the dancers in reflection, as Usnavi sings ‘I'm a streetlight, chokin' on the heat,’ I push in on him, and there are the dancers reflected over his face.

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