Hollywood has come to the Heights.
Jon M. Chu’s singalong film, “In The Heights,” out Thursday in theaters and on HBO Max, turns the upper Manhattan neighborhood bustling with corner bodegas, open fire hydrants and walk-up apartments into caliente movie magic.
It was crucial for the film based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical to show “the real New York” both on and off camera, location manager and Washington Heights native Samson Jacobson said.
Filming outdoor shots in the actual neighborhood during the summer of 2019 not only lent the film authenticity, but the cast and crew also connected with the locals, many of whom hail from Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“It was a very early conversation about finding a block that was a community,” Jacobson told The Post, adding that he was inspired by Spike Lee’s 1989 film, “Do the Right Thing” about life in Bedford-Stuyvesant, when searching for spots.
Supporting neighborhood businesses while filming “was part of what the producers said to me from the get-go,” said Jacobson, estimating they spent an estimated $1 million in the heights by way of local contracts and eating at nearby restaurants like the Cuban spot Floridita off Broadway and 177th Street and the Dominican restaurant Malecon off West 175th in lieu of catering.
“It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever done,” Jacobson, who grew up at 181st Street and Cabrini Boulevard said of the film’s “community impact.”
Jacobson, who also scouted the sets of New York films “Uncut Gems” and “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” recalled that on shoot days, passionate residents would hang around the crew until after the sun went down to the point where it felt like a “party within a party.”
Here, check out some of the real life Washington Heights brought to life by “In The Heights.”
175th Street & Audubon Avenue
Featuring the George Washington Bridge as a backdrop, this intersection served as the “hero location” of the film, Jacobson said, as it was home to the exteriors of the bodega that main character Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) works at, the car service and nail salon, plus a massive opening number, aptly titled, “In The Heights.”
With flatter streets than most of the hilly Heights, the area also features a series of “low-profile” townhouses which they tapped for the film. They converted one of the houses into the nail salon set, but “most changes to filming locations were subtle,” he said, with an emphasis on color and lighting.
The real corner bodega, for example, has a green awning but was replaced with a retro, sunny yellow one for the film.
For the film’s splashiest number, “96,000,” the cast and crew took over Highbridge Pool off Amsterdam Avenue and 173rd Street. Built in 1936 and renovated in 1991, the spot boasts two Olympic-sized pools that are open to the public for free.
The song is a high-energy celebration that takes place right after Usnavi and friends discover that his bodega sold a winning lottery ticket worth — you guessed it — $96,000. The scrappy singers then imagine how they’d spend the dough if they won. In that movie, that means splashing and dancing in the water. The song also makes use of the pool’s sprawling concrete stairs frequented by city sunbathers.
They initially faced some rainy weather while filming — they had to shoot before the summer season officially began to make space for the production — Jacobson said, but they ultimately got the goods. “Jon Chu, the director, was really good about amping everybody up, if they were cold he’d jump in the water,” said Jacobson.
191st Street subway station
Used for the Abuela Claudia’s (Olga Merediz) surreal, reflective song “Paciencia y Fe,” this underground, tube-shaped 1 train tunnel off Broadway is decorated with layers of colorful graffiti and vibrant murals. But the real spot was also a pain in the neck to shoot in because the crew couldn’t access it until late at night to avoid straphangers, Jacobson said.
Due to that limitation, the station got an understudy. They used the below-ground, non-public tracks of Brooklyn’s Ninth Avenue D train station just south of Green-Wood cemetery to film scenes with vintage subway trains.
Bordering on Fort Tryon Park, the 191st Street station acts as a nod to uptown culture and is expected to be appreciated by those who live in the area once the film debuts.
J. Hood Wright Park
This elevated park off 175th Street’s west end features a breathtaking eye-level view of the George Washington Bridge’s spires and glistening sights of the Hudson River to set the tone for a romantic moment in the film between Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina (Leslie Grace).
And, with a few simple tweaks — they removed some fencing — the surrounding alleyways adjacent to the park’s north end on 176th Street and Haven Avenue were decked out for the party song “Carnaval Del Barrio.”
Finding an NYC alley suitable for filming is no easy feat, unlike in massive Los Angeles. “The alleys over there are like streets between buildings,” he said. “We just don’t have that.”
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